At the beginning of 2020, my husband and I sat down with a calendar and a glass of wine one evening after our girls went to bed and mapped out all the places we wanted to go this year. Like many parents with children under two, we wanted to pack in as many flying trips as we could while our youngest daughter could still fly free. We planned to go to England to visit my grandparents, to picnic on beaches, and drink hot cups of tea in museum cafes. We dreamed about skiing out West with my parents, our legs sore from navigating deep powder you can’t find at an Eastern resort.
The place we most looked forward to going was Idaho. Specifically Coeur D’Alene, which has been the topic of our family’s conversation for almost a year. My dad, an Englishman with an unquenchable love for skiing and the Rockies, planned for all his children and grandchildren, 14 in total, to spend a week with him enjoying Idaho’s mountains and lakes in the summertime. My mom found a house through VRBO that overlooked the lake, where we could spend our days on kayaks and paddleboards, teaching the younger children to sit in a canoe or jump off a dock. We planned to visit breweries and farmers’ markets, to go hiking and mountain biking, to eat outside without the humidity.
A lot went wrong in 2020, and it sometimes feels petty to mourn the loss of vacation among everything else. Canceling our ski vacation in March felt easy after hearing about the layoffs and cutbacks our friends were going through. Canceling our trip to England to see my grandmothers felt harder, as I began to wonder how long it would actually be before my daughters could hold the hands of the women they are named after. As my siblings and parents began to experience a taste of the hardship the rest of the nation was under, we said to one another that if we could just get to Idaho in the summer and be together, it would be OK.
Then, as numbers and travel restrictions started going up among the states, we began to realize that even our trip to Idaho might not happen. We FaceTimed one another a week before the trips and came to the realization that, for a variety of reasons, we would not be able to take this long-awaited trip.
When you’re juggling a lot, sometimes it feels like a small thing can tip the whole balance. We, like so many others this year, had shouldered months of job uncertainty, of working from home with young children, navigating the unrest and division within our country. Canceling this vacation made us realize how much we really need to get away, even when there was nowhere to go.
We decided to have a staycation at my parents’ house in upstate New York. We turned off our phones, stopped reading the news for five days, and slept with our children in my childhood bedroom. We played outside, went for hikes, swam, and stayed up late talking. My children built forts and sandcastles with their cousins, enjoyed a dance party in the kitchen every night after dinner, and spent hours digging for worms and bugs near the creek. My siblings and I all took turns cooking, and we still enjoyed long nights after the children went to bed, sitting around the table outside. For the first time since the pandemic began, we were able to all sit with one another in person, rather than over a Zoom call, and it felt like drinking water from a deep, cool well.
So many of our friends have dealt with the disappointment of canceled plans this year, be it weddings, long-awaited trips, or milestone birthday parties. It’s one of the many side effects of everything we’re experiencing this year. Celebrations and vacations always seem like extras when life presses us. But, I am realizing this year that celebration and vacation are essential to life in so many ways, particularly in that they give us opportunities to spend time with the people who mean the most to us. Taking time to intentionally rest and visit with the people we love provides nourishment, fresh perspective, and so much joy.
We realized, at the end of our week together, what a toll the social distancing has taken on us this year. It felt so good to be in one another’s proximity, to experience the people we love as their whole selves. Maybe the gift in this pandemic is that none of us wanted to even look at a phone while we were together. We realized how precious and important time away together is, no matter where you take it.
We didn’t get to see mountains this summer, or swim in glacial lakes, or visit new, exciting breweries. There will hopefully be time for that another year. What we did get to do was vacation at home, and still enjoy what we really would have gone to Idaho for: each other.
Rachael Dymski is an author, florist, and mom to two little girls. She is currently writing a novel about the German occupation of the Channel Islands and blogs on her website, RachaelDymski.com