I remember the last time we went outside: March 21st, 2020. It was a week or so into quarantine, and we were still taking the occasional walk around the neighborhood, or half hour to run around our apartment’s shared backyard.
It had been a few days since we’d been out, but it was a beautiful day—one of those early spring days where you are ecstatic to feel the sun against your skin, where you are starting to see little spring flowers poke their heads out of the grass.
So we took the kids out back. My teen sulked for a bit on a bench. My husband and I played hide-and-seek with our seven-year-old in the yard. I panicked a few times as his hand brushed a fence. After all, this is a yard we share with dozens of other families—could a kid with COVID-19 have touched it? Was I being cautious enough?
Still, I thought to myself: everything will be fine. I noted how happy and free my son seemed, playing outside on this gorgeous day. Quarantine can’t be so bad if we have moments like this, I thought.
Then, the sirens started. We live in a NYC suburb, right on the Queens/Nassau county border. Our street leads to two of the largest hospitals in the area. Soon after our last excursion outside our apartment complex, the cases of COVID-19 in our area began to spike—exponentially.
If you look at the NYS tracker for COVID-19 cases, you’ll see the number of positive cases begin to sky-rocket toward the middle of March. Within a two week period, we went from out 5,000 confirmed positive cases, to 10,000–and that’s just the folks who were able to be tested.
With those positive cases came the hospitalizations, and the deaths. As of this writing, over 9000 New Yorkers have died of COVID-19, with over 5,000 other probable cases.
Those few weeks—as the cases began multiplying, as New York state reached its apex of COVID-19 cases, you could feel the sense of panic and devastation everywhere. You didn’t need to read the news or watch the stats to experience what was happening.
For me, it was the sirens outside – loud, relentless, filling the walls of our home at all hours of the day. They just didn’t seem to stop.
But it was more than that, too. It was the number of people I knew who had tested positive. Friends from high school, kids and staff from my children’s schools, the parents of my some of my oldest friends. A few people in the apartment building where my mother lived.
Rumors began to swirl about the number of positive cases in our area. Local folks who were defying the social distancing rules—who were holding large gatherings, wandering the neighborhood without masks, leaving their dirty gloves on the ground, not seeming to care about how their actions might affect others.
Were the rumors true? It was hard to tell, but the data confirmed that positive cases were spiking in my area. And between that—along with all the people I knew who had tested positive—I decided that it wasn’t worth the risk, and I would be keeping my children inside for the foreseeable future.
Now, if I had a private home with its own backyard, I would definitely have let my children play outside. But because you need to enter and leave our home through the shared space of our apartment building—and because there was no way to determine who would be playing outside, or walking nearby as my children played—I just didn’t feel comfortable taking the risk.
No one explicitly told us not to let our kids go outside. But there was no disputing that the virus was spreading like wildfire where I lived, and while I could have my kids wear protective clothing, stay away from their neighbors, and scrub the crap out of their hands when they returned home, it just still felt too risky to me.
My mother-instinct said no, and I listened.
When the recent news broke that Spain had mandated all its children be kept indoors, I noticed how quickly people bristled at the thought of that. I think in places where there are fewer cases of COVID-19, it’s hard to understand why extreme measures like this have been taken.
And if you have the luxury (and it is a luxury) of living in a private home with a safe and comfortable backyard, you likely will be able to have the 1980s-style backyard quarantine that your kids will always remember, no matter how many cases of COVID-19 there are in your area.
But for many of us, that just hasn’t been possible. There are many people where I live and in cities all over America who have had no choice but to keep their kids indoors, or at least limit their outings severely.
And that’s okay. If anything, I have learned from this experience that kids are more resilient than we give them credit for.
A couple of times, my seven year old has asked why we can’t go outside. I tell him that we are waiting for the virus to calm down a bit in our area—that we are staying in to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe. I tell him where are staying in to keep his grandparents—most of whom live right here in our town—healthy and safe.
I tell him that it’s only for now, and we will go outside again. And that’s all he needs to hear, really.
Thankfully, the cases in New York have started to decline, and experts seem cautiously optimistic that we are past the apex here. I am praying that we truly are past the worst of it. If so, I can see us venturing outside to our shared backyard again soon. I bought each of my kids their own cute little cloth face masks. When the time is right, we will make our first trip back outside.
By then, the sun will be even stronger than it was on that early day of spring. There will be flowers blooming everywhere, and it will feel so damn good.
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