Parenting Advice

Should Parents Be Dreading a Do-Nothing Summer?

As Seen in Psychology Today

Seriously? We’re about to have a COVID-19 summer?

Even if you, like me, slip into daydreams that the virus is gone, our kids are home for the summer. In the house. All day.

I can’t get into everything we’re dreading. And there are no “five tips for having a wonderful summer at home with the kids.” I have one simple message: Summer is not going to be fun, and parents are dreading it.

But it may turn out differently than we expect in the long run.

The Family Truckster

Lately, I’ve been thinking about National Lampoon’s Vacation, the 1983 comedy about the Griswold family’s summer drive across the country. Despite the gags and humor, the film is really about being trapped in a car with your family for two weeks.

As dad, Clark W. Griswold, eagerly piles his family into the Wagon Queen Family Truckster, his wife Ellen suggests flying. Clark is indignant. “Getting there is half the fun. You know that,” he says. Ellen and the kids do not share his enthusiasm.

The drive is miserable. As Clark drags them from the Biggest Ball of Twine to the House of Mud, the trip, as son Rusty says, is “a real drag.”

This summer is going to be one long trip in our own Family Trucksters. But instead of seeing the Grand Canyon and visiting rural cousins who ask for money, we are stuck in our homes. My kids are devastated that sleepaway camp is canceled, and I’m just as disappointed that I won’t have the three weeks without them (you know you are too).

What’s That Smell?

The words “family” and “vacation” should not go together. Families take trips. Vacations are what parents need after family trips. As anyone who’s done it knows, it’s not fun to be trapped in a station wagon with your family for two weeks. Sure there are some good times on family trips, but inevitably someone’s bee sting swells up or you spend eight hours at the Cabo ER.

An Uber driver/philosopher once told me that while working, the minutes are long but the hours are short. We look back fondly on family trips that were excruciating minute by minute. I can laugh now about the time my 2-year-old shut the adjoining door to our hotel room while the front door was latched. At the time, I was so panicked that I almost climbed the balcony to smash the glass door (eventually they kicked in the door and broke the latch to find my little guy curled up behind the curtains).

At the end of Vacation, the Griswolds arrive at Wally World ready to exult in the glory of surviving the drive and letting loose at the amusement park. But the park is closed and Clark loses it. After buying a BB gun and forcing a security guard to take the family on rides, the SWAT Team arrives as does Roy Wally, the Disney-esque founder of Wally World. “I went a little haywire,” Clark says. But he appeals to Wally’s shared experience as a parent.

Clark Griswold: Did you ever drive them (your family) across the country?

Roy Walley: Oh, hell yes. Took the whole clan to Florida one year. Worst two weeks I ever had in my life. The smell from the backseat was unbearable.

Clark Griswold: I know that smell. I know that smell.

The summer of COVID-19 means we’re all Clark W. Griswold — getting lost, your teen’s smelly socks in your face, and driving on the freeway with the dog tied to the bumper. OK, the dog/bumper thing is not common. Please call the ASPCA or PETA if you need help.

And like the Griswolds, we are stuck in close quarters this summer, slogging through the long minutes of each day.
Getting There Is Half the Fun

Settle in folks, we’re all in the Family Truckster now, heading off on a two-month drive. My daughter’s normally delightful singing is going to make me want to jam a pencil through my ear, and my dad jokes are going to go over like lemon juice in a paper cut. But if we can laugh about it, the coronavirus summer will become family lore. Whether we call it grit or another buzzword, the shared experience of boredom, conflict, repair, adjustment, and eventually emergence, builds bonds. As Clark says to Ellen, “Nothing worthwhile is easy.”

Someday, when we look back, we might end up agreeing that “getting there is half the fun.” One thing’s for sure — we’re all going to know that smell.

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