Hiking trail

Spending our family vacation at home this summer wasn’t our first choice… but it also wasn’t our worst choice.

I’ll admit, as we entered into what felt like our 1,000th week of the COVID-related “stay at home as much as possible” lifestyle, I was not overly excited to take a vacation at our house. My husband, my boys aged 9 and 12, and I have all been working, “schooling,” or messing around passing time at home, under this same roof, for over four months. But with the prospects of our usual mid-July trip to Michigan off the table due to a recent, dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in our home state of Arizona, my husband and I agreed to try out a “staycation” at home for a week.

It did not start off great. The week we took off was the hottest of the year, with one day topping 112֯F. The nearest mountain range, to which most of our city flees during the hottest days, has been closed for weeks due to a massive wildfire. All of our usual forms of fun – eating out, spending time with friends, going bowling, roller skating, or to the movies – were either out of the question or severely curtailed.

We chafed. For the first few days, we took turns being the grouchy family member, either griping, sniping, or in tears.

But as we relaxed into the week, it got better, and I learned quite a bit.

First, you can find good enough stuff at the grocery store to make your kids’ day. A trip down the stationery aisle turned up a new card game. My husband and I grabbed a magazine for each son based on their interests (Car and Driver for the younger; Bake from Scratch for the elder). New kitty toys yielded a spark of enthusiasm. These little surprises put an unexpected twist on a run-of-the-mill trip to the grocery store. Even grocery store sushi(!) made one day brighter.

Guessing who performed a song on the radio is really fun. Searching “name that tune” on YouTube turns up lots of pre-recorded song clips to test your knowledge of who sang what. I was amazed by how many songs we all knew, and shockingly, our natural competitiveness didn’t ruin the game.

Riding bikes to get ice cream is a lot of fun, even when it’s 99 degrees out.

Time in nature is a salve. This is not news to me… but apparently, I needed a reminder. My older son took us on a tour of the yard by flashlight one evening and we discovered multiple black and brown widow spiders, harvestmen, and wolf spiders – all sharing our small urban backyard with us. The discoveries were honestly thrilling – especially the venomous spiders! One day we ventured south of town to mountain range not currently on fire and the effect was transformative. Our boys actually took a hike – on a trail – for longer than two minutes. We noted “rainbow lizards,” “black widow beetles,” rocks of every color (my older son kept track), and wildflowers galore, to our delight. We all agreed that the sights, smells, and the notable lack of human-made sounds were more than restorative.

Finally, during this break, I realized that even if we don’t like it, we are reasonably well-suited to continue with the “do pretty much everything at home” lifestyle. This is good news, because with the way things are going right now, we’ll be at this for many more months. One afternoon I worked on a puzzle while observing my boys rotate among their usual activities: playing Minecraft with friends (screentime, but still social), watching YouTube videos (not educational, but not unacceptable), making their own lunches (with fruit, following my reminder), and flailing in the pool (yay, exercise!). Over the past several weeks, they’ve learned how to fend for themselves, get their needs met, and remain in relationship with their friends. I observed strife and resolution, frustration and collaboration – they are learning and growing. This set-up is not what any of us would choose, but it’s still working.

Though a staycation at my home in Arizona – during a pandemic and the hottest month of the year — was not my preference, it has been instructive. We are all doing ok, and barring any of us contracting COVID-19, we’ll keep being ok. It is with renewed enthusiasm that I will return to my bedroom-based job next week.