There’s an article that I absolutely love, I probably link to it almost annually, called The Myth of Quality Time. When I read it years ago it shifted the way that I think about family vacations, especially those with extended family. I used to worry a lot about whether I was making the most of our time together and more specifically whether it felt like “quality time.” That article helped me to see that brilliant moments of joy and connection weren’t something that I could facilitate through appropriate activity choices. It’s about showing up, spending time together.
We were all supposed to go to Vermont last week, to a family camp full of woodworking and archery and canoeing and mess hall meals. We were all so excited, and then COVID happened and the camp closed for the summer. No one carpe diems quite like my sister’s family; they usually spend all but a week or so of summer out traveling the world, but the pandemic wiped out so many possibilities that they were left with a rare quantity of time on their hands, so she suggested driving the kids up to Michigan for a few weeks.
At some point she asked if anyone might be interested in finding a lake house somewhere for a week of that time, the same week we’d all been hoping to spend together in Vermont. She found a house a little over an hour away on an inland lake we’d never heard of, Clark Lake. There were kayaks and a paddleboard and a basketball hoop, and she and my brother-in-law offered to rent a pontoon boat for the week. At the time it felt second-best to Vermont, but still gave us lots to look forward to.
As awful as this pandemic has been, it gave us the gift of a lot more time together than we would have had otherwise. We squeezed in walks in the woods, slip-and-slide, catching fireflies, multiple family dinners, playground time, movie nights and sleepovers all before we even started our week at the lake. Our kids have never had this much consecutive time with their cousins before, and it was brilliant. Watching Jude and Fields play on the dock, Vivienne and Maris bond over their love of music and drawing, or watching Jonah light up and say “I’ve read that book!” when Maris quoted something he knew (before they both ran off together to talk books) – it all brought me so much joy.
We had a family tie-dye party before we left for the lake, and around the same time I ordered Camp Staff tees for Kira and I. There are so many things that I love about my sister: how much she makes me laugh, how wild and free she is, how she inspires me to dream and go after the things that I want, that she always spins the perfect tunes, but when it comes to an impromptu camp week I especially love that we share a love of planning activities, noticing the details, and making things feel fun and special. I bring the sparklers and she brings the rainbow fire powder, she dreams up a craft and I run off to buy the supplies, we both show up with a big bag of gummy bears while buying essentials, and we stay up late figuring out just the right spot to hang the birthday balloons. My mom teased us about being elitist since I didn’t buy anyone else a shirt, but it made me feel like my sister and I shared something special that was just ours.
There was so much magic in simple things, even the rainy day board games (the kids all fell in love with Clue). Jonah fell in love with balsa wood airplanes, the kids giggled as they balanced on the lily pad in the lake, we blew giant bubbles, made mask chains out of beads and friendship bracelets out of embroidery thread. One night during dinner we heard the distinctive sounds of hot air balloons and discovered that two were landing in the marina just two doors down.
My kids fished for the first time, and Jude caught his first fish. He was SO proud of himself. So much of what they did was with the help and guidance of Uncle Dewey. He took them all tubing and inspired all of us to try surfing behind the boat. All of the kids impressed me with their courage and passion this week. The boat couldn’t go fast enough or find enough wake for Jonah’s daredevil spirit. And Vivi was a total boss surfing on the paddleboard behind the boat, falling in twice and finding the rope and climbing right back on to try again.
And I don’t even have words for this paddleboard headstand.
It was loud and peaceful and relaxing and energizing in waves throughout every day.
My mom called me today to tell me that it feels too quiet at their house now. After three weeks of the best kind of chaos it must feel strange. But we all have so much gratitude for this time we may never get again. In a lot of ways I think that the tradition my parents started when we were small of spending a week at Lake Michigan each summer is what set the stage for us to love time like this together. As we left the lake house and said teary goodbyes my dad commented that this might actually have been better than the camp in Vermont, and while I still think that would have been magical too, there was something even more wonderful about it being just the eleven of us together in a house. I’m so glad that this is my family, and that they remind me again and again that making the time and showing up is a powerful thing.