Squeezing in some summer fun

Most years, I try to preserve time in August for relaxation and rejuvenation. I opt to start working with students right after Spring Term ends so that we’re wrapping up by the last week of July or first week of August. We don’t sign the kids up for camps or other activities. We take our family vacation. I spend time with the kids. We go to the State Fair (although not this year, with the lack of masking / vaccination requirements). I often end up doing some work, but I try to limit this to a few hours a day if I can.

As the kids get older, this prolonged August break gets harder to pull off. The Resident 9th Grader plays a fall sport, and we learned that practices start early-to-mid-August for these. (School starts after Labor Day in our district.) The Resident 5th Grader had 2 weeks of “band camp” this year to prepare for 5th grade band with a new-to-him instrument. School orientations and assessments dominate the latter half of August. Next summer, the Resident 9th Grader will likely be working. Squeezing in a vacation amidst all these moving parts starts to resemble a Tetris game.

"Welcome Parents Class of 2025" slide projected on an auditorium screen.
Not quite sure I’m ready for this.

I also waffle as to whether I’m better off front-loading my prolonged break in June and working into August, which seems to better match the reality of our schedules. On the one hand, I like having a break heading into the new academic year. On the other hand, if I’m already burned out at the end of Spring Term, summer feels like a slog.

Regardless, this summer we stuck with the August Break schedule, even though it meant the Resident 9th Grader missed some sports practices. And despite the pandemic, I managed to take two short, fun trips.

Trip #1 was a family vacation to a mountain biking mecca in our state, a transformed former mining area. My partner is a HUGE cyclist, and has never met a bike he didn’t like. A few years ago, he got me a mountain bike. I’d done some mountain biking since then but never felt really comfortable on the bike or the trails. This summer, I saw an ad for a local women’s mountain biking class and signed up. BEST DECISION EVER. I learned so much and, more importantly, gained a ton of confidence in my abilities. So I was excited to try out my new skills on our trip.

We rented an acquaintance’s airbnb. Our kids were not really into the biking aspect of the trip, so my partner and I rode in the mornings, and we all swam in various local lakes in the afternoons. (Some of which are former quarries, so they are deep, clear, and cool.) We played lots of board and card games, read a lot, and sampled the local coffee and ice cream.

The classes made a HUGE difference in my mountain biking. I felt braver. I embraced speed rather than panic braking. I took more calculated risks and embraced failure (and also succeeded more times than I expected). Biking was a lot more fun! And, much to my surprise, I am now seriously considering getting a fat bike so that I can continue riding the trails in the winter.

Red dirt mountain bike trail in the woods.
Whee!

Trip #2 came straight off my 21 for 2021 list. The Resident 9th Grader and I escaped to Chicago for a few days. We planned this trip before the pandemic took a turn for the worse, so we were both a bit wary about the plane trip in particular, even though we are both fully vaccinated. But I’d accumulated enough miles to put us both in first class on both flights, and we also double-masked on the plane and in the airport. So it was a bit unnerving, but mostly ok. Chicago has a city-wide mask mandate in place, which made us feel safe-ish when we visited museums and stores. We did mostly takeout, with some outdoor dining. And we spent a lot of time outdoors, even though it was hot and humid for much of the trip.

I lived in the Chicago area in grad school, so it was hard not to Do All The Things!, but I kept our plans mostly in check: one scheduled adventure per day to leave time for relaxation and spontaneity. We visited the Art Institute and the Field Museum. We took an architecture boat tour. We visited some of my old grad school haunts and the Northwestern campus. We went thrifting. We rode the ferris wheel at Navy Pier. We swam in Lake Michigan. We rode the L and walked for miles. And we saw a really cool art installation.

View of Chicago Skyline from the mouth of the Chicago River.
I’ve missed this skyline.

