The other day Mel and I turned in our children’s distance learning packets. Then we celebrated with pizza. And let me just say: I’ve finished graduate school, I’ve published several books, and I’ve been successfully married for 15 years, but none of those accomplishments felt nearly as satisfying as rounding out this pandemic homeschooling adventure. Sadly, however, these feelings of satisfaction were short lived, because we almost immediately began to discuss summer break, and it felt like we were approaching a cliff.
I think we’d been so focused on finishing out the school year, that it wasn’t until right then that Mel and I started to wonder what the heck we were going to do this summer. We live in rural Oregon, and so it has been nice moving into phase one of reopening, but the hard reality is, so much of what we normally looked forward to has been canceled — or we weren’t sure if it would be safe even if it did open up.
For example, we almost always took a trip to Idaho and Utah to visit grandparents, but considering their age and health, we don’t feel like that’s a good idea, so those trips have been canceled. We almost always go camping, but most campgrounds are only open for day use. And sure, we might be able to go rustic and just camp outside of a campground, away from all the people and running water, but we’re just not that kind of campers. One of my personal favorites is to hit up the local pool; however they will only open up under phase two, and even if they do open up, Mel and I are nervous to bring our children.
As Mel and I sat at the table, munching on our celebratory pizza, our summer started to look pretty grim. And I have to assume we’re not alone in feeling this way. The majority of our usual summer plans are most likely canceled, and the ones that are still able to happen have been significantly changed, or they carry a risk to our children that we as parents have to try and manage. All of it feels like the summer of 2020 has a huge, dark, pandemic-shaped cloud over it.
To make things worse, there’s the friends situation. My son is 13, and while I never saw him as a social butterfly before the pandemic, he seems to be particularly struggling right now. He misses his friends, and it’s really going to be hard on him this summer to not be able to spend time with the kids from our neighborhood. All of them spent a lot of time riding bikes around town last summer, along with going to the park to play baseball, and shooting hoops in front of driveways.
Part of the reason we moved into this neighborhood was because it was a place where kids hung out in the streets and played, but since the lockdown, it’s been a ghost town around here. And even if it does become more socially acceptable to hang out with friends, Mel and I are left with calculating the risk of our children playing in the neighborhood and risking infection.
Naturally, we have tried to explain this to our kids, and of course, none of it has gone over well. What they need is something to look forward to, and while I know they are all excited to not have school work anymore, that isn’t nearly enough satisfaction to push them into feeling optimistic about a summer with no friends, no pool, no grandma, and no camping.
But if there is a bright side to this 2020 pandemic summer break, it’s that although most everything is canceled, my family has gotten pretty good at spending time together and making the most of what we have at home. Each weekend we’ve had family slumber parties, sleeping in various rooms in the house, telling jokes and laughing and just enjoying each other. We’ve camped in the backyard, roasted marshmallows in the fire pit Mel and I finally had time to install. We’ve gone on a million family bike rides, and chances are, we will go on a million more. We’ve watched movies as a family, and we’ve cooked as a family, and gone on bike rides as a family.
All we really have right now is each other, and although it stinks to have all of our usual summer plans canceled, I have started to really enjoy the slow pace of spending distraction free time with the people I love the most. So yes, this summer will probably not be anything like my family is used to, but it will for sure be the most family-oriented summer in the history of ever, and there’s a lot of beauty in that. So this summer, my suggestion is to take time to just be with your kids, be with your spouse, talk and laugh and play games, and enjoy each other. Sure, it’s not going to be as exciting as previous summers, but spending this sort of quality time together, distraction free, really only happens once in a lifetime.
So soak it up, make the best of it, and most of all, enjoy each other, because family is all we really have right now.