June and July 2020: Opening Back Up, Getting Back Outside

Things in Boston are not normal, to be sure, but over the past two months they've been improving. Virus counts are 100-200 new cases a day in the state, and restaurants, gyms, hair salons, even museums are open for now--all by appointment only, basically, in limited numbers, but things are starting slowly to become liveable.

On Thursday, June 4th, I took the girls to a Black Lives Matter vigil/protest nearby. We went to another at the beginning of July, too. The June one had about 2000 people, and was mostly a silent vigil, with people kneeling at the end in honor of George Floyd and others, while a church bell tolled. Just the Sunday night before, there had been a protest downtown that turned violent, with police ordered people to leave but blocking protestors' paths home, so everyone was on edge. The police at the vigil we went to were standing on the street in front of the local ice cream place, six abreast on either side, so you had to walk past them to go in, with big batons at the ready. The 7-11, local Thai restaurant, an Irish pub, and other places boarded up their windows, afraid of the looting that happened elsewhere in the city Sunday night, and again we walked past these places. This was the first time the girls and I had been off our block, except for a bike ride to drop things off at Sarah's house, since the lockdown started, and it was the first time we were wearing masks. Samantha did the lettering on the signs, and Helen helped color them in. By the time it was July 2nd, though, no stores were boarding things up, and the police presence disappeared entirely. There were only around 200 people at the July vigil, and some violinists and cellists played "Amazing Grace," "We Shall Overcome," and "Lift Every Voice and Sing" at the end of it, spread out on the lawn of a church and across the street. Helen slept through that vigil, though she woke up when cars started honking loudly in support.

In that same week, I read about an art opening for a public art installation of an artist who was creating art with old bike tubes at such-and-such a park. I looked it up, and it's a tiny park just about three blocks from my parents' house, so just a mile from us, that we'd never been to. The "opening" was from 4-8pm on a Friday, with the instructions to come in masks ready to stand 6' away from people, and "interact" with the art at your own risk, so that Friday, we rode over after dinner. There was the artist and 3 of their friends, and then us, on a basketball court.

The artist said they live around the corner from the park and had worked with rubber tubes, though not bike tubes, doing installations before, and then when the city removed the basketball hoops in March they felt like the basketball court was crying out for an art installation but weren't sure what to do.They thought about it in the back of their mind for a few days, and woke up one morning having had a dream and seeing a woven net of rubber tubes stretching from one basketball backboard (no net, no hoop, now) to the other, so they sketched it, and then set about collecting old, punctured bike tubes from bike stores around the city. They don't have a car, and just rode around on their bike (naturally) collecting them for a month, and then in the middle of May started knotting the tubes together and then installing them. This doesn't have official city permission, but they've been installing it slowly for a couple weeks or so and no one has complained about it or asked them to take it down.

The artist was totally happy for us to pick it up, pull on it, and even climb on it (Robert and I did not take them up on it, but the girls did--Samantha scrambled up it all the way to the hoop right away, climbing it like it's a silk in circus class). Helen got a bit up, using the knots as foot holds, and then needed some help, so Robert steadied it. We talked to the artist for awhile about art and bikes and the girls climbed, and then Samantha sat down on a lawn off to the side and sketched it all, and Helen ran around the bases on the empty baseball field right next to it, and then we all rode home. It was glorious—an actual event, for once in almost three whole months, and we all had a lot of fun.

On June 15th, playgrounds reopened in the city. Most adults in them wear masks, and, depending on the playground, 2-40% of the kids do too. I think Samantha, especially, really dislikes wearing a mask while running around playing in the summer, but they missed playgrounds so much that when necessary, she can live with the mask.

Robert had been taking Helen to Franklin Park a couple times a week before that, just to climb on rocks and swing on the rogue swings that someone installed from a tree here and there, but being back in an actual playground seems to really give the kids a feeling of normalcy.

They had also been going to the Southwest Corridor on Thursdays to find and solve the YES riddles, but those are done now for the summer, though the girls loved them while they had them.

But now we've been able to go back to Green Street, Stony Brook, Jackson Square, and the newly renovated Carter, and they also especially love going to the little skatepark in the Southwest Corridor.

Sometimes we stop at the ice cream truck on the way home--that's always a big hit, of course.

