It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: A Pandemic Thank You

Oh 2020. What a year it’s turning out to be. As this worldwide pandemic rolls on, indefinitely, I’ve really felt the weight of waking up every morning to see the latest headlines on COVID-19 numbers, school re-openings, and all the other things that 2020 has thrown at us. As a parent and a natural worrier, it is overwhelming and emotionally draining. Not to mention at times terrifying. And with no good answers and everything changing day by day, I have to often tell my brain to get off the hamster wheel of doom and try and see the silver linings this insanity has provided me. Years of therapy has taught me that on those days that my husband’s mess is driving me nuts and the kids need every ounce of me, I need to physically step out of my house and put my bare feet on the ground while looking around and naming what I’m grateful for. Luckily, all it takes is a quick look around my neighborhood to see all the houses filled with the people this pandemic has allowed me to lean on and laugh with. Because when there is no place to go but home, what better way to make it through each day than those you share a street with.

I often have to remind my naturally anxious mind that there are positives even in the worst of situations. One of the silver linings of this pandemic has been our neighborhood and the support and laughter we’ve shared despite what a crazy scary time this is.

Pre-pandemic times, what feels like a million moons ago, I always enjoyed the company of our neighbors. Our street has always reminded me of the places where I grew up, back when I’d hop on my bike with my best friend down the road and play until I knew it was time for dinner. One mom would call the next on their landline phone, making sure someone had eyes on us even when we didn’t know it. Pretty idyllic actually. When we moved into our house and saw all the families out and about talking and playing together,  I just knew this was where I wanted to raise my kids.

The kids on our street have always enjoyed playing together, but it would often take some arranging with all the different schedules and activities. There have been neighborhood Easter egg hunts and firework displays, plus a few much needed moms nights. But even with these special connections, life was busy before COVID-19! Each of us had to shuffle kids from activity to activity, often only leaving time for a wave and a quick hello through car windows as we passed each other on the street.

I’ve always loved my neighbors, but Pre-Covid life often prevented us from more than just quick hellos as we shuffled off to the next activity, stressed and busy with some place to always be. Now with nothing on the schedule, we can enjoy each others company more.

When the stay-at-home orders went into place last March, everybody’s busy schedules ground to a halt. Much to my car hating infant’s pleasure, my minivan didn’t leave our driveway for a full 8 weeks. There was nowhere to be but home. And while we were very strict on quarantining, we spent as much time as possible outside- often playing in the front yard or going on walks so that I could catch a socially distanced interaction with another mom in the neighborhood. Those early conversations from across the street with my neighbors gave me fuel to survive the emotional ups and (mainly) downs that was the beginning of the coronavirus. Those first few weeks were admittedly the loneliest as we had no idea what was in store, so I cherished those encounters that helped to reassure me that I wasn’t alone in all this.

As fellow moms in an unprecedented situation, our conversations revolved around all the questions that no one had answers to. We worried about our kids together. We worried about the world together. And we found a way to laugh together as we waited out all the unknowns of this surreal life that was now our reality. There was, and still is, so much to process. School, play dates, grandparent visits, vacations- life as we knew it was canceled- so having people right outside my door to commiserate with was essential to my mental health as a parent and a person living through this.

As the weeks ticked on, we all saw our kids desperate for social interaction. My oldest was still struggling with the abrupt end to school and desperately craved time with peers. Overnight and without warning, her life as she knew it was taken away. I had to become her sole playmate and entertainer, which was hard to balance with the needs of her baby brother. She’s at that age that despite my best efforts to be fun and creative, I am just not as cool to play with as her friends. But what was safe? What was allowed? There was no rule book in place helping us parent through this.

I still can’t shake the image of caution tape around all the playgrounds. Even though things have changed, I still wish there was a rule book to help us parents navigate this pandemic. Every day is something new and it makes it so hard on the kids.

That’s when the group texts from the moms in the neighborhood picked up and we worked together to try and make the best of a really horrible situation.

Moms- they have these amazing creative powers to figure out a way to keep everyone safe and still give our kids a way to play and interact. We measured out safe distances with chalk so our kids could use their resilient little minds to play while socially distanced. As recitals and school plays were canceled, the moms on the street organized a socially distant neighborhood driveway talent show. It was amazing to see everybody come out as we traveled from driveway to driveway to watch each child preform what they never would be able to do on stage. I was in tears seeing all those costumes we feared would never be touched worn with such pride as each child received a standing ovation from the socially distanced crowd. There were so many smiles and so much laughter. It was about as normal as we all had felt in ages.

