Editor’s note:Have you noticed lately that bits of the past are creeping into the present? We’re gardening more, going to drive-in movies, spending time with nature, putting jigsaw puzzles together. We are finding that these traditional pastimes are somewhat calming in this time of COVID-19. Weelunk’s series, “Bygone Comebacks,” will take a look at some of the ways we’ve been slowing down. Today’s post looks at how Mother Nature has helped some families through this summer.
Few things can stir up nostalgia like the memories of our childhood summers. It’s hard to argue that the things kids spend their time on in their free time have changed drastically over the past few decades.
Gen X or Millennial parents know the twinge of sadness that comes with the feeling that their own kids’ experience is playing out so differently than their own.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
Most of us remember the long, lazy summer days of our own childhoods spent outdoors, just waiting to be filled up with memories — the enticing aroma of chlorine wafting out of the swimming pool, the exhilaration of jumping on the trampoline with no fear, the peaceful quiet of reading in a shady spot in the yard for hours and flying through the streets of our neighborhoods on bikes with the same feeling of freedom as a teenager with the keys to their parents’ car. Being punished and made to stay indoors was a form of torture.
Those were the days, as they say.
Wheeling resident Jessica Bell remembers those summers well. The pediatric registered nurse —and mother of two boys, Jackson, 10 and Quinn, 3 — recalls growing up in the 1980s when playing outside ruled the days — and often the nights — and screens were reserved for Saturday mornings or a rainy day.
“Many of today’s kids don’t know the slow, laid-back way we knew summers as children,” she said. “I hope that if one good thing comes from this pandemic, it is that there is a realization that for kids, sun and fun go hand in hand. There’s a great big world out there just waiting to be their playground.”
There is no denying it — rather than the laid-back summers, our kids spend a lot more time than we ever did being shuffled among people, places and activities with little time left over to spend time in nature, exploring their neighborhoods and even their own backyards.
AND SUDDENLY …
Then suddenly in March 2020, the world grinded to a virtual halt, and there was no more hustling, no more shuffling. In fact, there was quite literally nothing to do. There was no need for families to make a concerted effort to pull back from obligations so that they could slow down to appreciate time together; COVID-19 was making that decision for us.
In Wheeling, residents were under stay–at-home orders, winter still had a hold on our area, and most of us were quickly tiring of being cooped up inside our houses. We were juggling working from home, managing our kids’ remote schooling and trying to keep them entertained in the hours in between.
Bell noticed right away that craft supplies were being wiped out in stores. Gardening tools, seeds and soil were also hot commodities.
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“My husband Keith, the gardener of the family, waited in long lines at Lowe’s to try to get seeds and fertilizer,” Bell recalled. “We had to go to Washington, Pennsylvania, just to find a small inflatable pool for the boys.”
OLD IS NEW AGAIN
Mother nature was waking up, and in a way, so were we. People were longing to get outside and, hopefully, feel some sense of normalcy again. For many people, getting back to basics and providing their kids with all the tools they needed for an “old-fashioned” summer seemed to be a popular way to make that happen. The summer of 2020 was shaping up to be one spent largely outdoors — swimming, hiking, camping and biking. Families were learning new skills together — gardening, preparing the food they were growing and cooking at home together from scratch.
Our family is one of many who has found new ways to fill our free time. Recently, we took a day trip to Trax Farms in Washington, Pennsylvania, and went strawberry picking. That turned into searching for strawberry recipes, learning to make piecrust from scratch and baking the pie together. We have had picnic lunches outside, chased fireflies at night and camped in our backyard in a tent.
The sweetest farm fresh strawberries around.
A new skill learned together with delicious results.
And clearly, we aren’t the only ones. In early spring, finding common forms of outdoor entertainment to purchase was nearly impossible. Quick set swimming pools were sold out in stores and online. New bikes for kids? Forget about it. Trampolines? If you were one of the lucky ones, you could find one on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. Tents? Try tenting some blankets over your old bikes. People had bought it all out as they planned to provide their families with every source of outdoor entertainment that they could find during the upcoming summer spent largely at home — much like the summers that they grew up savoring.
GOOD TIMES IN BAD
The Bells have spent many hours this summer in their backyard — camping out, playing games, mastering sporting trick shots and “fishing” in the new pool.
Seeing people in the community grilling out and eating together, swimming, porch sitting, reconnecting with their families and getting to know their neighbors has been a huge positive in a sea of negativity for Jessica.
Swimming and "fishing" in their coveted pool.
Jackson Bell's big catch
“I hope that families and kids continue to nurture their newfound love of the outdoors. I hope that the electronics, family obligations and work requirements don’t kill the rebirth of backyard playtime,” she said. “It’s important for them to be in touch with the outdoors, not only for their mental clarity, but also for their physical health.”
For most of us, 2020 hasn’t left many memorable experiences, but hopefully, we hold on to the memories of getting back outdoors together, spending extra time with our loved ones and refocusing on living with more intention in our daily lives.
• Born and raised in Wheeling, Megan Huff is a freelance writer and production editor at INWheeling Magazine. She loves reading, photography and music, and enjoys restoring the historic home she resides in with her husband, Ryan, and three sons, Kellan, Logan and Griffin.