Travel is a kind of crucible. Its a special set of challenges that not everyone has the stomach for, but it produces a kind of outcome that not everyone gets to enjoy. Air travel, in particular, is this unusual combination of stress and boredom, where everyone has to meet a schedule that everyone knows is never accurate. I’m not sure who invented the phrase “hurry up and wait” but I’m sure they were talking about commercial air travel…
Still, even with the packing and early mornings and uncomfortable seats and random strangers, and the pandemic additions of wearing a mask, having your mask fog up your glasses, worrying about the people around you who still don’t know how to wear a mask properly (it goes over your mouth and nose, folks!) the reward for putting up with it all is to experience something you wouldn’t have — couldn’t have — if you didn’t get up off your couch and get into the world.
Those experiences are something we want our kids to have — while they’re still kids. And Covid really did a number on our plans. Beginning with their 13th, we’ve told the kids that they won’t be getting any more physical gifts from us on their birthdays. Instead, we’d give them experiences — big ones on the big birthdays, and smaller but unique ones, on the others. For Ben’s 13th birthday, he got to visit Star Wars Land. For Abi’s, we’d planned a trip to Hollywood — which is close to where my office is (back when work travel was a thing!)
It came more than half a year late, but we did manage to make good on that promise this month. My first work trip since the pandemic was scheduled, then cancelled, but the opportunity for an in-person meeting in California followed quickly afterward, and we jumped on it. Nic, Abi and I masked up and got on a plane for LA, while Ben and Eli held down the fort (with some check-ins from grown-up friends in the neighborhood).
We took her shopping at the glamorous Century City Mall, where she was allowed to buy a few things, then hit Rodeo Drive, where we could never afford to buy anything. We hit Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and Abi got her eyes opened a little to what life is like outside her little rural Ohio bubble (there are as many homeless folks on that street as there are stars in the side walk), and we took a cliched tour bus to the Hills of Beverly to see where the rich and famous live. We only had one night in our hotel together (which wasn’t quite as nice as I’d hoped) but we got the next morning in beautiful Santa Monica, sipping mimosas and lemonade (as age appropriate) in a swanky brunch spot, and walking on the pier. I sent the girls home at the end of the weekend, and stayed on for a couple really fun and worthwhile in-person work meetings.
Ben also missed a birthday, plus at the beginning of a pandemic, a class trip to Chicago that he’d been really excited for. His wait was longer, but we managed to mostly restore what he lost as well, and this past weekend, he and I got on a plane for Chicago. By a wonderful coincidence (and a little planning) some sweet family friends — and Ben’s very first baby sitter — were in town too, where she was running a marathon. In between stops largely determined by the cancelled class trip itinerary, we were able to meet up with them, and cheer for her on her run.
At the top of Ben’s to-do list was the Cloud Gate, also known as the Bean, and an architecture boat tour, where we learned about the history of the Windy City. We had Chicago style hot dogs with friends, walked the River Walk by star light, took an elevator 103 floors to the Sky Deck of the Sears Tower, and visited the Museum of Science. Travel in the city was challenging, due to the marathon, but we got around by train, bus, bicycle, taxi, and about 40,000 steps. Our last stop was to congratulate the successful marathon runners over dumplings — a meal Ben was unsure of, then raved about the whole way home.
The contrast between a couple weeks of intense travel and nearly 2 years with barely any is a shocking one. My travel bag, carefully equipped to trade off weight vs essential gear, has sat neglected for so long that my shoulders still ache from the unfamiliarity (and the fact that I basically lived out of just it for most of a week). The added stress of Covid is very real, but the deal was supposed to be that if we all got our vaccines, life could go back to normal. Covid is not keeping up its end of the deal, and its not just because a certain percentage of the population continue to refuse to do their part to help end this. Sometimes it seems like there’s still no end in sight to this pandemic that has now occupied a significant percentage of our kids’ lives… but the poverty of staying in one place is not a good trade either.
Eli lost only a few Girl Scout trips. She was too young for the vaccine, and despite our efforts to protect her, she got Covid. We are grateful she got a very mild case, that it cleared up quickly, and left her with antibodies that are at least as good as (and probably better than) the shot. But we’re resolved to help her get some life back too, and next month she’s finally going on a Girl Scout camping trip.
We’ll continue to be careful and thoughtful about when and where we go out into the world. Ben and Abi’s trips were largely outside activities (malls are outdoors in California!) and airplane ventilation systems are some of the best ever created. But we won’t trade any more of our kids’ childhood for the unvaccinated or unconvinced any more. I have enough friends and co-workers that have decided against the shot or are opposed to government over-reach that I can have some empathy for their positions, but at this point, they’re choosing their own risks and I’m not choosing to shield them from those risks. I don’t want anyone to get Covid, but here in the US, I can’t stop them — and this won’t be over until it resolves in one way or another for the majority of the population. I can’t make people choose the same resolution as me, but I won’t bear their consequences any longer… and neither will my kids.
There’s dignity in facing challenges in the best way you know how (although I’d argue no one has much dignity on a ventilator). We helped our kids face the challenge of Covid the way we thought was best, and while its not over, they earned the right to experience some better things. We’re planning for more of those things for them — and we hope each of you find your best way past Covid, and that you can find the courage to get back out there in ways that challenge you and bring you joy again too…