This is the story of a playdate. The playdate. Our children’s first, actual playdate since the term “social distancing” became a mainstay in our vocabularies, a progression from the stay-at-home orders that were put in place in March. This was our one and only playdate of the summer.
We’d been texting all spring and summer and saw each other on Zoom a few times, despite living just five short suburban blocks apart. I knew of her family’s trips and habits, and she knew of mine, not by inquisition but just by friendly, everyday conversations without agenda. When it came time to rip the social isolation band-aid off, revealing the social distancing wound beneath, I knew I felt safe with their family, little ones included.
Our families’ children are very close in age. Their daughter is a few months older than our son and their son is a year older than our daughter. If we plopped them all down on a rug in a dusty old timberframe barn, they’d make the cutest makeshift one-room preschool this town had ever seen.
Thankfully for us that late morning, they were running a few minutes behind, according to the clock. But with all these little arms and legs and cheeks and noses needing sunscreen, we were all on the same page, and we were thankful for the extra minutes.
We saw their car pull up to the top of the driveway and the anticipation started to build. How was this going to go? Would someone break etiquette, leaving us all with a sense of dread for the next 2-14 days (commonly reported COVID-19 incubation period)? Would we realize that we were actually just really great text-friends and visiting in person wasn’t such a great idea during this time? Would their kids be better behaved than ours and cause a rift in what we thought would be a very safe (COVID) friendship?
There was no backing out now. There they were, stepping out of their car with day bags in hand, approaching the gate to our backyard.
What happened next was magic. The adults backed off—something we haven’t had the luxury to do in nearly half a year—and let the kids be kids. They played and touched and laughed. They made eye contact that has been impossible to replicate through Zoom. They felt each other’s energies. They shared a moment.
After five months with only adults and a younger sibling to play with, Hope remembered exactly how to play with friends, how to connect, how to laugh and enjoy the company of someone who understands, deep down into their preschooler soul, the wonderment of climbing a ladder and gazing out at the backyard from inside a clubhouse that’s four whole feet off the ground. Her joy sent shockwaves across our yard that rattled every cell in my body.
When we think of the community, or the army, it takes to raise children, we often omit our children’s peers. We know their friends are important, vital even, but we rarely consider the unintentional impact a nearby friend and peer can have on soothing anxiety in a child as young as two or four. This pandemic has shed a light on what it means to be human, from our very best traits to our very worst. Collectively, we have the ability to be dangerous and toxic to ourselves and to our earth, but individually, we might actually be pretty special.
Taking a chance that day was well worth it. In return for an incredible playdate, we now remain secluded until school begins next week. But we are grateful to our friends who have taken the same precautions we have so that our children could have the 90 minutes they did to splash in the pool and laugh and let loose in ways that only children know how to do.