This summer, we had big plans. For the first time since we've been a family of five, we were going to go on vacation. We decided to drive north to a tiny town in Michigan, rent a cottage on the lake and spend a week surrounded by breathtaking scenery and shimmering, silver water. During the day, we'd swim, build sandcastles and enjoy the feeling of long, lazy, sunshine-filled days. Nights would consist of board games, slices of cherry pie and listening to baseball games on the radio. The week would fly by and, as we headed home, our feet would be sandy, our shoulders would be tan and our hearts would be full of lifelong memories.
All of that changed in March, when our governor issued a shelter-in-place order. It was terrifying and, like many families, we waited with bated breath to see what the future held. We worried about all sorts of things, but topping the list was what we should do about our upcoming vacation. We didn't want to jump the gun and cancel, but we also didn't want to wait too long and lose money. Plus, I knew that breaking the news to my children would be awful. We rarely take a family trip, and their hearts were set on going to Michigan – so was mine.
For weeks, I moped around the house, knowing that things were looking bleak. We had promised our kids joy and, seemingly overnight, it was unfairly snatched away from us. As the months passed, we knew what had to be done and, with the heaviest of hearts, we canceled our trip.
As a parent, I have no idea what I am doing half of the time. Because of this, I read a lot of parenting books and the advice I consistently take away is that kids don't need much to be happy. They need structure and they need to feel loved, but that's about it. If you consistently provide your children with these two things, the rest will (mostly) fall into place. Nowhere in those parenting books does it say that kids need vacations to be happy. Armed with this knowledge, I set forth on a mission to salvage my family's summer.
For inspiration, I did not consult Google. While it's a great resource, the multitude of possibilities it provides can feel downright overwhelming, and what I was looking for was something much simpler. My husband and I have spent many nights talking about our own childhood summers and what made them feel effortless and memorable. For me, it was night walks with my dad and sister. For him, it was endless bike rides with his brothers and family barbeques where his grandpa would grill rings of sliced kielbasa and serve them on tiny wooden toothpicks. These are the memories we wanted for our children. We wanted them to know that life doesn't have to be grand to be good.
Therefore, instead of going on vacation, we've spent our summer in Springfield. Oftentimes, you'll find the five of us pedaling down the Lost Bridge Trail, where the final destination is two scoops of ice cream from Cocoa Blue. Some afternoons, we do nothing other than lounge in our blow-up pool, listen to The Beach Boys and eat grilled smoked sausage rings with toothpicks. On clear evenings, long after the kids should be in bed, we lace up our sneakers and take night walks where the kids see owls, chase lightning bugs and search the sky for the Big Dipper.
If we have no particular place to go, we devote entire days to long, aimless car rides. If we happen to pass the World's Largest Covered Wagon along the way, that's a bonus. If the humidity isn't too unbearable, we might pack some ham and butter sandwiches into a cooler and drive through Washington Park until we find a shady grove of trees for a picnic. When the weather isn't agreeable, we feel zero guilt about letting our kids veg out in front of the television. We're all just doing the best we can.
I'm still disappointed about having to cancel our vacation, but I don't feel like our summer's been wasted. On the contrary, it's been pretty terrific. My husband and I have rediscovered life's simple pleasures and, despite not being able to listen to baseball games on the radio, my kids have learned that when life throws you a curveball, sometimes you can still hit a home run.
Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer and mom of three who is (mostly) enjoying a summer at home with her family.