One of the hardest things about social distancing and stay-at-home, at least at first, was explaining to our young daughters (6 and 3) that we couldn’t do some very basic things we would normally do.
They both usually go grocery shopping with me, loving the outing and the free samples. The last few times, of course, I’ve gone alone. On Sunday, I wore a bandanna and gloves — but first I waited 10-15 minutes, moving 6 feet and one white X at a time, to get into the limited-capacity store.
At first this was extremely sad for my 6-year-old. She’s up for anything, anytime, and mostly just wants to be involved. Now when I head out and explain why she can’t come, she just shrugs and says, “Daddy, I know that already” and keeps doing her thing.
On our nearly daily walks and runs — sometimes just me and the two older kids but often with my wife and 3-month-old son along as well — we inevitably pass by one of our neighborhood playgrounds. The first time we had to explain why we couldn’t play there — clumsily saying it was “closed” even though it looks the same as it ever did — our 3-year-old had something resembling a meltdown.
Now she still points to it and says, “The playground!” But after we remind her we can’t go, she says, “Yeah, because a lot of people are getting sick.” She has replaced the playground with a bizarre but wonderful ritual: visiting the spider.
A couple blocks past the playground, there’s a house with a large concrete platform at the end of the driveway. And on top of the platform, there is a large plastic spider. There’s nothing really special about it, and it’s probably been there since last Halloween. But both girls LOVE seeing it, poking it with a stick and spending a good 10-15 minutes doing it.
A couple of times the people who live there have observed us and waved from the house. My wife and I wave back and shrug. This has happened at least a half-dozen times, and I’m sure that at some point today I will be asked: “Can we go see the spider?”
So yes: The kids are going to be OK, and I don’t just think we’re telling ourselves that. They are amazingly adaptable for several reasons, but mostly this: They’re not prisoners of their memories.
They live in the present and — at least in my limited experience — are less concerned about what they are missing and more engaged with whatever novel activity is going on at the moment.
As for the adults … well, we’re doing the best we can. Our lives have slowed down in some ways, sped up in others and converged in almost every way. We, too, are remarkably resilient.
But one of the greatest common burdens of daily life right now — not to be confused by the heaviest burdens of being sick, caring for the sick or dealing with a blindside recession — is that as you get older you view everything that is happening now through the lens of the cumulative experience of what has already happened.
Adults often have to remind themselves to stay in the present; for young kids, it seems to be the default setting.
Our pasts are deeply contextualized, and the weight of that context and experience comes rushing forward when reality is altered even a little — like wearing a bandanna to the grocery store or having someone set a bag of takeout food on the ground and back away so you can pick it up or even just the wide loops walkers and cyclists make now to avoid each other.
Maybe this explains why I have barely watched any TV — maybe an hour in the last three weeks — in the midst of our new (temporary) reality. Some of it is time, of which there is far less with three little kids at home and work-life blending together in ways that are both exhausting and wonderful.
But a lot of it is this: I’d say 80% of the TV I used to watch was live sports. And now there are pretty much 0% live sports happening. I really dislike watching any game where I know the result, so replayed games aren’t really my thing (unless it’s some random game involving two teams I don’t normally follow, which oddly might be the kind of game I would watch).
What little snippets I have seen of replayed vintage games — many of them all-time classics — seemed to me a mixture of strangeness, sadness and comfort … probably in that order.
Maybe you’ve experienced this with replayed games or other TV you are watching, but it is JARRING to see people so close together — fans packed tightly in the stands, basketball players careening off each other.
Why is Michael Jordan not social distancing?
At the time, of course, these things were completely normal. Even a month ago, they were completely normal.
Knowing they are not normal now is strange — and sad. Too much past experience makes us keenly aware of everything we used to have that we can’t have right now, even if we are dutifully giving up that freedom for the greater good.
A lot of you, though, have successfully suppressed that voice and allowed yourselves to relive a past sports glory relatively context-free. Those games provide a certain comfort and sense of normalcy, which I completely understand and maybe in some ways envy.
Whatever it is that’s bringing you joy and comfort right now is a victory. Maybe I’ll be ready and have the time at some point to watch some of those old games, too.
As for me right now, the morning chill is starting to wear off and the kids are getting restless. I think it might be time to go see the spider.