Early last Spring, when I planned our summer, Vivian was supposed to go to all-day TLC (school district before/after school care) and a month of Spanish immersion camp. Lillian was supposed to go to the full-time preschool summer session, weekly dance classes, and swim lessons 4 days/week. Both girls were supposed to go to VBS for a week. William was supposed to go to full-time daycare. And I was supposed to be fully employed. And then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic hit our country hard and everything changed and everything was cancelled. Our summer was, for the first time, and possibly for the last time, wide open with nothing scheduled. So, I scheduled something – a long trip to Ohio to spend nearly five weeks of quality time with my family. This was an opportunity we might never get again, especially as the kids get older and more involved in activities and, hopefully, I become re-employed. Yes, a pandemic was raging, but I knew that flying was considered relatively safe (constantly recirculated air, sanitization, masks) and we’d be staying in a much, much less populated area with a drastically lower opportunity for virus exposure (Orange County, CA, has 3.2 million residents; Sandusky County, OH, has 60 thousand residents, my Mom lives in the middle of the country, and my Dad lives in a town with a population of 200). Dan, thankfully (like, super, super, super thankfully) is still fully employed, so he had to stay back in CA to work. The kids and I, though, jumped on two planes in the middle of July and flew to Ohio, not to return until the middle of August.
Even though my family lives across the country from us, it’s important to me that our kids truly know them, as if they lived down the the street. Seeing our kids bond and play with them and develop memories with them is priceless (and this summer, since we used miles to fly to them, it really was!). Yes, I want my family to have memorable experiences with our kids, but much more importantly, I want our kids to make and hold those memories – to remember the thrill of riding with Papa on his ATV, baking cookies and cupcakes with Nana, playing with the kitties at Uncle Matthew and Aunt Katie’s, flying a kite with Great Uncle Lee, reading with Great Aunt Jane, catching fireflies with Great Uncle Gerry, and playing with Aunt Anna and cousin Ava. This past summer provided us with five open weeks to do just that – what a gift (an exhausting and crazy one!)!
Five weeks is the longest time that the kids had ever been away from California and in Ohio. It was also the longest time that I had been in Ohio in nearly two decades. We had plenty of time to spend with family and do things that we typically don’t get to do on our shorter trips, like finally visit my brother’s “new” house and spend time at our family cabin in western New York. The coronavirus numbers in the places where we stayed were drastically lower than the numbers in Southern California and many more things were open for the kids to enjoy. I quickly realized how many amazing education and community resources I’ve taken for granted in the past. In CA, libraries, museums, playgrounds, nature centers, and zoos were all completely closed. In Ohio, though, the kids were able to go to all of these places (safely!) and it was such a blessing. I’m all about health and safety, but I also don’t think it’s beneficial for children to stay cooped up indoors for months on end. And I refuse to sign our kids up for anything “virtual” – they watch way more TV now than ever before and they certainly don’t need to be staring at another screen while sitting inside. While in Ohio, they could play and explore outside, immerse themselves in books instead of screens, and really, just be kids. I hope that they forgot for a little bit that we were in the middle of a pandemic.
We spent every day in Ohio with family and on most days, I tried to do something fun locally with the kids. In five weeks, we did A LOT. My Mom was still working full time, but she took off a few days each week to spend with us. My Dad is retired and is still not in good health (in fact, he was hospitalized two of the nights that we were in Ohio), so we visited him and brought him along on small outings, like getting ice cream. The kids visited my brother at his house twice; he met us at the cabin; and he came up to our parents’ houses once (he lives 2.5 hours away from my parents). My sister and her daughter flew in from Colorado for a week. And my aunt and uncle drove five hours down from northern Michigan one weekend to see us. When we weren’t visiting family, we were exploring, riding bikes, hiking, and playing. If I detailed out all of the things we did, this blog post would be so long that no one would read it (including me, who is my primary audience for memory’s sake!), so here’s a visual snapshot of our fun in Ohio in the crazy summer of 2020:
We have arrived (in masks)! Thankfully, this was one of my absolute easiest cross country flights alone with the kids.
My Mom bought and refurbished used bikes for the girls and a bike seat for William. The girls had so much fun riding their bikes in Ohio!
Praise the Lord – the library was open! Vivian, especially, was thrilled. It is NOT the same for kids to request books online and pick them up curbside (which is what we’ve been doing and continue to do in CA). We took multiple trips to the library.
Outside! Outside! The rain didn’t stop us from walking around Spiegel Grove on President Hayes’s estate.
One day, we took a ferry to Kelleys Island in Lake Erie and spent the day exploring the island and swimming in the lake. The girls much preferred the fresh lake water to the ocean salt water.
Ice cream! We ate so.much.ice.cream in Ohio. Sometimes, we had ice cream for lunch!
Vivian loved flying her kite with Uncle Lee at a park.
The kids used natural materials found in the woods to play at a local nature preserve.
Vivian loved baking with Nana from a book that she picked out and read at the library.
One very muggy day, we hiked my old cross country trails at White Star Park (and then had ice cream for lunch).
We went on an outdoor scavenger hunt one morning (and got caught in a downpour) and then the kids got to play in the park’s nature center (we were the only people there!).
We spent one weekend together at my brother’s house in very rural central Ohio. We hiked and played on a waterfall and in the Mohican River and, of course, ate lots of ice cream (homemade frozen custard, to be exact!).
We didn’t swim in any pools in Ohio – only rivers (like the Mohican River) and lakes!
Ohio has lots of farm/barn kitties and the kids found them wherever we went!
Another muggy day – another scavenger hunt. We hunted for fairies at a county park.
The kids loved the outdoor sculpture garden at Williams Park.
We spent one weekend at our cabin in New York. The kids hiked, ate ice cream (of course), rode the ATV, and played with the Amish neighbor kids.
Lillian did so great riding her bike in Ohio, even on 5+ mile bike rides like the one we took from Fremont to Lindsey on the North Coast Inland Trail.
We took a day trip up to Michigan to visit a small zoo that we’d never been to before.
The kids play for HOURS at local playgrounds. It was so nice to see them have so much fun doing this since it’s not something that they have been able to do in California.
One last scavenger hunt – this time at a local garden with my sister and her daughter who had flown in from Colorado.
Aunt Anna took all three girls down to visit Uncle Matthew and Aunt Katie overnight. My girls were so lucky to get TWO trips to visit my brother and SIL while in Ohio.
My Mom always puts up swings for the kids in the big sycamore tree in her yard. Of course, the kids love swinging on them.
Summer in Ohio in one picture: Catching fireflies after dark with sticky ice cream hands (and also with Uncle Gerry).
Whew – that sums up our five weeks in Ohio. We were able to do a lot of “Ohio favorite” things and a ton of new-to-us activities. Coronavirus couldn’t stop us and I’m so glad that it didn’t! We have special memories that we will all treasure forever during a time when there are a lot of things going on that we wish we could forget!