Birthdays quickly became the big thing on the block. The whole neighborhood would come over to sing to the special kiddo holding signs and balloons. We all knew how important it was to make sure our kids felt loved on their big day, and we were all grateful to actually have something to put in our calendar. Us moms started to leave “survival” gifts on each others door steps- drinks, donuts, coffee- little things that said “we are in this together” and get us through the next depressing news cycle.

I know all us moms worry about how to make our kiddos feel special when we can’t have birthday parties or go on fun adventures. I’m so grateful to our neighbors who helped Kennedy celebrate and made it “the best birthday ever”!

With the weather warming up, the monotony of pandemic life was broken up with socially distanced driveway drinks. With our schedules wiped out, we can enjoy slow evenings chatting about everything- from the state of the world to how many dishes our kids/husbands produce while home all day (So. Many. Dishes). This pandemic has forced us all to slow down and honestly, in a time where it feels almost impossible to connect, I feel more connected than ever.

As summer slowly crept on, we made the decision to let our daughter have outdoor play dates with her friends on the street. And that decision has been one of the best ones for our whole family’s mental health. Our daughter has blossomed with confidence from playing with the older kids. They’ve put on plays that we have all gathered to watch, hosted dog weddings, and honestly had probably one of the most fun and creative summers yet. With such a small bubble of friends, they have had to practice conflict resolution and compromising. With always having to be outside, they’ve had to use their imaginations and nature to create things. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure they are the most skilled at going from house to house to source out the best snacks as well! I know this is still so hard on the kids, but it’s been really beautiful to watch them make some amazing childhood memories in the midst of all this chaos.

Play dates as we knew them are on pause for now, so it’s been wonderful that the neighborhood kids can safely get together and at least feel some semblance of normal, even if there is nothing normal about right now!

It’s what we all need right now. Those rays of light through the clouds. I think that’s what this neighborhood has been for me this summer. Group texts with more face palm emojis than I can count. Driveway drinks to dissect that most recent school board meeting. And while I would of loved a “typical” summer filled with swim team and dance camp, I’ve actually rather enjoyed the slower pace and getting to know those around me even more. We don’t know what the next few months will bring. Heck, we don’t even know what tomorrow will bring. But I do know I’ll look back at this time and remember seeing my little girl shine as the neighbors applauded her free style dance routine. And that happy feeling I got when I received a hand written invitation to a backyard rendition of Hamilton. And the support I always felt chatting with the other moms about whatever was going on in our worlds that day.This has been HARD, and none of us know what we are doing, so it’s been nice to do it together.

Yes yes, there is no such thing as hands touching any more (Sorry Neil Diamond!), but it doesn’t mean we still can’t support each other and lend a hand metaphorically. I’m so glad I found that in my neighborhood this year! Your “neighborhood” may look different, but I do hope that you have the support you need to get through this very trying time!

I know I’m lucky to have had an experience like this. I know I’m lucky to live in a place like this. As a mom it is easy to be lonely, add in a pandemic and the isolation will make you crazy. So, thank you neighbors. Thank you for making this not just bearable, but enjoyable. Thank you for helping my little girl cope with such an incomprehensible and difficult time. Thank you for talking out all the unknowns and being patient as we all navigate this storm. Thanks for the lazy summer memories- it will definitely be an unforgettable summer, that’s for sure! But most of all, thank you for the friendship and the comfort that I have such an amazing little community right outside my front door.

Kathryn is a mom of 2- her wise sensitive Kennedy (7), her sweet little joy, Croix (2), and 3 wild and crazy fur balls! After finishing grad school in NYC, Kathryn decided to embrace the cold and move to Madison. Despite plans to only live here for one year, she fell in love with her husband Joe and all the city has to offer. She loves staying at home full time with her kids during the week and spending a few weekends a month as a social worker in the ER. After a childhood of moving around internationally, she has enjoyed putting down roots in Madison but still loves to travel as much as possible. When not adventuring with her family, you can find Kathryn running around her neighborhood and local trails, writing with a strong cup of coffee, or covered in dog hair from all the furry friends in the house!

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