Mostly, though, we just enjoyed spending together. Middle school is rough in the best of times, and, as it turns out, particularly rough during a pandemic, and high school brings a host of new challenges and adventures. So it was nice to have the time and space to hang out in silence together, to share experiences, and to talk without interruption about the mundane and the important.

August was mostly frenetic and involved a surprising amount of driving people around, but these two short getaways provided a much-needed reset going into what is sure to be another challenging year. While I didn’t take as many day adventures as I’d like, I’m grateful for the time off I managed.

Did you take some time off this summer? Do you front load, back load, or spread out your breaks? I’d love to hear how you think about taking time off in the summer.


What I’m reading: A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload, by Cal Newport.

What I’m listening to: Back in the day (way back in the day), when I was finding my way as a new mom, I discovered the Manic Mommies podcast. They retired in 2014, but un-retired during the pandemic. I discovered the reboot just before they re-retired, and I’m now working my way through the pandemic episodes. Listening to the unfolding pandemic through the episodes and re-living the last year and a half through their eyes is an interesting and sometimes surreal experience, but always laugh-out-loud funny.

The once-again shifting landscape of COVID

I had another post that I was planning on for today, on Lisa Nunn’s book College Belonging: How First-Year and First-Generation Students Navigate Campus Life. But as I was putting the finishing touches on that post (which will now appear next week, hopefully), I got hit on all sides with COVID-related news and updates — and, understandably, that’s where my mind now is. So, this post instead will be a bit of a reflection / update / worryfest about how rapidly things are changing and how I am (or am not) handling the changes.

For reference, 3 of the 4 members of my household are fully vaccinated. (Fun fact: with 3 different vaccines! We’re like our own little science experiment!) The 4th member — the Resident 5th Grader — is a year too young to be vaccinated (and will likely be first in line for vaccination once it becomes available to his age group). We decided as a family to continue masking together in public, to protect the Resident 5th Grader and to show solidarity. While our county’s vaccination rate is over 70%, almost no one in my town wears masks indoors. Our school district plans to bring everyone back to full-time in-person learning with optional mask wearing and, if I understand correctly, no quarantining of classes or other close contacts if there’s an exposure.

Yikes.

I feel mostly ok about the precautions the vaccinated household members are taking. The Resident 9th Grader always masks indoors (and sometimes outdoors), is smart about choosing when to be indoors with people outside the household, and plays a lower-risk, non-contact fall sport. My partner works at home full time and is selective about his bubble, and mostly hangs out socially outdoors. I work with fully-vaccinated students and colleagues, and have decided to move to always masking indoors vs. mostly masking indoors.

But figuring out how to best protect the Resident 5th Grader is tough. He has an IEP and other accommodations and virtual / hybrid school was…a nightmare. He really wants to do 5th grade band, and when we had to make that call last spring everything looked ok enough. This is his last year (and our family’s last year!) at our elementary school. So there are many reasons why in-person school makes sense. Ideally, people would do the right thing and mask, but based on the district’s summer program and the band lessons … well, let’s just say my kiddo was the ONLY one masked up at “band camp” and one of very few in the summer program. This, in a population where none of the kids are vaccinated (and who knows among the adults, since I don’t think the district requires our teachers to be vaccinated).

Predictably (and maddeningly!), the 5th grader was exposed at band camp…11 days ago. The email we got stated that “quarantining is recommended but not required” [emphasis mine]. !!! Luckily, his COVID test came back negative. But this does not give me warm fuzzy feelings about how the school year will go down, unless we go back to requiring everyone to mask up. I’m not holding my breath about that.

Carleton’s plan to bring everyone back to campus, require vaccinations (plus a flu shot), but no testing and no masking, has been a significant source of stress for me and others lately. Particularly when I think about bringing 2000+ students back from literally all over the world, many of those places COVID hotspots. We just received an update indicating that we will have testing AND indoor masking this fall, which makes me feel a bit better about controlling my exposure. And I suspect after the first few weeks, assuming we don’t have an outbreak on campus, I’ll be able to relax a bit. But a part of me is also (still) squeamish about trusting my health to the decision making of 18-22 year olds once they are back on campus.

