Yesterday, Izzy and I spring cleaned the Hobbit House. Then we aired ourselves out along a newly congested trail before returning home for a date with the neighbor kids.
If you’ve ever lived in a college town apartment, you know that you’ll meet a parade of neighbors. More so during a pandemic.
The guys across the way who were hosting pandemic dance parties are now hosting pandemic poker nights with the same three or four players. The quiet old man who in all of the years I’ve lived in the prairie penthouse and who has never once spoken, smiled at me (I think) before hustling off on his daily walk. He has this sheltering in place thing on lock.
The three young kids next door have always been reserved – sweet and funny, but shy. Their dad, originally from a coast, and I chat about neighborly things over the fence and their mum is a force of graceful nature. They have been saving – after moving to the Midwest – for a home of their own and they’ll move in a few months. In the two years they will have lived here, the kids and I have spoken and waved, they’ve played with Izzy a few times and I’ve offered books, art supplies, extra plants to pot and a listening ear or high five. Recently, I offered all of those again (minus the high five) to their dad who is leading their homeschooling.
They took me up on it.
Thursday, he asked if the kids could have “a homeschool date” with me. They’d been asking. Yesterday, I showed up at their door and gave them three choices: walk to two of the little free libraries nearby to make deposits and withdrawals for books they choose, paint/origami and learn how to make quick art easels out of reused foam board, or play with Izzy, bubbles and her chucker ball.
They chose Izzy. Who wouldn’t?
Soon, two of the three and I were outside letting the Kansas wind blow a river of bubbles for Izzy to chase and chew on. Within a few minutes, they were all chasing the bubbles and perfecting some impressive Pele-inspired high kicks and head-bubble-butts (bubble butts…) The oldest one wandered out and asked if he could help.
Oh please. Come help. We need you.
It wasn’t long before they were all racing and running like four puppies let out of the shelter (in place) and laughing and barking and playing as kids need to do. Izzy was thrilled. The kids took turns chucking the ball and only I over-tossed it into the street. They encouraged one another and me. They allowed themselves to be silly and relaxed.
We refilled the bubble wands, brought water out for Izzy and soon their dad had ambled out. He laughed and gave a play-by-play of how the kids and pup were chasing the bubbles. Their mum was at work and managing some of the local front lines.
We needed that. The laughter and bubbles and fresh air.
We all needed the chance to be neighbors and some sense of closeness in an era of physical distancing. One of the family is immuno-compromised so we kept our six-feet of distance. The kids were impressively creative about handing off the bubble wands and the ball chucker.
As this hour-ish of barking and leaping and laughing wound down, the dad said that his kids hadn’t spent this much time outside in a week or so. The youngest asked if we could do it again. He asked this after he had learned how to get Izzy’s attention and – with his siblings – run her and themselves hard. And what about the painting? Can we do that with Izzy? Art and P.E.?
So this Thursday or Friday afternoon, we will reconvene out in the green space that we share for a socially distanced and neighborly connected painting adventure. Maybe I’ll play an audiobook of Hank the Cowdog (click the link!) like I used to with my kids. Maybe the wind will be a challenge or Izzy will, but I cannot wait.
I can’t wait to hear them laughing again – unrestrained – and breathless out of joy instead of fear.
And this has refreshed me, though I kept my barking and leaping and Pele kicks to a minimum yesterday.
You see, the pandemic’s distancing-to-protect-our-community has made the singular quiet and questions of “am I living my best life” and “does what I do matter” hard to ignore and outrun. Questions of “am I making a contribution” rather than seeking something lesser? (Check out David Brooks’, The Second Mountain, for a transparent conversation into the questions I’ve asked myself since leaving and returning to Kansas). The pandemic has put many of us in a “homeschool” of less-interrupted discovery and hard-to-ignore truths.
Full disclosure: this time has been hard. Please don’t read that it’s all easy-peasy Pele kicks and bubbles. Friday afternoons are the worst. No matter how many extra hours I put in (I live alone and have a few projects that need to be reconsidered and rewritten because of the times we are in), Friday afternoon shuts me down. I call it the “Friday afternoon hides.” This is when I trudge to the couch or my bed (from the office), shut the doors, window coverings, turn off the twinkly lights in the corner, and bargain with a god i cannot see and am not convinced exists.
These questions are not caused by the isolation, they are amplified in it and follow me around more doggedly than Izzy.
But serendipity, a fuzzy pup and three homeschooling kids made for a best day, yesterday. We are fortunate to live where we can get out – it has been six weeks since kids in Spain were allowed out-of-doors. I have family and friends, and prairie and a job and some savings and people I love.
Like every other day only amplified now, it was an imperfect day. And it was beautiful and filled me up. I slept all night through. All. Through. The. Night. No wonky terrifying interruptions to wake me up.
That was a win. A homeschooling win. And I am so grateful.
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How are you in this time when uncertainty reveals itself for what it is – the norm? How is your heart? How can I listen?
Muddling through the adventure, wonder and everyday derring-do.
Your friend, Allie.