habit shift: social distancing.

March 16, 2020
social distancing in a tiny apartment

Calder is officially one month old. She’s smack in the middle of the sleepy newborn stage, all snorts and stretches and very tiny yawns. She snoozes on our bellies in the daytime like a very small and warm weighted blanket—and I can’t imagine a better time for weighted blankets.

I made plans two weeks ago to officially end my maternity leave this week. Without a formal leave of any kind, I always knew I’d need to return to work relatively quickly after Calder was born and besides that, I was feeling ready. James is on a partially paid parental leave thanks to New York State Paid Family Leave and the flexibility of his employer and with him here, I’ve been able to continue to dip into the behind-the-scenes upkeep and planning required of this space. This week, I was excited to dive back into the public-facing side of things.

Needless to say, this is not the first post I planned to publish. I certainly didn’t imagine I’d be writing it while hunched over my kids’ pre-k-sized desk, my entire family in the next room (or, helpfully, perched directly beside me, on top of me, and behind me).

It’s strange to consider that before last week, I’d been almost entirely sheltered from the term social distancing, to say nothing of the practice. I blithely watched my kids swing on monkey bars and cavalierly waited in line at the grocery store, exchanging cash and pleasantries. Standing at the sink and washing my hands to the tune of Happy Birthday had never before occurred to me.

As the world over grapples with the reality of social distancing in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, the experience and degree of habit shifting will vary widely from household to household and person to person. For folks who are immunocompromised, or who care for those who are, social distancing is not unfamiliar, yet we all find ourselves in unprecedented times.

In New York City this week, we’re seeing the official closure of public schools and the shuttering of movie theaters, libraries and museums, nightclubs and entertainment venues. Restaurants, and cafés, and bars will be closed to public visitors, shifting to delivery only. Businesses large and small have already closed and others are making efforts to stay open through no-contact deliveries and online sales.

The ramifications of these measures are stunning to consider. It’s mind boggling to imagine, especially in a country without a social safety net, how people will make ends meet, how kids will be cared for, how communities will stay afloat and continue to function. As always, the most vulnerable among us will bear the highest cost. Still, there’s no question that social distancing is imperative to slow the spread of the virus and save lives. The consequences of not making these shifts would be far more dire.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll need to find ways to protect each other and to demand the same of our government. There are too many for whom staying home isn’t an option—folks who lack the job security or sick leave or flexibility to work remotely. And there are the folks who we all depend on to keep the essentials running: doctors and healthcare workers and caregivers, custodians, service workers, grocery store employees, delivery workers and postal carriers, among countless others.

For my part, I hope to find a way to continue to work and to care for my family from the confines of this tiny apartment. I hope I can offer some comfort and some ideas for navigating this moment. In a strange stroke of good timing, tomorrow I launch a partnership project that’s been months in the making—an online class that I’m hoping provides a bit of inspiration for folks feeling stuck. On Instagram, I’m compiling a running list of ideas and activities that my family is finding helpful as we shift our habits together. You can find the list under the story highlight called Social Together.

More than anything, I’m hopeful that in the midst of all this distancing we remember how very much we’re all in this together.

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  • Reply SEM March 16, 2020 at 11:51 am

    I appreciate all of your cool ideas! I’m starting a daily challenge too : https://www.instagram.com/p/B9y4iTMA5Cq/?igshid=1bd6u06saixp8

    #togetherapart2020 is a way to stay connected during this tough time.

    Warmly, Sarah

  • Reply Rachel March 16, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    I live in Philadelphia. The four surrounding counties are shut down, but our city is not. Thousands of folks were enjoying the Erin Express/St Patrick’s Day festivities. It is mind blowing that people are disregarding the seriousness of this virus. Mayor Kenney doesn’t want to hurt our local economy, which I understand. But this is serious.

    • Reply Mimi March 16, 2020 at 1:34 pm

      I live in one of the shut down counties (Montgomery County), and I am amazed by the amount of people who aren’t staying in. The traffic outside my apartment looks like any regular day, and because it’s nice out people are walking and biking around like it’s Spring Break. Governor Wolf is taking this seriously, but I worry our community is not. Its fine to be outside, but when everyone and their brother is, it defeats the purpose of social distancing. I wish people would heed the lesson here: slow down and be patient. On an optimistic note, I hope overall our lesson from this pandemic is that we need more sustainability and self sufficiency.

  • Reply Courtney March 16, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    Your words have been missed in this space; I was glad to see you post today! Welcome to the club of a 3 kid family, of being officially outnumbered and having an endless supply of love and fun! As a reader stretching back to the time before children, yours and mine, I am glad that everyone is healthy and hunkering down together. In this unprecedented time I know the online community will find peace and quiet here, thank you!

  • Reply Megan March 16, 2020 at 12:33 pm

    So happy to have your voice here again. We are fortunate enough to be safe and healthy and work from home at this time. Hopefully our government will be inspired by others dealing with the same issue and put some long lasting structures in place. Right now our small family unit is playing and working alongside one another and returning to old standby baked goods and simple soups, among other things that make a person feel safe and secure.