Libraries reopened, but only for curbside pickup of pre-reserved books. You return books into a big laundry bin or trash can only while they're open (2-6pm), and they let the books sit for 72 hours before checking them in. When you get to the library, at a pre-arranged timeslot, you have to call in to the library (the number is posted on the door, which is locked) while you stand 6' back from the door. A librarian checks your books out to you and brings them into the vestibule onto a table, and then retreats into the main library again, and a security guard unlocks the door and lets you into the vestibule to collect your books. We were at our limit of checked-out books, though, so I was worried that I wouldn't be able to pick up any of my holds at first; then they announced that the bookslot for returns would be open at the Copley branch a week before actual pickups started around the city, so Robert took all our books back and 3-4 days later I watched as they disappeared from my online record, finally getting checked back in, and that Monday I was able to pick up our first new library books in a little over three months. What a glorious feeling! Holds are much slower to come in than normal, though, since all books checked out before the closing aren't due until September, and they hold reserved books a lot longer than before (in order to give people a chance to find an appointment slot to pick them up), and returned books take an extra three days before they're processed. We are making it work by reserving a weekly pick-up appointment, and by keeping both my card and Samantha's card maxed out at 50 holds each.

Near the end of June, we went on a Saturday midday group bike ride, Black-led and Black-organized, dubbed the Ride for Black Lives. There were about 1500 of us riding together--we were pretty much middle-of-the-pack and at one point there was a long gradual hill ahead of us and we looked ahead and there were just 3-4 blocks ahead of bikers.

We took over one side of the street completely, all lanes available, and we rode through 5-6 separate public housing developments and some of the main streets in Roxbury, one of Boston's historically Black neighborhoods. Many of the streets were named after slave owners--Ruggles Street, Seaver Street, etc.--and the speakers before the ride, including Liz Miranda, a Boston-born State Representative from Roxbury who went to Wellesley a few years behind me and was an amazing speaker, talked about that, and about growing up in their shadow.

The ride itself was super chill. The teenage ride marshals were people of color who had gone through bike programs at Bikes not Bombs, and they prepared thoroughly and were great at stopping traffic. At some group rides, a ride marshal will hold traffic  briefly, then declare a pause and let traffic go, then hold it for another batch of riders, and usually there are some drivers who are happy to watch lots of bikers but more drivers who are annoyed and sort of harass the marshals, but for this ride, the marshals held all traffic for all 1500 of us, and not a single car that I saw got unhappy.

Drivers (almost all people of color) were leaning out their windows videoing, or raising their fists in Black power salutes, or yelling "Black lives matter" back at us. The honking in solidarity was intense--I don't think I'd ever heard this much traffic noise in the US (that caveat is because cities in Vietnam and India that I've been to have been enormously more cacophonous as far as traffic noise and honking, really startlingly so). The streets we were riding were generally big streets, 2-3 lanes per side and a divider in the middle (this is typical of the Black neighborhoods in Boston, whose major streets often have been passed over as far as traffic calming measures and normally are not bike-friendly at all).

People who lived in the houses came out, and kids yelled and cheered, and families who lived across the street came running across in the middle of the block and waved their own BLM signs. We passed several storefront mosques and several big churches, and people came pouring out of all of them. We rode a five-mile loop and finished back at Franklin Park, where we started, which was an easy five-minute ride home for us, and some of the riders continued on another five miles and finished in Nubian Square. As the rain was picking up, I don't think the second part of the ride had quite as many people as the first, but we were really glad to be a part of so much good biker energy for social change, and the drizzle was refreshing to ride in.

Meanwhile, our garden abounds in tomatoes and kale and mint, and we are loving our outdoor space.

Many days, we set up the kiddie pool in the back (or sometimes the front) and the girls play with water. Sometimes Samantha just sits in a chair reading, while swishing her feet in the pool, and sometimes she's in a bathing suit getting completely wet. I try to sit with them and either play my guitar or else play music on one of our wireless speakers.

Robert's Father's Day present of a hammock has also been getting lots of love.

Creativity abounds here for the girls. Samantha sewed a stuffed guitar for herself, a stuffed bunny/bear for herself, and a pair of quilted fairy wings for Helen, as well as a dress for a little doll and a stuffed and decorated Christmas tree.

When she's not sewing, Samantha's been practicing watercolor technique, making fake food out of paper (this was a salmon onigiri), making a 3-D paper treehouse, doing nail-punch art on cans, painting rocks to hide in the parks for other kids, making a lunar lander Lego model, making jointed paper Girl Scout friends, and painting my guitar capo.

She also painted a target on our back fence, for more interesting water gun play.

One day, she designed a zipline for a doll, and even made a removeable harness for the doll to clip into and sit on (more like an obstacle course/rockclimbing harness, Samantha reminded me). Other days, the kids set up marble runs or car races, even mini Pinewood Derby races with heats for different toy cars, in the driveway with some long cardboard pieces.

