It’s time to start thinking about summer plans, parents! We’re talking about that ever-stressful patchwork of day camps, activities, daycare, classes, babysitters, and grandparents to entertain and care for our children over the summer. Did that just make your blood pressure rise? It did mine. And let’s make the planning extra spicy this summer. Hellooooo summer planning during a pandemic! Anybody else start pitting out their shirts with stress sweat? Please tell me I’m not alone in this panic party over the summer schedule. How do we do it this summer?

Let’s start with the good news. I’m not a glass-half-full vs. glass-half-empty kinda gal, but rather consider myself a glass-has-water-in-it-to-the-halfway-point type. I like to think I’m a realist, and in real terms, I think we can be optimistic about this summer, right? The coronavirus is better understood so we know more about what protects against it. And vaccines are being distributed. I’d say we’re definitely better situated than last summer, but there’s still some trepidation about knowing what we can safely plan for. Can we travel? Can the kids go to swim lessons? Will there be a Fourth of July fireworks display? Who knows? Now we aren’t infectious disease specialists, virologists, or behavioral psychologists over here, but we are parents. (That counts for something, right?) So if you just need another viewpoint about how someone’s thinking through the process, here’s how we are looking ahead toward planning the summer months.

Look at the options - all of them. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an all-or-nothing summer. I tend to catastrophize (dear God, we just finished the last piece of fruit! The children are going to get scurvy!) and so it’s easy for me to fall into a mindset of well, I guess we won’t do anything this summer, again. But there are definitely some intermediary steps between hiding in my house to avoid the virus and throwing down at the nearest college party right after flight hopping all over the world. I keep reminding myself that risk mitigation is part of our daily lives and I need to be realistic in terms of how I assess risk in regards to summer plans and Covid. For instance, do I drive a car? Yep. Do I cook over a gas stove? When I’m not ordering kids’ meals from Chipotle, yep. Did I attend Kim Kardashian’s lavish 40th birthday party prior to vaccinations and without a mask? Oddly, I did not get an invite, but wouldn’t have gone even if I had because traveling and partying mask-less prior to a vaccine is too much risk for me. (Biggest takeaway here is that I would NOT have gone to Kimmy’s party even if she had invited me and she probably understood that which is why I didn’t get the invite in the first place, mkay?) Point is, we take risks every single day. Yes, some have higher stakes than others, but going through the same risk assessment process to make a decision is an ok way to look at what you decide to plan for the summer. And it’s difficult to do this objectively - we have a lot of emotions tied into our choices around the pandemic. But I jump in my car nearly every day without a second thought to my safety (obviously after I fasten my seatbelt) and statistically speaking, there’s a fair amount of risk there.

So weigh your options and the associated risks for kid and family activities. For example, is there going to be some risk associated with your kiddo attending an outdoor day camp for a few hours every morning? Sure, but is that risk outweighed by your child’s social and emotional needs to be around peers as well as your need to be able to focus on uninterrupted work for a few hours? Maybe. That’s for you to decide. To help assess the risks involved, you may want to know how many kids are in the group, what protocols are in place to mitigate viral spread, what Covid rates look like in your area, etc. Take in all that information and weigh it against the other side of the coin - which is your child not participating - and make your decision. Just because an activity is scheduled and happening doesn’t mean it’s a completely safe bet. It most likely (hopefully) means that some extra thought and professional consultation has gone into how the activity will look this summer to mitigate risk of spreading Covid. And that’s going to require you to gut-check yourself on what you deem as a reasonable risk. And it’s ok if you and your peers and even extended family members have different levels of risk aversion and mitigation when it comes to Covid. We are all trying to make the best decisions with the information we have and that’s going to look differently for various families.

Another step to take when looking ahead to summer plans is to gather good information. Once you know what steps an activity is taking or how everyone plans to prepare for the family reunion or whatever it is that you are considering, weigh those precautions against what experts say you should do. (Again, NOT an expert on viral spread here but I can point you in the right direction!) I think we need to be cautious about hearing from a friend of a friend that her kiddo goes somewhere and “it’s totally safe”. Unless that friend of a friend is an infectious disease specialist (and maybe she is and you can tell me to mind my own bee’s wax!), then she really doesn’t have the authority to make that assessment for you. Gather your information from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and your own trusted health professionals. These sources can give you some objective guidelines to follow. Objectivity is really important here because it helps take some of the emotional component out of the decision making process and offers clarity.

And finally, if last year has taught me nothing else, it’s the need to be flexible. Plans can crumble pretty quickly - there’s a need for someone to quarantine, community guidance changes overnight, or we’re just being super-duper cautious about a case of the sniffles. Whatever the reason, it can feel disappointing, stressful, and defeating to have something you planned for and counted on cancelled at the last minute. Try and head off those emotions and the chaos they cause by being ready with a back-up plan - an easy project stowed away that can entertain a kiddo for an hour, a new book to look through, or even an on-call relative or friend who can pop over to help out. And there’s no shame in some popcorn and a little extra screen time in these instances as well.

Even if some organized activities and many major events and gatherings we typically look forward to are not on the docket this summer or still in planning limbo, there are plenty of fun activities we can still hope to do. (And no, they don’t all involve having a pool built in your backyard but man, if there was ever a summer that I wanted a pool off my back porch, it was last summer!) It’s worthwhile to put some thought into it and get a little list ready in your back pocket should you find yourself thinking oh my gosh, what on earth are we going to do today or how can we make this actually feel like a weekend? Part of the fun of summer is the anticipation of fun things ahead. Here are a couple of family fun, very low-risk activities to keep in mind:

  • U-Pick farms offer an opportunity to harvest some of the best summer produce like blackberries or peaches yourself
  • An inflatable pool, a sprinkler, a water table, a slip-n-slide, water balloons - basically anything your kids can cool down in and do outside with some neighborhood buddies can be hours of fun
  • Act like a tourist and research what are the top attractions your area has to offer. I can’t tell you how many hidden gems I’ve discovered in my town this last year - hiking trails, museums with limited capacity, unexplored parks, etc.
  • Embrace the staycation vibe and only do carryout - no cooking or dishes for a few days!
  • Botanic gardens and arboretums are big, open air spaces that are beautiful venues in which to picnic and explore
  • New guidelines are saying that with certain precautions in place, it’s reasonable to visit those grandparents you’ve been missing this last year so go get a great big hug
  • Go camping or set up a tent in your own backyard
  • Road trip!
  • Spend the day on your bikes and make a whole route with stops for lunch and more
  • Visit your nearest creek or pond with tupperware in tow and collect bugs and outdoor creepy crawlies
  • Make a star gazing night extra special with s’mores and a telescope
  • Visit a nearby farm and learn about the animals and all the many jobs that are done to keep the farm operating
  • Work with friends or neighbors and set up a field day for the kids with one family’s bouncy castle, another family’s slip and slide etc!
  • Gather a group of kiddos to decorate their bikes or scooters and have a parade
  • Line up the perfect ice cream sundae bar, maybe even make homemade ice cream

Basically, when we look ahead toward the summer months - and I can’t stress just how much I am looking ahead to those days of warm sunshine and no virtual school deadlines - let’s try to focus on what we can do. (That sounds a little glass-half-full to me…maybe I am an optimist after all?) We can be smart about what we plan and draw good guidance from trusted sources as well as try to objectively assess the risks versus benefits of activities we choose to do. And most importantly, we can focus on the best ways to connect with those we love and have missed most over the last year. It may not be a summer full of the crowded gatherings we are used to, but it is shaping up to be better than the last.