These past few months, I’ve realized I’m a rule follower. It makes decisions easy. Stay home, wear a mask if you have to go out, keep six feet away from anyone you see, avoid touching your face, use hand sanitizer whenever you walk in or out of a store, and then wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you get home. We all know these rules by heart. But in truth, I haven’t even used the rules that much, because we haven’t really gone anywhere since March. It occured to me recently that my kids haven’t gotten use to new protocols, because they barely leave the house.

We are really good at staying home. Mike and I can work from anywhere and we’ve got a pretty sweet quarantine spot. The yard and the pool have been a lifesaver.

Mike and I split our responsibilities how we always do— he’s more in charge of household stuff (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping) and I’m more in charge of the kids (getting them up and ready in the morning, schooling, playing, bathing, bedtime, etc.). Staying home is not without its frustrations, but compared to some of the struggles I’ve heard about from friends, I can’t complain.

However, now that things are opening back up in our area, I’m having trouble adjusting. I liked the rules better when they were black and white. Long Island and New York City are currently in Phase 4, which feels very strange as other states go in the opposite direction. And scary, because I can’t imagine a scenario where we won’t take a step back. It’s just a matter of how soon and how much it will affect us. Which is making me feel anxious again, like at the beginning.

Do I get my haircut now because I might not be able to get one come September? What about a check-up with my doctor, who is in a huge elevator building in midtown? Can we take the kids to our favorite ice cream place and eat our cones out on the lawn? Is it okay to have our sitter come once a week even though she is also working for another family? If we have a sitter come over, can I still see my mom?

“The Rules” say yes. Can I trust the rules??

Because we left the city, we aren’t really part of a community at our house, so we can’t just walk outside and see our friends. For awhile, we had a really great social arrangement. Our good friends, who live five minutes away, were quarantining in the same house with another family we love, so since the end of April, we had three families in our bubble.

The kids and adults all get along great. We’ve got six daughters of various ages between us, Harlow being the youngest. We could hang out at our house or theirs. The only other trips anyone made was to the grocery store. At first, we always hung out outside, at a distance.

But then gradually, when we had all clearly been isolating and careful for months, we started getting closer and hanging out inside our houses too. By June, everyone was hugging and the kids were having sleepovers. It was great.

But then, at the beginning of July, our friends went to Maine for a few weeks and the family staying with them went back to the city.

Our bubble broke up.

A few days after they left, I remember sitting in my backyard on a Saturday. For the first time in months, I started to wonder what everyone else was doing. Was everyone still at home? Or was everyone testing out the new rules? I started texting my friends and checking social media. This friend had taken their family strawberry picking. That friend had met someone for a drink at an outdoor restaurant. This family was on a road trip. Keep in mind, pre-pandemic, I almost never stayed home on the weekends, but over the course of the last few months, I have come to enjoy this newfound permission to do nothing. I started second guessing myself— by staying home, was I being responsible or was I being lazy? I thought about all the time my kids spend on the couch watching TV and playing Roblox. Is this me being a good mom or a bad mom?

A friend reached out to see if we wanted to come over for dinner. They have been out here since March too. We went. We ate outside, the kids swam in the pool and it felt great.

Another friend invited us over to their house for dinner. They have been here since June. We went. We ate dinner outside and after running around the yard for awhile, the kids ended up going inside to watch a movie. We had a great time and it all seemed fine.

Meanwhile, we’ve been seeing my parents more and without masks. We’ve been having a sitter over to conduct a little camp outside a few days a week. Ruth came to visit for a day as well. At first, I thought “no hugs,” but that went right out the window, the second she walked in the door.

Everyone has been following the rules, staying mainly at home and numbers in NYC are way down. Still. Most of our friends seem to be opening up their bubble in the same seemingly safe ways we are— seeing close family at home, gathering outside with other families who have been careful, going to the doctor.

But, even with everyone following “the rules,” there are so many wild cards now. An entire web of people you haven’t even met that could potentially impact you. So many unknowns. So many possible ways for the virus to creep back in.

Last week, a friend who rented a house near us for the summer texted to see if we wanted to go to the beach. Originally, when she had reached out, I said let’s wait until you’ve been out here two weeks. That time had passed. We went. But because parking at the beach is a bit complicated, there was a few minutes where our two families had to get in the same car. We all had our masks on with the windows open. It was probably fine. But it was just another example of one these small moments when the rules are tested.

At the beach, we set up our chairs next to each other and then realized we should spread them further apart. Did it matter now that we had been in the car together? We opted to spread them anyway.

I am so glad we went to the beach. It felt like living again.

It felt necessary. It felt safe. It reminded me about how much more life is out there.

After the beach, we decided to go to a local food truck for a snack. I was nervous. We haven’t been to restaurants at all, but when we got there it was empty except for the people working there, who were all in masks. This is totally fine, I thought. But then I wondered— is it empty because I am taking a bigger risk than most people?

Our world for so long was our house and our friend’s house. It’s very possible we will have to return to that original bubble some time soon. Part of me feels like I should soak up outside life while it’s still an option. But then another part of me realizes that just because it’s an option, doesn’t mean it matches my comfort level. The rules are broad, aimed at protecting society at large. It’s probably wise to make personal rules to protect your family that are much stricter. We all have to figure out where we stand on risk vs. reward. And really nothing, no matter how safe you play it, is without a little bit of risk.

I decided to go to the doctor. She had a mask and a visor on, but while she was talking to me, she lowered her mask under her nose for a moment. Did she do that with everyone? Should I say something? I didn’t.

Declining a hug. Not sharing food and drinks. Asking friends who else they have seen before you agree to hang out. We actually canceled plans when we found out a friend had been to a birthday party at a playground. The playgrounds are open again. They were only with two other families. Nothing better or worse than what we have done. But once I asked the question, she totally understood and we mutually agreed to wait a couple of weeks before attempting plans again. It’s awkward. But everyone is making the same tough decisions; weighing them one by one.

I remember when Mazzy’s sleepaway camp was approaching. She was so excited and meanwhile, I kept hoping they would cancel it, because I didn’t want to be the one to crush her dreams.

And now here we are again, with the biggest decision of all. SCHOOL.

A few months ago, I would have said “no way.” But now, I’m considering it. Harlow desperately needs in-person instruction. Mazzy wants so badly to get back to normal. If our schools are open, which they say they will be, we will most likely test it out. Which also means being back in New York City, which has more people, more chances of exposure, and a whole other set of more complicated rules. Would it be easier to stay at the house and continue distance learning? Is the reward of going back worth the risk? I’m honestly not sure. Just like with camp, part of me hopes I ultimately don’t have to make the decision.

If the numbers take a turn for the worse and school is canceled, I will gladly go back in my bubble and make it work.