So I find myself back in a place of imperfect decision-making and second-guessing almost everything. I sometimes successfully remind myself that I can’t control what choices others make, but it’s so hard when others’ choices affect your family’s health and possibly survival. I’m trying to walk a very thin tightrope between taking precautions and doing what’s best for my kids’ emotional and mental health. I wish these decisions were easier. It’s a really sh*tty time to be a parent, that’s for sure.

What is your COVID mindset like lately?


What I’m reading: I’ve just started Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead, edited by Susan Blum.

What I’m listening to: Groove Salad on SomaFM. My go-to work / concentration music. (I’m a supporter, too!)

5 good things

The past few weeks have been hard on many fronts — the COVID front, the work front, the home front, the news cycle front, the everything-is-a-racist-mess front, the I-am-so-done-with-people front (not my students — they have been a bright, bright spot this term!) — ok, you get the picture. Suffice it to say the heavy, contemplative, possibly a bit navel-gazing, post I’d planned for today felt impossible to finish and not the kind of heaviness I wanted to pile on today.

When life gets impossibly hard, I draft a resignation letter that I have no intention of sending (or, at least, not yet) and fantasize about disappearing to a cabin in the woods and living as a hermit. But I also remind myself of the not-sucky things happening in my life. This is one part of the suite of tools I use to manage my anxiety and depression — and boy, have I needed those tools recently.

So when I did this exercise this week, as life spiraled downward, this is what appeared on my list.

Deep family conversations. We tend to have lively conversations (ok, sometimes those “lively conversations” are my kids fighting) over dinner, and given the nature and interests of my kids, I’m never sure where we’ll end up. This week’s topics included the geopolitical situation in the Middle East; sex education and what my kids are learning about healthy intimate relationships; the origins of capitalism; alternate economic systems and their pros and cons; how slavery built White wealth in the US. Lest you think we’re all deep topics, all the time, popular dinnertime conversation topics also include Why What Mom Cooked Tonight Is Gross and 20 Reasons Why I Hate School. I like how these conversations allow me a window into what’s on my kids’ minds and how they’re currently processing the world around them.

Morning reading habit. This year I added “read something vaguely work-related for 15 minutes” to my morning routine, right after I meditate. I’ve been able to finish a few books I’d been working my way through for a while, and generally get more work reading done. Reading is one of my favorite things, and starting the day with one of my favorite things usually starts me off on the right foot for the rest of the day — or at least keeps me somewhat zen through the first few crises of the day.

Injury rehab. Now admittedly, this seems like an odd addition to the list. But I’d kept injuring the same ankle and finally made a PT appointment. And learned that the ankle I badly sprained last spring never quite healed — and oh yeah, my calf muscles are so tight that they’re completely screwing up my running biomechanics. PT is hard and not always fun, but I appreciate knowing what’s causing my injuries and, especially, having a specific plan to follow every day to recover. When everything else is falling apart, there is real comfort in knowing that I have to do 50 reps of these 4 exercises and this many minutes of run/walk intervals and 2 minutes of those stretches — and that no matter what else happens, I can control this small part of my day.

Coffee. Coffee is always a good thing.

Vaccinations. I got my first dose of Moderna earlier this month (one of the first ones at Carleton!!) and will get my second dose at the end of the month. My partner got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine right before they paused it. The resident 8th grader is eager to get vaccinated once anything is approved for the 12-15 age group. I think all of my siblings and their partners, and my mom, have either finished their doses or are in between doses. And more of the people in my life are getting their first and second doses. Getting vaccinated has been a HUGE relief, easing some of the underlying stress and anxiety I’ve held for over a year now. I haven’t seen my family in forever and am looking forward to being able to travel to see them again. And I look forward to hugging local friends again. It’s been way too long.

What positive things are happening for you right now?