I live near Washington, D.C., in a suburban area full of children. In fact, the kids probably outnumber the adults.
Seemingly overnight following the stay-at-home orders, our quiet neighborhood was transformed into one boisterous, oversized family, with skateboards clattering down empty streets, a safe distance away from the occasional bicyclist and jogger.
While exercising safe distancing practices, the community has come together with special activities to make these "at-home days" memorable for the children.
One week, our community created a fitness circuit through the neighborhood with colorful papers taped onto mailboxes. Ours said, "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes," a reference to a popular exercise song, along with pictures of the exercises and the suggested number of reps. After completing their reps, the participants walked or jogged to the next mailbox exercise.
Another week, each family hung a letter of the alphabet in a front window. The children walked the sidewalks to find the letters. With the windows open, we chuckled as we heard the Alphabet Song — "A-B-C-D, E-F-G" — and an occasional, "Mom, there's an 'L' – look!"
The pandemic has disrupted many of our routines. It's especially destructive when it interferes with regular patterns of those on the autism spectrum. One neighborhood boy could not understand why he could no longer go to the movie theater every Tuesday.
So his parents set up a screen on their backyard deck and established a new Tuesday night "outdoor movie routine." They popped their own popcorn and roasted the hot dogs.
When a neighbor's dog was ready to give birth, it was captured live on our local Facebook group. Overnight, eight Great Pyrenees puppies came into the world.
Neighborhood kids watched the Facebook daily weigh-ins as "Homeschool Lessons with Ms. Liz." They created their own charts to measure the size of the pups. Ms. Liz would also post probing questions, like "If Minnie is 12 ounces, what fraction of a pound is that?" It became a bright spot in our sheltered COVID lives.
One night, 14 of us stood 6 feet apart in a cul-de-sac. It was quiet. And dark. No moon. We could barely see each other.
"Are we ready? In place?" one woman yelled. Then she knocked on a door. The mom inside cracked the door open and peeked out apprehensively. With my kazoo providing the melody, we all started singing "Happy Birthday." She said it was the best birthday gift ever.
Here in the United States, an 18th birthday is a milestone because it signals adulthood and brings with it the right to vote and join the military. Usually it is the reason to hold a large birthday party. But not during the coronavirus.
One Thursday as I was out for an afternoon run, I noticed a long line of cars idling along the side of the road. The young drivers were waiting for a signal to start driving. Their friend was about to be surprised by having the caravan parade past his house on his 18th birthday.
A few minutes later on my run, I laughed out loud when I heard all the horns honking, knowing the "drive-through" party had begun.
We have a creek along a woodsy trail in our neighborhood. On a sunny afternoon, a family set up a colorful beach umbrella and lounge chairs next to the creek. The aroma of barbecue from their tiny charcoal grill filled the neighborhood. The sounds of summer music played from their iPhones as they enjoyed their picnic.
COVID-19 has brought pain and isolation and death globally. Our neighborhood has tried to keep spirits lifted and children shielded from the reality of the pandemic.
In the past, moms and dads met each other at the school bus stop. Neighborhood picnics took place on Halloween and Labor Day. But because of the pandemic, we celebrate each other every day.
We cannot enter each other's houses. We cannot hug. We cannot gather. We only talk from a distance. But I'd like to think that our hearts have grown closer as we face this virus together.
Even after all these weeks, moms and dads in the neighborhood continue to invent activities to bring laughter to the most curmudgeonly faces.
Lately someone has been painting rocks and leaving them along paths and sidewalks. They offer motivational words and phrases like "Smile" and "We Will Travel Again" and "Believe." Good thoughts for all of us to embrace from behind our closed doors.