Yellow “caution” tape cordoned off playgrounds. All the basketball hoop rims were gone, leaving bare backboards and empty courts. Locked gates blocked entry to the baseball diamond and skate park. On March 20, five days after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his “safer from home” recommendation related to the COVID-19 crisis, I visited Verdugo Park in Glendale to provide my homebound 2-year-old daughter an outlet for her pent-up energy. As most people have seen, public activities have become increasingly scarce.
March 12 was the first major COVID-19 inflection point in the U.S. That day, the NBA suspended its season indefinitely, Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson popped positive in Australia, and President Trump closed travel from Europe. Anxiety was snowballing fast.
I personally felt the effects in a hurry. My family recently moved to a new neighborhood. It’s too early for our 3-month-old baby to notice any differences, but our toddler was going through a lot. She was still adjusting to a new house and preschool and it was just getting to the point where she didn’t cling to my leg for 15 minutes when I dropped her off in the morning. There’s never a good time for anybody to face a pandemic, but when our preschool ceased on-site care on March 15, and we lost access to our parents and outside caregivers at about the same time, our lives changed dramatically.
My wife was still on maternity leave and stayed home most of the time with our baby. With our older daughter home, it was all hands on deck. Our toddler, who’s become needier and prone to more outbursts since the move – she’s about to become a “threenager” after all – resembled a tornado and needed at least one dedicated parent.
Her attention span is already short, and options for teaching and distracting toddlers are disappearing by the day. We woefully underutilized thoughtful lesson plans that her preschool briefly provided before going dark. Play dates are clearly postponed until further notice, unless FaceTime and Zoom count. We did have one particularly sad meet-up with some friends and their girls in a DMV parking lot. We kept our distance, parking side by side and catching up through rolled-down windows.
There are also only so many books, puzzles and art projects that our daughter can handle. She’s about 10 years away from being content brooding alone in her bedroom. We’re also not willing to just plop her on the couch for hours on end to watch “Daniel Tiger” or “Peppa Pig,” even though that would make it easier for my wife and I to get “work” done, as if that’s truly possible.
Playgrounds are off-limits, but I consider us lucky to still have the ability to take stroller rides and go on “nature walks” around the neighborhood and to chase our daughter and her scooter around depleted park paths. I chuckle whenever she yells, “Watch out!” to anybody who gets too close.
Sadly, she suddenly can’t do a lot of things that make being a kid so carefree and fun.Joshua Lurie
Thankfully, I’ve never lived in a war zone or under an authoritarian regime, but I imagine we’re scratching the surface of what that kind of uncertainty and stress might feel like. Even compared to people in cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Seattle that are on varying degrees of lockdown, we are lucky to even have relative freedom of movement.
Of course, movement poses challenges, including strangers who don’t respect personal space, sweat-drenched runners who spit carelessly on concrete and previously pedestrian things like water fountains that now feel menacing. One scene stood out at Verdugo Park. A father yelled at his son for drinking from the public water fountain: “The virus can stay on the surface for 17 days!” Followed by: “Don’t touch your face! That’s it, we’re going home!” Another tense, but relatable, moment that made me laugh.
Venturing outside also raises questions. My daughter knows that her preschool closed, she can’t play with her best friend, and that swings and slides are suddenly off-limits, all “because the virus.” It’s hard to know exactly how she’s absorbed our new reality, but I got a sense at Two Strike Park in La Crescenta. A young man with a bandanna covering his face walked by with his dog and she said, “People always wear masks because of the virus.” Our toddler is bright – a genius by a parent’s definition – but this instance made me wonder.
Leaving that park, climbing stairs to our car, she held onto the handrail, and I balked. She’s taken enough tumbles and absorbed enough of our instructions to know it’s safer to hold handrails, but now countless common-sense life lessons like that are in question. It’s maddening.
I later texted my brother, saying these are the “longest days ever.” He responded that he and his wife are “similarly bored.” They’re not parents and clearly can’t relate. I responded, “We’re not bored in the least. That’s not possible with little kids.” Downtime is a luxury as a parent during normal times, though this stretch is particularly draining.
Ultimately, though, parental needs come second to kids, especially in crisis. Our most recent outing to McDonald Park in Pasadena reminded me of that. My daughter scooted around a great loop path with more neutered playground equipment, including swings tangled with caution tape. She asked to play with a girl in the sandy volleyball court and I couldn’t say yes. Sadly, she suddenly can’t do a lot of things that make being a kid so carefree and fun. Kids in the U.S. – except in states where governors aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously – can’t be nearly as curious, social or adventurous as they could before March 12. Basically, kids can’t be kids, and that’s heartbreaking.
Joshua Lurie is a Los Angeles writer who founded the food-focused website FoodGPS.com.