Earlier this summer, as our state shattered another record for confirmed COVID-19 cases, I was explaining to my middle schooler why she wasn’t allowed to attend a neighborhood block party.
“Sorry, the answer is no,” I said. “Cases are rising, and big groups are too risky right now.”
“But Mom!” she pleaded. “I’ll use hand sanitizer. I’ll wear a mask.”
“Still no,” I said. My daughter’s hopeful expression faded. She wasn’t the only one feeling upset.
“No” has been a constant refrain this year
Our government’s response to the pandemic has left parents with few options. In the absence of clear national guidance for safely reopening schools, businesses, and public spaces, we’re constantly weighing our kids’ needs for socialization against the likelihood that such interactions will spread a dangerous disease.
This summer, “No, we can’t, because of coronavirus” has become a familiar refrain for many families. Our children are tired of hearing it – and parents are tired of saying it.
I feel sad when I think about what our kids are missing during a season that’s typically jam-packed with fun activities, from sleepaway camps and Fourth of July parades to visits with grandparents and extended family. And I’m angry at officials who apparently prioritize bars over schools and whose reckless decisions have put thousands of already vulnerable kids at greater risk.
I am sad for everything they have missed
I was ruminating about all of this one afternoon, trying to get some work done while my tweens played on their devices, when I remembered a neighbor mentioning a nearby nature preserve I’d never heard about before. I called to my kids and grabbed our dog’s leash. We all needed a diversion.
My youngest seemed to relish the change of scenery and took the lead for our short hike. We followed her light footfalls along a narrow portion of the trail that ended at a lookout point. Our dog tugged impatiently as we stopped and took it all in: the endless stretch of stately pines, the marshmallow clouds, the glittery sun in a sapphire blue sky. “We’re king of the mountain!” we declared.
I saw something come alive in my daughter, a newfound pride and delight in discovering this secret world that – for a moment – was hers to claim.
How was it possible we’d lived here for eight years and didn’t know this place existed until now? Maybe we didn’t see it before because we were moving too fast, distracted by the mundane chaos of life – our pre-pandemic one, that is.
The old life seems so distant now
That life seems so distant now, but I remember how frantic it often felt: the rushing everywhere, the deadlines, the commuting, the last-minute searches for spelling homework, the breakfasts wolfed down before dashing out the door, the after-school squabbles over minutia.
My kids ask me almost daily now, “Mom, can we go back to the trail?”
“Why, yes” I say, almost surprised by my response. “Yes, actually we can.“
We have nowhere we need to be, no concrete schedule we must follow, no people we need to see anymore — aside from each other. In our family’s micro-universe, time has become a hazy concept. We no longer measure the days by how productive or busy we are.
So yes to exploring the serene corners of nature that have always waited patiently just beyond our door. Yes to getting lost in a book, drawing, or messy baking project. Yes to sleeping in and staying up too late, to breakfast for dinner, to family movie nights on the couch whenever the heck we want.
There have been lots of yeses amidst the nos
Yes to a ridiculous amount of screen time, even if it makes me cringe. Yes to more silly fart jokes and tickle fights, to muddy footprints and paw prints in the kitchen after a summer storm, to glorious starry nights and backyards dotted with lightning bugs. Yes to noticing every butterfly and hummingbird we can before they flutter away, destination unknown. Yes to tasting our first ever homegrown tomato.
I know we’re far from glimpsing the end of this crisis, and that in the months and possibly even years ahead, I’ll have to say no to my kids more times than I can count. But as the days begin to shorten and we look to an uncertain fall, I also realize that every season is temporary. And I hope that once this summer floats away like the last wisps of a gentle breeze, I can remember it wasn’t just the Summer of No.
It was also the Summer of Yes.
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