We live in a very friendly neighborhood. There are lots of families with young children.

When the weather is nice, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen kids playing in the street. They might be drawing with sidewalk chalk, riding scooters and bikes, driving battery-powered vehicles, or battling with Nerf guns and foam swords.

Parents of babies and toddlers frequently take walks while wearing their little ones in carriers or strapping them into strollers. Dogs tag along on leashes.

While these walks can be a form of physical activity, there is usually so much stopping that it hardly qualifies as exercise. It might be to talk to neighbors who are sitting on their porches or to engage in the kids’ latest game of hide and seek.

We adore our neighborhood, its people, and its sense of community.

But lately, all that has changed.

With the worldwide pandemic, everyone is staying home—including us. In fact, in our state, it’s required. We’re on lockdown and can leave home only for essential jobs, medical appointments, or food.

Just a couple weeks ago, my daughter’s neighborhood friends regularly knocked on our front door, asking her to play. A true social butterfly, she happily accepted, darting off to ride her bike and paint rocks with her besties.

These days, if a friend knocks, I have to answer the door and say no. She’s not allowed to play with other kids right now.

If my kids are playing in our yard or driveway and other youngsters try to join, I have to ask them to leave.

If we go for a walk and see neighbor friends in their yards, we have to keep our distance. Even when my daughter begs to play with her friends, I have to say no.

These situations hurt, and sometimes I feel like the “mean mom.”

Of course, I’m doing this to keep my family safe. We’re generally healthy people with no underlying conditions, but my instinct is still to protect them however I can.

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More importantly, though, we are staying home because we want to keep our neighbors safe. Like the elderly couple across the street. Like the little girl down the lane who has type I diabetes. Like the fellow mom around the corner who has ALS.

They all have a higher chance of experiencing serious complications from the virus.

So, we will stay home. We will not accept visitors. We will not get too close to our neighbors when we take walks.

Yes, it hurts. It stinks. I miss my neighbors. My kids miss their friends.

But a little bit of playtime is not worth the risk.

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If I have to be the “mean mom” and ask other kids to go home, I will do it. Not because I want to be mean but because I love my kids, and I want to do my part to keep them and their friends safe and healthy.

April Leiffer Henry

April Leiffer Henry is a writer, wife, mother, and Diet Dr. Pepper addict. She has worked as a newspaper reporter, public relations specialist, and digital strategist. When she’s not writing, April is probably playing with her three children or hiding from them while eating dark chocolate. She also enjoys eating the delicious food her husband makes, reading good books, and listening to musicals.