The plan was to meet up at Banning State Park for a social distancing hike. I was already out of the car when the Kennedy clan – my daughter and her family – spilled out of their minivan. The older three children clustered near the back of the van, collecting hats and gloves for the hike. They had been well versed in the rules. Stay six feet apart. No hugs. Don’t touch.
But 2-year-old Michael looked up and saw me. That’s all it took. He put one foot in front of the other, then began to run – right to me. Almost. Two feet in front of me he stopped. Looked up and waited with that big grin of his. It took all my self-control not to scoop him up and give him a big squeeze and bury my face in his ticklish neck. Poor Michael, he must have wondered what was up with his Grammy. Poor Grammy, her heart ached.
Once on the trail, things improved. The big kids ran ahead, fascinated by the old Quarry structures and the rock formations along the river. There were plenty of side trails to explore, walking sticks to test, river banks to climb. Little Michael kept up as fast as his little feet could carry him. If I couldn’t get close to the kids, being able to watch them in the outdoors was nearly as good.
We tried hard to keep our distance. Dancing around one another on opposite sides of the trail, as kids ran back and forth. I did my best to imagine it was just a normal family hike in the woods. The roar of the water flowing over rapids, discovering a lingering frozen waterfall, the carpet of pine needles and the kids’ giggles helped me hold the illusion. Breathing deeply, I took in the spring air, kicked up dead leaves and stood on big rocks. Grounded by nature.These strange times call for creative solutions. This was far better than our last in-person encounter, which consisted of waving through the window and leaving chocolate chip cookies on the doorstep. And it was more successful than our attempt at 4-way virtual family charades when we had a lot of laughs but couldn’t get a word in edgewise. We will keep trying, any way we can to be “with” family.
The truth is, I don’t really want to get good at this social distancing thing. I totally believe in the value of doing it, the necessity of these awkward practices. And I will do my part. But the next time little Michael reaches up for a hug, I just might not be able to hold back.