Where are you sheltering in place? Well, you can find my husband, me and our two kids shuttling between my parents and my in-laws’ homes in Maryland. We realized that the coming (metaphorical) storm would be easier for our family to weather by being with our families in our childhood towns, relatively not far apart. It has been so helpful to have our family tribe together, not to mention the extra coverage so we aren’t playing man-on-man defense. However, we also found something unexpected amidst a pandemic that requires social distancing: real connections and real community.
When we left our home almost a month ago, we brought only a couple weeks' supply of everything with us. Clothes, books, toys, diapers; our real life was left in New York. We quickly realized we would be spending months down here. Amazon wait times have increased to weeks and sometimes months to get baby goods, and my son’s sudden growth spurt had left us with “option 1 or 2” for clothes on a daily basis. Family, friends and neighbors jumped at the opportunity to help out.
Now, my infant daughter is wearing a jumper given to us by a neighbor, and my son is learning to ride a bike that belonged to a family friend. We have toys, books (Berenstain Bears!) and clothes, thanks to our little community.
Even our daily social-distanced walks have led to some surprising moments of connection. An elementary-school acquaintance and I, who had neither seen nor thought of each other in years, passed each other on the street. We caught up, from six feet away, and now we're setting up walking dates. I've noticed myself saying hello to passersby on the street.
I'm not alone. That's true in a very literal sense -- my husband and children and I spend the weekdays with my parents and the weekends with his. But all over America, we're seeing communities spring into action to help each other. Mutual aid networks, where strangers living in the same area help each other with needs such as grocery and prescription pick-ups, have sprung up everywhere from Queens, New York to British Columbia, Canada.
The sacrifice we're making by staying isolated pales in comparison to those being made by healthcare, grocery and delivery workers, but it is still tough at times, and I find myself looking for and savoring moments of real connection. Outside of the home, I find escape and the connections I make become more meaningful. The strange thing is that now, on our drives to my in-laws' house or our furtive trips to the grocery store (a homage to normalcy), I'm no longer consumed by my phone or distracted by my kids (let alone my husband). That time outside of my home is for soaking up all the outside I can get, giving myself a semblance of regularity in an uneasy time. I am looking up and out and valuing that experience more than ever.
Being in out-of-home, I am primed to notice things such as billboards, bus shelter ads and street-level assets. However, now more than ever, I am able to appreciate and absorb them in a different way. Instead of adding to the media landscape around me, they are defining my experience outside of my home. It is no wonder why now, even through this pandemic, billboards remain such a dominant form of advertising. They serve the environment around them -- advertising for the grocery stores hiring more people, for the movie studios now offering in home releases (Trolls World Tour anyone?). I see billboards being used to give essential health information to the public from the CDC, ask people to clap for the essential workers or thank brands for doing amazing things during this time.
I find my much needed moments of connection in my coveted time outside of my home: those quick essential trips, daily breaths of fresh air, or weekend commutes to family. Now more than ever, I appreciate what assets add to that environment and coveted experience.
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