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Social Distancing Diaries: When the Backyard Is the Only Place for Your Kids to Go

Even in the middle of a pandemic, kids will need to play to release all of that specifically childlike energy. The worst part is reminding them that they can’t play like they used to.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The sports and pop culture calendars have paused. The safest thing that you can do right now is stay inside. And millions of people are looking for creative ways to pass the time. The Ringer is here to help. We’re running a series called the Social Distancing Diaries, with our staff’s ideas for finding comfort, joy, community, or distraction while doing their part to flatten the curve. In the coming weeks, we’ll be diving into what we’re passionate about and want others to discover—from bidets to buried treasure and everything in between.

Do you remember the prison scene in 2009’s Watchmen? I didn’t like that movie very much the first time I watched it, but I will never forget that part.

What happens is: Rorschach, a teeny-tiny superhero—maaaaybe 5-foot-4, but probably closer to 5-foot-1—finds himself incarcerated. While waiting in line to get food one day, an inmate sidles up to him and starts talking to him, and things mostly seem safe. “Hey, Rorschach,” he says, sounding happy and pleased to be talking to Rorschach. “Hey, you’re pretty famous, right?” Rorschach ignores him, just staring forward and barely even blinking. The inmate laughs. “Hey, you know what? I’m pretty famous, too,” he says, and then everything turns dastardly. He replaces all of the niceness in his voice with menace and all of the kindness in his posture with venom. “You know, maybe I can give you an autograph,” he hisses, and then he takes a shiv and stabs Rorschach in the stomach.

Rorschach, a motherfucking problem, uses his metal food tray to block the blow, hits the guy in the face with the tray, then uses his elbow to break the glass between him and the cooks. He reaches over, grabs a deep fryer basket full of boiling oil that’s being used to make french fries, then dumps the boiling oil on the inmate’s head. The whole cafeteria is in shock. The guy—that poor, poor, dumb bastard—screams in pain as the skin and flesh melt off his skull.

“None of you seem to understand,” growls Rorschach. “I’m not locked in here with you,” he continues as a couple of prison guards grab him to try to get control of him. “You’re locked in here with me!” It’s gnarly, and terrifying, and one of those movie moments that never loses its luster, no matter how many times you watch it. Here’s the scene:

That’s what it feels like to be locked in a house all day with a 7-year-old, which is the predicament I have found myself in these past three or so weeks.

There are five people who live in my house. There’s me, there’s my wife, there are the twins, and there’s my youngest son (the Baby). We started social distancing on March 13. Here are some of the things that the Baby has already done, or said, or threatened me with thus far during the quarantine:

  • He said he was going to put a rattlesnake in my bed. He did this because I’d told him it was time to brush his teeth. There were no steps in between me telling him to brush and him threatening to put a rattlesnake in my bed. I said, “It’s time to brush your teeth, son.” To which he replied, “I’m gonna put a rattlesnake in your bed.” That’s way too fast of an escalation.
  • He walked into my room, turned on the lights, then shouted, “It’s time to wake up! It’s time to wake up! It’s time to wake up!” It was 3:30 a.m.
  • He told me that on a scale of 1 to 10, my score was a 2. I have no idea what that’s a measurement of, by the way. He didn’t give me any other information. He just said it and then turned on Wild Kratts. I’ve been thinking about it for 10 days.
  • He told me that if a bear got in our house, he would tell the bear to eat me first. He, for some reason, thought of this while he was playing with Legos. We weren’t even in the same room. I was outside on the patio working. He stopped playing, walked outside, told me about this hypothetical bear situation, and that was that. I asked him why he was thinking about bears. He responded by walking away without answering me.
  • He told me he found some money outside. He reached in his pocket to get it. Except he didn’t pull out any money. Instead, he pulled out his fist and then gave me the middle finger. He started laughing and then ran off. (I’ll admit: I thought this was funny when he did it.) (I’ll also admit: It was 100 percent my fault that this one happened. Flipping each other off has been a running gag between the two of us for about two years now. Probably a week or so prior, I’d come home from work and when I walked inside he asked me if I brought him anything. I said yes, that I’d brought him a tiny pet. He got really excited and hopped over to see what it was. When he did, I reached into my pocket, pulled out my fist, said, “I got you a bird,” and then gave him the middle finger. I guess he’d been waiting to get me back.)

