Friday, April 3
As I was taking a walk this afternoon, I noticed four teenage boys sitting on a park bench together next to the basketball court. The playground equipment next to them was strung with yellow caution tape, warning residents the area was off limits.
I walked a bit farther and noticed three teens fishing in the creek that runs through our neighborhood. A boy and girl, also in their teens, rode their bikes past me on the trail.
It was refreshing to see so many teenagers out enjoying nature on one of the first nice days we’ve had since the break of winter. I thought about my own teenagers and how difficult it can be some days just to get them to go for a walk. But I also realized that it was unlikely that all of those kids were related. I wondered if someday we’ll get to the extreme like a dystopian novel in which police will roam the streets, breaking up kids taking a fishing break if they aren’t part of the same family.
I decided to be happy for those teens that they were outside with friends, rather than judging them for possibly breaking the rules of social distancing. I know how hard it is as a parent to create boundaries for our older kids. If we let one friend meet up with one child, then we have to let everyone visit a friend. The amount of interaction can quickly grows exponentially.
Just a few hours earlier, some neighbors were walking down the path behind our house and their dog was excited to see Cooper in the yard. I asked if their daughter, who is a few years older than Jayda, would like to bring their dog into our yard for a few minutes of play time with our puppy.
Once the dogs began to play, she looked longingly toward our trampoline.
“You have a tramp-o-line?!” she said hopefully.
Like my daughter, she is a competitive gymnast. Jayda had been begging us to put up the trampoline just the day before so she would have a way to practice her gymnastics skills. Our neighbor is even a few levels above our daughter, and I knew how hard it must be for her not to have a place to jump and flip.
“You can get on it,” I told her, without even pausing to think about social distancing rules.
The two girls got on the trampoline and took turns practicing their flips, standing on opposite sides when they weren’t in motion. During the short time they were on the trampoline, several families that we know happened to walk by on the trail behind our house. I felt like I needed to give them some explanation that this was the first and only time Jayda has been in proximity of a friend in three weeks. “I promise we haven’t been anywhere or touched anything,” I wanted to explain.
I knew it looked bad. Like we were just going on with life as usual, without caring about the social distancing rules in place. I know that other families can’t see relatives who live just a few miles away. Couples are living in the same home with one quarantined in a room by himself.
At the end of that 30-minute jumping session, Jayda was like a new person. I had noticed her crying randomly throughout the day, showing signs that her little 10-year-old heart was breaking from the weight of isolation. I know it was good for her mental health to interact with our neighbor on the trampoline.
I also know we were breaking the rules of social distancing so she could have a few minutes of fun. So I decided in that moment to just give people the benefit of the doubt.
I don’t know if the boys at the park were related or how much they needed to get out of their homes and talk to friends. I’m not going to judge teens for going fishing or riding their bikes. I don’t know anyone’s story. I don’t know how close other people are to breaking from the pressure this isolation is taking on our mental health. I know that most people are trying to do their best in a very difficult situation.
As the weather gets warmer, even more people are going to be out and about. It will be even more difficult to keep people apart when sunny days start drawing us out of our homes. Already, the sidewalks are sometimes like a parade with the number of people going for family walks or taking their dogs out multiple times per day.
How much conversation is too much? How many people in a group are too many? We’re all trying to make these hard choices, and I’ve decided to just assume the best.
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