I started a new job leading the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation on February 18. I had five weeks on the job before the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order arrived. Those first few weeks were a challenge. I struggled, like most working parents, to balance the demands of the new job, the needs of my two children, and the complete overhaul of our normal routine.

Then the stay home order came, and with it another massive shift in life for our family. We spent two months staying home most of the time with Alyssa, who is six, and Ben, who is four. I’ve struggled to explain why they can’t see their friends or go to the playground. I’ve had moments of huge heartbreak — when Ben first said he was scared of the “spiky ball Coronavirus,” when Alyssa started crawling in to our bed each night, afraid to sleep alone.

And then there were the day to day stresses of quarantine. My husband and I worked in shifts most days, fitting our full time jobs in between entertaining small children. I presented on Zoom calls while my daughter sat on my shoulders. I rearranged entire rooms in our house to make jumping rooms, climbing rooms, art rooms – anything to give me a moment of peace to get work done. I developed a night time skin care routine for the first time in my life, not because I finally realized it was important, but because it gave me a guaranteed ten minutes alone. We did what parents do best: adapt and keep going even in the hardest circumstances.

Now we’re beginning to navigate this reopening of our businesses, our community, our hearts. had my daughter with me at work the day Walla Walla County entered Phase 2. We celebrated with an extended “Downtown Recess”, visiting the shops that were open and spending money when we could. It was an incredible way to keep a child busy for an afternoon. We toured downtown statues, played in the park, and ate ice cream. Ice cream always has to be a part of Downtown Recess. For Alyssa, it’s a chance to experience the joy of being outside the house again. For me, it’s a chance to check in with our local business owners, the friends and neighbors who are the heart of our downtown.

Our local businesses continue to reopen. They’re going above and beyond to follow the guidelines from the state on how to safely welcome our community back. As parents, we don’t get state guidelines on reopening. I’m navigating how to help Alyssa and Ben reopen their hearts to the world around them. We’ve become experts at air high fives. Face masks are the newest fashion statement during dress up time. We’ve come up with lots of ways to visualize six feet of distance (it’s one daddy, six Barbies, or 12 Buzz Lightyears, in case you’re interested).

As both a parent and an advocate for downtown, my primary goal right now is to provide a sense of security. I want my children to know it’s safe to be outside the house. I want my community to know it’s safe to come downtown. Like starting a new job, the first few weeks of reopening will be a challenge. We’ll all develop new routines. I hope Downtown Recess (and ice cream) will be a part of yours.

Kathryn Witherington is the Executive Director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation. She lives in Walla Walla with her husband, two small kids, and two big dogs.