  • Reply Kristen Johnson March 16, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    Erin, welcome back—and congratulations to you and James! I am so very excited to hear more about the online class you’re offering. Sending you all my best from Buffalo!

  • Reply Audrey March 16, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    Welcome back, Erin! It’s great to hear your “voice again”. I’d also love to hear if you have thoughts on ways to support small businesses, non-profits, and workers that are struggling as places are closing.

    My husband and I are very fortunate that we both work in technology and can continue with our jobs from home (even with a toddler in tow). We’ve donated to Feeding America and have purchased a giftcard from one of our favorite local cafes, but would love to hear from others on what they’re doing to offer support.

    Thanks and stay well!

    • Reply Audrey March 16, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      “voice” again.* 🙂

      • Reply julie March 16, 2020 at 9:26 pm

        Hi Audrey! We are continuing to pay our afterschool babysitter even though we’re not using her at the moment. We can only afford to pay her half her usual amount, but I figure it’s something to help get her through this.

        • Reply Audrey March 17, 2020 at 12:29 pm

          I love that, Julie! Thanks for sharing. Similarly, we also decided to keep paying the woman that cleans our house bi-weekly even though we aren’t going to use her right now.

  • Reply Deb March 16, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    I live in Kirkland WA, currently known as the “epicenter of COVID-19* for the US, and work for one of the biggest investment brokerage firms. I’m still coming to work, as my position doesn’t currently have the ability to work remotely. Anxiety level is high, though I feel extremely fortunate that I can still work and my employer has pledged support if indeed offices need to close. Schools are now closed for our entire state, and as of today restaurants can only be open for to-go & delivery, which is going to financially destroy many in an already challenging environment for restaurants. My heart is so heavy for those who are immuno compromised & those losing their incomes, or seeing them drastically reduced. So much talk about how to keep our kids engaged with some kind of school during these next weeks, and so hard to keep my VERY social 14 year old from his friends. Really appreciating our current cold, sunny weather so we can get some immune boosting vitamin D while out for a walk, trees & flowers that are starting to bloom. Congratulations to your beautiful family.

    • Reply Amanda Krieger March 16, 2020 at 3:09 pm

      interesting to hear this — I am in virginia (only 50+ cases and one fatality so far…can’t believe i used the word “only”) and what you described is the same here. schools across the state are closed, gyms, libraries, etc. restaurants are open and encouraging to-go (and they bring it to your car!)
      i’m surprised because i would have assumed that your restrictions would be much greater than ours.

      • Reply Amanda Krieger March 16, 2020 at 3:10 pm

        also, welcome back erin! as my kids have spent all day outside, i’ve been thinking of you and other families who don’t have yards to send your kids to! stay strong!!

        • Reply Taylor March 16, 2020 at 8:44 pm

          I’m in Michigan. 50 some cases and same restrictions.
          I’m so grateful we are taking early measures!

          • SJ March 17, 2020 at 1:20 am

            Unfortunately the confirmed case count is likely under representative of the actual prevalence in your community. We have not been testing, and still have limited testing capability- South Korea test 10k per day and I think we’ve maybe just done 10k total (in the entire country.) All the precautious are in place assuming the virus is actively spreading already. Solidarity as we all stay inside!

  • Reply Maryann March 16, 2020 at 3:34 pm

    Welcome back! I’ve never been so glad that we are all so virtually connected as I am now.
    Its nice to read your words again. If you want to include gratuitous baby pictures every now and then, that is fine by me!

  • Reply Deb March 16, 2020 at 3:43 pm

    New restrictions every day. Our libraries are closed, gyms, movie theaters, music venues, churches, etc…. our son’s baseball team can’t practice together, the list goes on. Many businesses are voluntarily closing, such as, just received a message that the orthodontist was closing.

  • Reply Andrea March 16, 2020 at 5:04 pm

    Thank you for your eloquent post as always. I too am floored that some people are not taking this seriously. THOSE are the ones that scare me. And can I just spread the word for people to please please please be kind to the grocery store clerks. My grown son works in one and these poor clerks are being run into the ground. What he is seeing and hearing from horribly obnoxious customers is appalling. So when we do have to go out, smile, spread joy, but most of all be kind and be calm! Stay safe everyone!

    • Reply Annie March 16, 2020 at 7:58 pm

      Yes, I agree. My husband has had to run to our local stores several times in the last week as I am recovering from a back injury. He has made it a point to thank them for making the brave choice to show up, (we do realize some don’t have a choice), and the sad part was one lady said he was the only person who smiled at her and said anything nice that day. We can all do better.

  • Reply Eva March 16, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    Yes. We are all in the same boat. I live in Germany, also with three children. School and kindergarten are closed and from tomorrow the shops (not the supermarkets) will be closed. We all have to pull together and see the positive sides. In fact, our earth can breathe a little bit. And if we all take just a little bit from this time, a little something will change in our behavior. Stay healthy. We are together in this!

