Parks and Rec
It's a rainy morning here in quar. Rainy days are tough, since our whole routine with the kids at this time revolves so heavily around trips outside: usually a short one in the morning with me, and a long, adventurous one in the afternoon with their dad. I've been surprised how fulfilling the outdoors can be for kids without playground equipment, though it probably shouldn't be a surprise. Hattie is pretty good now on her micro mini scooter, and there's a newish place two blocks south of here that we call "the pocket park." It is simply half a bock of 26th Street between Guilford and Calvert that's been closed off to cars. There's a house on one side and a sunken freight train track on the other. Hattie loves this place, even though there isn't technically much to do there. She loves scootering down the slight decline toward it, asking Hannah or anyone who's present to race her. She stands up very straight on the scooter, arches a little, leans back proudly on the brake.
Sometimes a train goes by. Sometimes we bring a ball to kick around. Sometimes we bring Bobby's "popcorn popper" or a toy truck. Always there's a snack. Sometimes there's another kid or two there with another parent or caregiver. We look and wave, and sheepishly try to keep each other's little kids from touching or mouthing another family's things. I do a few body-weight exercises, if I can bring myself to. And sometimes I'm reminded of how, when I was 3 or 4, my favorite place to go was also a parking lot, and that I too felt an equestrian pride in my tricycle—a pride I can re-feel in my body as I watch Hattie scooter around. The parking lot where I went was also just a couple blocks from our house, and it was called, in family parlance, "the women's club." There was a large holly tree hanging over the street side of the lot that dropped fascinating red berries on the ground. I was pretty much always the only kid there, but I don't remember it ever being dull.
Time at the pocket park stretches and distends. The minutes flow by slowly and boringly for an adult, yet our trips there use up critical portions of the morning, and one feels vaguely wholesome afterward for having gone. Going outside is always the right call, and microscopic adjustments to our routine now feel like true variety. Some days we go to the bronze seal statue, or into the tennis court. Some days we walk by M—'s house, or past Motzi Bread. Once in a blue moon we get in the car and head up to Lake Roland, where the playground equipment is swathed in plastic netting, but we scooter down the boardwalk among the trees.
I'm grateful to be in Maryland, where the governor is taking stay-at-home seriously, but has also been clear that he wants people to continue to get outside. I can't imagine how people in New York are doing it, and when I hear about kids in Spain who didn't go out for months, it makes me so sad. Here, people are starting to get restless. It's the high spring weather coming on, and the fact that it's been two months. Death and sickness aren't too visible here, and people's capacity to live in a state of emergency is wavering.
A few days ago (though who can keep track?) my sister said something in an email that I keep thinking and thinking about. In the midst of acknowledging that her kids are cranky and she misses us, she wrote: "Each day that passes I feel less like I ever want to leave the house again." It gave me the shock of recognition, and I wonder how many of the rest of you are feeling it, too. I sort of enjoy my weekly trips to the store, but they also fill me with unpleasant energy and make me glad to get home with my loot. Or: going into quarantine was a big adjustment, and now that I've made it, I feel like I can't possibly go through another transition to come out. Is that it? I have weird feelings, like that quarantine will end without my having really gotten the good of it, whatever that might mean. Abstractly, I yearn for daycare to reopen, to have my work time again, to begin to plan forward and work toward goals and all the other things that supposedly constitute a life. But it's been a little thrill to take a break from them, to let oneself off the hook, to feel you've done enough at the end of the day, just to have gotten through another day of this.
Earlier this week, under clear skies, I walked with both kids over to the daycare center. I hadn't been there in months. They are open now in a limited capacity, for only the children of essential workers. I had to drop off next year's tuition agreement for my son, and it seemed just as easy to hand it off in person. When we arrived, a teacher and an administrator were hanging out on the front porch. Both of them from an older generation. They greeted us cheerfully by name, and we walked up and handed over the envelope, then chatted a while. "How are you getting along?" We all marveled a bit. "How's it being home with the kids?" I said it was OK. I said it was a nice life, actually, as long as you don't let yourself stress out about all the work and other stuff that isn't getting done. As long at there isn't something else you want or need to do. I know, they said, this is how it used to be. Kids used to be home till kindergarten, didn't they? I said. They were just home. They nodded. I shrugged. It was warm outside, and sunny, and after this I and mine were heading up the hill, straight up the concrete steps to campus, where we would meet M— and her little brother and dad for some scootering around the quad, a little shrieking, some toddling, some snacks. There were other things I wanted to do, but in that clear-skied, pollen-dusted moment, I held them to the side, and it was. It was a nice life.