This month we saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which even Helen adored, and "Totoro" and "Spirited Away" again (actually, I don't think either Samantha or Helen had seen "Spirited Away" at all, but they loved it, and definintely noticed the Mary Poppins voice of the main character, Sophie). We also watched "ET" again, and somehow, it was never obvious to me before that Helen is Drew Barrymore, who would totally dress ET up in various doll clothes; Samantha is the productive empathetic middle child who would figure it all out; and Marcus is the big brother, with his band of D&D friends and his cultivated obnoxiousness but ultimately also an ability to be helpful to the family unit when he chooses. We've done a couple more puzzles, on rainy days, and the girls and Desmond have also played Twister when we had almost a full week of rain. I finished crocheting my poncho, which Robert and my mother and Sarah all rolled their eyes at, but which I'm excited to get to wear in the fall.

Also this month, Helen helped Desmond's mother make coldbrew, and Virginia packaged up some of it for Robert from Helen as a Father's Day present.

The girls made Father's Day cards for Pop-Pop.

We picked sour cherries from someone's tree--they advertised on the neighborhood board and you could sign up for a slot to pick for free. It was drizzling during our time, and the tree was pretty high above the driveway, but we still got a pretty good-sized bowl of cherries, enough to give half to Desmond for his family and to bake the other half into a sour cherry almond cake that Robert loved. Samantha made Chinese dumplings again, and another day,Helen helped me make simit, Turkish bagel/pretzel breads.

Helen's graduated from her balance bike to a pedal bike, zipping around on it, even braking and pedaling up our hill (often wearing fairy wings and a Mary Poppins dress).

Baby carriers (and doll carriers) still get used occasionally at home.

Helen was overdue for her four-year-old well-child checkup and shots, so the pediatrician's office offered "house" calls, sending the doctor and two EMTs out in an ambulance to visit a bunch of houses in an afternoon. They put a scale on the sidewalk to weigh her, and did shots and a brief exam (ears, heart, lungs) in the ambulance with the door open. The doctor asked her to jump and hop on the street, and then one of the EMTs gave her the two shots while I sat in the ambulance and Helen sat on my lap. It was quick and easy and done...and it was also the highlight of the day for Rohan, who along with Samantha got to watch everything, talk to the EMTs, watch them put on a show with the lights, and make paper airplanes on the sidewalk with the EMTs.

There is a lot of Harry Potter love in the house these days. Helen says she's Hufflepuff, and perhaps she is.

Following in her sister's footsteps, Helen has become quite the little creatorp--she wrote a fan letter to Evan of Music at the Blissful; she's made her very first Lego set entirely by herself, even following the directions. The set made three different cars, which she named and has attributed different personalities to: Red, Isaac, and Emma. She even labeled them in the book.

She also draws complicated pictures and makes up stories about them--this was about a child who was picking apples and wearing two different shoes, which was very uncomfortable and made them fall off the ladder. But they were okay, and came back the next day wearing two of the same shoe and picked the apples again.

This one (below left and center) was about "Malucy the Unicorn," who likes flowers, and the one at the bottom right was about twins who had bikes, and one of them knew how to ride a bike while the other didn't, but the second twin taught the first twin how to ride. Helen "reads" these books to her dolls all the time, telling the stories remarkably consistently.

One Friday afternoon, I took the girls to a papier-mache workshop at Kids Arts in JP, held in the yard of a local church, where they each made pinatas--though unpainted at the moment--in the shape of baby Yoda (Samantha) and a unicorn (Helen). We had our own table and the girls loved getting to do art outside with a teacher leading it.

Grandma and Pop-pop still visit regularly. Marcus shows off his similar height and haircut to Grandma. Pop-pop and Helen cuddle in the hammock.

Then we celebrated my mother's 80th birthday with take-out Chinese food, fresh leaf decorations, and pistachio cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.

At this point, the girls can play with Rohan and Kavi a bit. Samantha leads paper plane classes--that is, when she and Helen aren't fishing.

One of Samantha's Sunday School teachers is getting married this week, so we coordinated a class gift and then delivered it to her bridal shower at her mother's house in Roslindale.

Last week, as a special summer treat, I made ice cream drumsticks--Robert loves them, and there was a lot of happy ice cream eating up and down the block as a result.

Marcus has been doing Tenacity every day, so at least he gets out and sees other kids and does something physical five days a week. Robert's church softball team started back up, and so far he's four for four in his record. Samantha's baseball team started practicing, and Robert is one of the coaches. Activities! Other kids! Woo hoo!

Yes, finally we get to see Sarah, Sean, and Evie, as well as Roman, Glorina, Meg, and Emil! Friends! Playtime! Adult conversation and laughter! Life is getting better everyday.


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Created: 7/27/20. Last Modified: 7/28/20.