Friday, August 6, 2021

A Tale of Two Summers

Last summer opened with a good bit of trepidation; in the midst of the pandemic, we brooded about not being able to travel far, worried about what was safe and what was not, and lamented the disruption of cherished summer traditions. As we approached this summer of 2021, conversely, things were looking up: the kids had made it through a strange school year, our family was fully vaccinated, and it felt like we’d return to a carefree summer of freewheeling fun.  

Now, as we enter these waning weeks of the summer (I know it’s only early August, but I always feel that whoosh of time flying when I turn the calendar from July to August), it seems that the tale of these two summers wasn’t quite what we expected it to be. This summer, it turns out, wasn’t better than last summer – or worse. It was just different.

Despite the pandemic – or maybe, in some strange way, because of it – our summer of 2020 was pretty great. Yes, it was weird to eschew cookouts and gatherings. We were bummed to not fit in a trip to Cape Cod with my folks, and even more disappointed to miss the usual visits from far-away cousins. We missed the spring soccer season that spills into summer. We missed family sessions of mini golf. We missed impromptu trips to – well, anywhere, really.

By necessity, we embraced local wonders more than ever. And one of the huge perks of the summer of 2020 was that all our local friends were here; nobody was traipsing off for a week at the beach, trips out west or abroad, or time away at summer camp. Instead, we’d gather by our favorite swimming holes late in the afternoons, the kids splashing around and jumping off rocks and downed trees, the moms soaking up the sun and catching up. We refurbished forgotten mountain bike trails in the woods by our house and created a couple new ones. We paddled around in kayaks, looking for turtles and sliding into the water to cool off.

And through the month of July, the kids and I hiked. Sometimes it was just the four of us on the trail, but often one group or another of our hiking friends joined us. From the first day of the month to the last, we crossed eight of the state’s 48 4,000-footers off our list. We even added a couple of overnights – my kids’ first ever backpacking adventures, and my first in a good long while.

This summer, though, we’ve hit the trail only a few times. I don’t know that we’ve had a single lazy afternoon by the river with friends. And the kayaks have been loaded into the truck and slipped into the water only one time so far.

The start to our summer was partly consumed by the tail end of a competitive spring soccer season of busy weekends. The two teenagers in the family started their first jobs in June, which made spontaneous hikes and river trips and anything else nearly impossible. The weather has been weird. And fitting in hiking trips or other outings with friends has proved difficult, with other teenagers working and other families taking vacations at different times.

Instead, this July opened – very happily so – with a visit from my California brother and his family and wrapped up with a visit from the Tennessee contingent. There was tons of cousin time, late nights of visiting and kids running around, and short visits from more extended family thrown into the mix. These cousin visits are among my children’s most cherished summertime traditions, made even sweeter this year by last year’s hiatus.

Another summer tradition returning this year: our pilgrimage to the sandy shores of Cape Cod and the beaches my brothers and I visited when we were kids. Summer may be fading faster than I’d like. But I’ll get my toes in the sand before it goes. 

Original content published by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul. This essay appears as Meghan's August 5, 2021 Close to Home column in the Littleton Record.