  • Reply Gerry March 16, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    “As always, the most vulnerable among us will bear the highest cost” caught in my throat. Well stated.

  • Reply Sarah March 16, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    I live in Michigan, and work for a religious organization. In the discussion over the last several days about cancelling Sunday services and doing something online, many people have brought up that “social distancing” is a phrase that might not actually be the best one – many here are replacing it with “physical distancing”. The main reason is to not discourage people from staying connected to their social networks, but to talk about alternate ways to do that. But I also think it is a better reminder of what we are supposed to be doing – physically keeping our distance! It is amazing how shifting my phrasing helped me feel less isolated and alone!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 16, 2020 at 9:47 pm


  • Reply bella March 16, 2020 at 9:43 pm

    I am from Peru, and we are oficially on shutdown for two weeks, even going as far as to close the borders. My aunt, who was visiting from Miami, will stay an extra two weeks with my parents. I was exquisitely improductive today, save for a little yoga and the daily entertainment of hearing all of the neighbors’ conversations and tv options. However, I am one of the privileged ones: I have a safety net, in the name of savings. I have a bike, so I can go and check on my parents. Within a block I have banks, Don Chicho the fruitseller, and the little bodega (cornerstore) run by a family of chinese-peruvians. So I say that since one of the few legitimate allowances for leaving the house is to get food, I say #SupportYourBodeguita

  • Reply Tobin Carson March 16, 2020 at 10:30 pm

    I’ve missed your posts and glad to see you back and doing ok.
    I’d like to also thank you so much for this particular post. As a physician on the front line (I’m a hospitalist, a hospital admission doctor) my colleagues and I have been making plans for worst case scenarios as we hear from friends in places that have already gotten bad. We are trying to figure out how to protect our more vulnerable colleagues and community members while keeping up with the normal every day messes that come our way. Every time I see someone laughing about the idea of staying home, or comparing what is happening now to prior illnesses, I cringe because I am one of the people who will have to make uncomfortable decisions if it gets bad. Decisions that are hard to think or talk about, much less make.
    Thank you for using your platform to reiterate the importance of #FlatteningTheCurve

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 17, 2020 at 7:38 am

      Thanks so much for your note and for all of your work. I’ll be thinking of you in the days and weeks ahead.

  • Reply MelD March 17, 2020 at 3:33 pm

    In France. Lockdown. But – we are by the sea, have water, electricity, (mostly) telephone/wifi and we are allowed out to walk the dog or buy food if we carry a permission slip and return home asap. The sunset tonight was breathtaking. Now I’m off to knit and listen to Jane Austen.

  • Reply gm March 17, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    I’m a primary care doctor in a hospital-sponsored clinic that cares for low-income patients, and today one of my patients was telling me she’s had two hours of work all week. She works at a Korean barbecue restaurant— take-out isn’t really an option. And there’s no safety net because she’s undocumented. We’re going to see a lot of this with patients working in restaurants and in cleaning hotels, etc. But our staff is all showing up— even those of us with kids who are now getting some involuntary homeschooling in. Meanwhile, we’re just trying to make plans to keep the sick or potentially contagious away from the well, and keep the staff safe and healthy and working. With limited PPE and not enough masks. As my husband says, may the Force be with us.

  • Reply Nerelle March 18, 2020 at 2:01 am

    Thank you for a wonderfully written post! It’s interesting to see how the term social distancing is making people more mindful of their time, their space, and their health when this should have always been the case. I do miss leaning in for hugs or cheek kisses with my close friends though.


  • Reply Laurie March 19, 2020 at 11:37 pm

    Hi Erin & anyone around!
    I have a four-year-old son who has lots of energy, loves socializing with anyone and isn’t a fan of being alone. As I’m his only parent and we live in a one bedroom suite, I’m finding ‘social distancing’ a challenge Anyway, I’ll share with you a few things we’ve been doing & I would love more ideas!
    After breakfast and getting ready for the day, we’ve been going for a hike in a forest beside our backyard. (Ahhh, the bliss of fresh air…)
    Mid-morning we’ve been breaking out to do jumping-jacks and copy-cat activities. He’s been working in his English and Math work books. This afternoon we baked a dozen Chocolate Almond cookies. We both found them to be way too sweet. So, one blessing of this lock is we’ll have the chance & time to re-do this recipe for our own liking. As it was sunny and a warm winter afternoon we went to the beach before supper and had a blast throwing rocks in the ocean, seeing a good sized jelly fish.
    During the day when he was fussing I got him to run around and count all the doors in our apartment. You wouldn’t believe how many could be found. (Tomorrow I’ll get him to count windows & drawers.) We still have yet to build a fort or a proper obstical course. I told him that when the next rain storm hits we’ll have a surprise birthday party for his stuffed animals.
    I’d love to hear about other activities that you’ve been doing with your child, especially for a child alone.

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