“School’s out for summer!” Yes, Alice Cooper! Could there be a better feeling than the last day of school? One of the things I savor about my kids’ childhood is the gift of experiencing summer vacation and summer fun again, but – as we are reminded over and over – the end of the school year doesn’t mean the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
I still need a vacation, though, and so does my family.
It’s important for families to enjoy a summer vacation, even though this one might look different from anything previously planned or expected. “It’s important to create some fun activities or allow [children] to resume their normal patterns of summer,” says clinical psychologist Bridgid Mariko Conn, Ph.D., of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. It’s good for your brain and your body.
So, we will plan summer fun despite the restrictions in place, in accordance with best practices to keep our community healthy, and with the goal of making us all feel rested, relaxed and inspired. We might not be able to zip line across the Costa Rican canopy, but I do have a few ideas for creating memories of a lifetime with your family this summer.
I’ve zeroed in on four aspects of vacation that I think are most vital, and four staycation ideas. May they inspire you to create your own mashed-up, bespoke and perfectly curated staycation, and may this be the start of a great brainstorming session together!
1. Take a break
We all need a break from the regular routine. Half of the point of vacation is that work can’t contact you, chores and housework don’t exist and everything is different. So, my first tip is to set a vacation period, turn off the cell phone and alarm clocks and program that automated email response that reads: “Thanks so much for contacting me! I am currently away, but I’ll be pleased to get back to you ASAP upon return.”
The second part of being on vacation is being out of your normal environment. To simulate the feeling of opening your eyes in the morning and remembering that you went to sleep in paradise is our goal. Solution: find a new place to sleep! The current conversation in our household is around camping: where, when and how.
Some national and state parks have reopened for camping, and you can track your options through the National Park Service, recreation.gov and California State Parks websites.
If that seems too far outside your wheelhouse, erect a tent in your own yard! It will still be a night spent under the stars. Have a bonfire, roast marshmallows, buy Jiffy Pop popcorn and break out the campfire songs. You’ll wake up with smoky hair and wonder where you are for a split second inside that tent!
2. Relax, rest and play
While I like to plan lots of activities and summer fun for vacation, my husband prefers to relax. And even though we’ve been physically limited while “safer at home,” we’ve never been so taxed mentally as we juggle child care, work, family and the stressors of our “new normal.”
One option for a quick diversion is the Mission Tiki Drive-In Theatre in Montclair, which still screens films nightly with appropriate social-distancing measures (you have to watch the film from inside your car) in place. If you’re looking for more of a resort experience, you’ll need to start prepping your pad in advance.
Welcome to the modern version of homesteading! Think about what you can add to your home that feels luxurious or fun. What can you construct together? We doubled down on an inflatable whirlpool spa and a half-pipe. Two things I might never have permitted in my backyard only months ago are now featured amenities that I love.
I checked my preconceived aesthetic judgments at the door as my husband ordered up the new watering hole that beckons every age in our household. We’ve soaked so often that the cost is already down to $15 per use, making it well worth the investment. With the heat on our heels in L.A. and beaches banning umbrellas and sunbathing, I’ve been watching lots of above-ground swimming pools popping up and highly recommend securing a watering hole at your home resort.
As for the half-pipe, the very cool monstrosity in our yard has “father-son bonding” written all over it, and has captured the attention of our teenagers like nothing before. YouTube has loads of tutorials to inspire your kids’ favorite building projects – from tree houses to skate ramps or chicken coops. Ambitious friends of ours constructed a climbing wall on the side of their house.
3. Be inspired
I’d be lying if I didn’t reveal that my own dream vacation involves travel abroad. Visiting a foreign destination always shifts my perspective and ignites new thinking, but it’s impossible right now, so I’m planning my first pseudo-travel trip.
When you plan any trip, you plan the itinerary, research the best places to eat and attractions to experience, then pack your bags. Doing it all without purchasing a plane ticket? Think of the dollars saved!
Since my kids put the kibosh on museums after “too many” (their words) last summer, I can’t fathom us sitting around the computer for a virtual museum tour. They’d literally be breathing down my neck, which sounds ghastly in summer heat.
For this day abroad, I’m going to transform our home – starting with us. Are we going to the beaches? Does everyone have a new swimsuit? Sundress? Greek linen tunic? Mexican guayabera? Wherever you are headed (virtually), dress the set, my friends. This is L.A.
Next priority: food. What would you eat at your destination? Sign up for a cooking class or hunt down a recipe for perfect Spanish paella, the most delicious Argentinian chimichurri sauce or Italian gnocchi. Order the special French cheese. And drinks? Serve only beverages from your targeted setting, whether you are talking pisco sours, aperol spritz or horchata . Set the soundscape with music from your destination or choose a movie as a backdrop and turn up the volume. (This is even better if the dialogue is in a foreign tongue. You can still feel confused by what is being said, and ever grateful for the ability to communicate with your family.)
4. Create memories of summer fun
The real goal of vacation is to create a memory so special that it lives on in the family lore. To create a new tradition, I’m settling on a Moonlit Midnight Feast.
When I was a child, my parents would dress in their finest and celebrate the holidays until the wee hours of the early morning at my beloved great aunt’s home. One of their friends played piano, and they’d sing and dance and be merry after a savory feast served at midnight in the depths of December.
In that spirit, I am planning a major feast for the full moon, June 5. We’ll swim in the dark and feast in the moonlight, and there’s nothing that seems more magical to me on a warm summer night. Maybe we’ll stay up until sunrise, capping it off like we’ve been dancing the night away. “Sleep all day,” I’ll say to the kids. “Pretend that we have jet lag.” We’ll complain about how hard it is to adjust to the time zone, we’ll take naps and we’ll dream about this crazy summer fun we’ve shared together.
May the summer of 2020 live long in our memories – and yours.
Amy Rush Conroy is an anthropologist, wife and mama of three. They live in L.A. with a dog from Mexico named Hola Ricky Fuente. Amy founded Habla Blah Blah in 2006 to teach children a second language through music and song. Her work has appeared in blogs, magazines and aggregate works, and she is working on her first nonfiction book.