The sidewalk message to 6-year-old Jane Jackson-Edelstein was a colorful break from the solitude of home confinement, a reminder that her friends hadn’t forgotten about her despite spending days physically apart.
“Thinking of you,” said the note, scrawled in chalk outside of her Cambridge home this week. “Can’t wait to play soon.”
It was accompanied by a squiggly heart.
Playgrounds across the region are taped off or closed down and parents are heeding the advice of experts to give up hosting or attending playdates for the time being, burdensome directives being followed to quell the further spread of the novel coronavirus. Now, children in neighborhoods like Jane’s have been staying in touch in a different way: by leaving almost-daily, handwritten dispatches on each other’s front steps and walkways.
Sure, they could easily say a quick “hello” during virtual playdates — and they have.
But these little gestures of recognition — personal notes spelled out carefully with compassion — have added a tinge of magic to little lives at a time when it still remains unclear when they’ll play on the swings or chase each other during a game of tag again.
“I like to leave notes because we aren’t close to each other but you still get to hear from each other," Jane said by phone Wednesday, shortly after receiving the latest response from a neighborhood companion. “So that’s why I’m leaving notes.”
For Jane and her mother, Sari Edelstein, and the children who live in their Porter Square neighborhood, the idea happened organically. It emerged from a desire to continually find new ways to tear free of the monotony of this sudden way of life, which has kept us indoors and far away from familiar faces.
When Jane said she wanted to go visit her friends during the family’s daily walk recently, her mother had to once again explain that they couldn’t. To soften the disappointing blow, Sari suggested bringing chalk along with them so they could draw on the ground.
But it was Jane’s idea, she said, to leave behind notes on a few people’s doorsteps and sidewalks, sprinkling good tidings during dire times.
“Dear Aurora,” Jane, who’s in first grade, wrote to one friend. “Thinking of you.”
Much to their surprise, they awoke the next morning to a reply in front of their house.
“It was kind of amazing because we didn’t expect people to reciprocate and write back,” Sari said. “It’s turned into this neighborhood pen-pal situation.”
Ever since the initial correspondence, a small group of children within a few blocks’ radius have been occasionally swapping messages back-and-forth, “adding some sort of magic and delight and serendipity into their regular outside time,” Sari said.
“It’s nice when the mail comes. So getting a little note from a kid is just even better,” Sari said. “It just feels like we’re not alone. We’re not totally off the grid.”
These scribbles haven’t been exclusive to Jane’s enclave in Cambridge. Miles away, in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood, a separate game of the same sort has sprung up among children living there.
During the course of the last few days, as many have practiced “social distancing” and kept to themselves, an exchange of multicolored pictures and notes has become a favorite pastime between peers.
Jen Mason Stott said her 5-year-old daughter, Audrey Stott, came bounding into the room Saturday to tell her that there was a “secret message” outside. Mason Stott had no idea what she was talking about.
“So we got outside and looked in front of our stoop, and there was a note,” Jen said. “It was almost like a 5-year-old’s hobo code.”
It had pictures, and read: “Hi, Jen and Audrey and Bruce" — the family’s dog — “Love, Lucy.”
It was left there by Lucy Griffith, Sally Griffith’s 5-year-old daughter and Audrey’s good friend.
“It was a way to connect to her friends, even though she couldn’t connect with her friends,” Sally said.
Audrey later replied to Lucy and left notes for other kids as well. Jen Mason Stott said since then the concept, which has given purpose to their walks, has seemed to grow.
“It’s just been a really nice way to still really feel connected when we can’t see each other,” Jen said. “This crisis has sort of forced them to come up with some really innovative ways of staying connected and being playful."
In Cambridge on Wednesday, Jane Jackson-Edelstein left a few new scribbles behind during her family’s walk.
“I asked if they wanted to go to the park when the parks open again,” she said.
Someday, hopefully soon, they will.