The coronavirus pandemic has made it harder to enjoy some of the best things San Antonio has to offer. I can get take out from my favorite restaurant, El Mirasol, but I can’t enjoy it with my friends over a margarita. We can still “hike” at Eisenhower, but we have to awkwardly make enough space for people to pass by without passing germs. And like every white middle class wannabe hipster, I love the Pearl. But I’m missing its live music, farmer’s market and even the crowds, which are so good for people watching.
It’s a bit sickening to make light of these privileged woes when, while I can still load up my cart at Costco, thousands of people are lining up at the food bank for the first time. So while I miss the “extras” of our old way of life, I’m more thankful than ever to the thing I already loved before this, the thing that was already my favorite part of San Antonio, and the thing that has only gotten better through the crisis: our neighborhood.
When we first moved into the neighborhood 8 years ago, I was surprised when, our first Christmas, women’s club representatives knocked on my door asking me to buy a Christmas bow for our mailbox. Um, no thanks. I saw the bows on other mailboxes. They were not really my taste. I decorate for Christmas, but I’m selective about it. And I’m sorry, but isn’t there a huge population of Jewish families in this neighborhood? I avoided the mailbox ladies. But eventually they wore me down. It seems that the Christmas mailbox bows aren’t about evangelism, they are about neighbors supporting the women’s club. Who supports the swim club and the school. Which have shaped who my kids are. So yes, I’ll put a bow on my mailbox.
I’ve found through the years that this is a neighborhood where kids wander and move in packs from house to house. The moms’ text chain will start blowing up with “Anyone seen my kid today?” or “If you’ve got Julian, send him home!” It feels a little vintage, a little 1950s (and there’s not much else about the 50s I would want to return to!). The kids learn this sense of security and community from the nature of the neighborhood itself. I certainly can’t credit the adults for setting the tone; it just seems to emanate from the culture. There is an excitement and welcome when someone new moves in. There’s a sense of being part of something. The pool, the tennis groups and the neighborhood festivals definitely help. But it’s much more about that sense of neighborliness.
In the last two months, we have walked and biked the streets of this neighborhood repeatedly. We have learned the names and stories of people we didn’t know as well before. Neighbors have drawn chalk obstacle courses to entertain kids. We wave to each other as we pass, wishing we could hug. I helped a good friend plot out her front garden bed, with a healthy distance between us. We’ve delivered necessary groceries to each other, and we’ve counted down the days left of quarantines.
The neighborhood school has helped me maintain my sanity during social isolation. Driving by everyday seeing the lunch staff handing out meals to families legitimately brings me to tears. Our school–and every neighborhood school in San Antonio–wasted no time in making sure that school closures didn’t prevent kids from getting the nutrition they counted on from being at school.
And our teachers have not left us alone either. They have worked tirelessly doing a complete 180 in how they were used to teaching. In five workdays, they literally reoriented the entirety of their curriculum and made it work for us. I have never ever been open to being a homeschool teacher. All the social media jokes do make me laugh…and the irony of my resistance is not lost on me. But I know the reality is, I’m still not having to homeschool my kids. Our teachers are still 100% teaching.
With a few of my neighbors, I started an organization called RootEd. It’s a public education advocacy group, but it’s really more than that. We named it RootEd (visual emphasis on the Ed because education), but we phonetically pronounce it “rooted” because neighborhood schools thrive best when people allow their roots to grow deep, right where they live. The school thrives, the neighborhood thrives, and the spirits of the people thrive too.
I don’t know if our coronavirus distancing time would be as tolerable if we hadn’t been tilling our soil for all these years and letting our roots sink really deep, right here in our very neighborhood.