I’d always thought of the Baby as smart and funny and cute, so I’d assumed he was going to eventually grow himself into a MACAULAY CULKIN IN HOME ALONE–type character. It would appear that’s not going to happen, though. It would appear we’re headed toward more of a MACAULAY CULKIN IN THE GOOD SON–type character. I’m so glad there’s no ice skating in San Antonio.

The truth is, separate from this curiously aggressive arc the Baby has begun to chart, the social distancing thing doesn’t really bother me all that much on a structural level. My pre-pandemic schedule found me alone in my office for eight or nine hours a day anyway—if anything, I’m around people more regularly now than I’ve been in years, what with all of us suddenly stuck in the house. I’m also fortunate to have a job that still pays me and a grocery store near my house that still stocks itself each night, so I don’t ever have to deal with the stress of worrying about how a bill is going to get paid or where our next meal is going to come from, which is something that literally millions of people have suddenly found themselves having to stare down.

And even beyond that: My parents live on a little piece of land just nine minutes away from us. And my mom is retired and my dad is on an indefinite leave of absence from work right now. We plotted it out early on that their house, same as our house, was going to be a safe zone. We don’t allow any outsiders in and neither do they. We don’t go anywhere and neither do they. They just hang out at their place with two of my nieces (my sister works in a hospital, so she decided it’d be safer for her girls to be with our parents; she sent them there over two weeks ago). On the weekends, Larami and I drop all three of the boys off there so they can run and play and be out from underneath us for two days. It’s a good little setup, really. In all likelihood, it’s probably just about as good as it can get.

But there is one part of all of this that sucks a lot, and that hurts my feelings a lot: when the Baby or one of the twins forgets that everyone is on lockdown and asks to go play with one of their friends.

That shit gets me every time.

For the twins, our house was the get-together house. Every two or so weeks they’d invite a few of their friends over to spend the night. Larami would pick them all up from school, take them to do some sort of activity—usually it’d be a trip to one of those trampoline parks, but sometimes it’d be a trip to the movies—then take them to the store, let them pick up a bunch of snacks, then go home and turn them loose. They’d all swim in the pool or go exploring in the wooded area near our house during the day, then at night they’d disappear upstairs with two boxes of pizza and listen to rap music with cuss words in it and play whatever games it was that they felt like playing (mostly indoor basketball, but sometimes Nerf War, and occasionally this game called Ten Seconds, where two kids just fistfight for 10 seconds, which is not a game that I condone but certainly one that I also played with my friends during sleepovers).

But they can’t do that anymore. About two weeks ago, one of them asked to have a sleepover, and it hurt so much to have to tell them that it wasn’t allowed.

Same with the Baby: He was FaceTiming with one of his buddies who lives in the neighborhood and I guess they were talking about how much they missed each other or something because the Baby asked if he could go visit her. And when he asked he put his little hands together like he was begging and, in this very high-pitched voice, he said, “Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?” and man. That shit hurt. A lot. All three of the boys just want to hang out with their friends. And we can’t let them. And they kind of understand why, but not really.

A few nights ago I could hear each of the twins in their rooms playing Fortnite with their friends on the computer. I just sat there on the couch listening to them laugh and yell and joke until well after one in the morning. I didn’t have the heart to tell them to stop and go to bed.

Kids are supposed to hang out with their friends. They’re supposed to run around and break shit and make jokes and ride skateboards and throw footballs and climb trees and get in trouble and not worry about anything.

But they can’t.

Because we can’t.