Right now, travel is my lifeboat through the pandemic
As was very accurately and eloquently stated in a recent article in The Atlantic, "Parents are not okay."
I'm a mom of two kids who are too young to be vaccinated, and I can say with certainty that I am not "okay."
In fact, I'd say that for my family, this month might be the worst one yet in our pandemic journey. It may not have the same level of shock and confusion as March 2020, but what it lacks in shock value it more than makes up for in 18 months of pent-up exhaustion and record levels of frustration.
Where we live in Texas, cases are higher than ever, hospitals have surpassed maximum capacity and there are virtually no COVID-19 safety precautions in place at schools, grocery stores or really anywhere else for that matter.
With a 22% local testing positivity rate and no vaccine or antibodies, my youngest daughter is now a virtual kindergartner. (And while we are grateful for the option, virtual kindergarten is going exactly as well as you'd imagine.)
Navigating an ever-changing mental risk calculus over everything from playdates to ballet class to in-person school and beyond has led to an all-consuming, exhausting quantity of decision fatigue. And I won't even get into the levels of incomparable frustration we are experiencing watching case levels in the schools double every week with continued inaction.
We are inordinately privileged with access to high-quality masks, the ability to work from home and the luxury of having decisions to make at all, but every day we make it through feels like an accomplishment. It's at best an existence, not a full life — especially while we focus all available energy into keeping things as normal as possible for our kids.
While there are small joys to look forward to at home — a weekend swim, streaming some new movie or series on Disney+ or taking advantage of one of the only good things to come out of the pandemic: to-go margaritas — the stressors of this bizarre pandemic version of everyday life are making home life anything but a sanctuary.
Right now my only real sanctuary — my lifeboat — is travel.
While travel certainly isn't as simple as it used to be (and while we've paused travel for ourselves a few different times during this pandemic as cases across the country have spiked), it's still a break.
I've always felt that planning and looking forward to a trip is at least half the fun, but now it's proving to be more important for me than ever. Looking forward to something, anything, is a light at the end of the tunnel keeping me on my feet. Being able to plan things that are (mostly) within my control brings a feeling of order to an otherwise very chaotic reality where we have little influence on the major events that impact us.
Spending brain space thinking about whether we want to stay at the Disneyland Hotel or the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance is far more pleasant than sorting through another round of, "Is it allergies, or is it COVID-19?"
Those trips may not all happen, at least not in the short term, but some of them might. And the others still provide a ray of hope and happiness while they are being researched and considered.
We still can't go everywhere in the world, but with vaccines and negative COVID-19 tests, there is a lengthy list of places with higher safety measures, lower case counts and better scenery than our own neighborhood. That makes travel appealing on multiple levels.
Travel has always been a lifeboat
This isn't the first time travel has served as my emotional lifeboat.
Over a decade ago — when we were massively sleep-deprived and a bit shell shocked from our introduction to parenthood that had included a Life Flight, a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit and a very colicky baby — mentally planning my big 30th birthday trip to some over-the-top Caribbean island retreat got me through many of the long, loud and sleepless nights.
I knew that while there might be a lot of exhausting dawns between me and that trip, one day I would sleep in a room next to the ocean. I would hear at night were the waves, and all I'd have to do during the day is show up to a massage appointment.
It may sound nutty, but in that moment, it was what I needed to make it through.
While I didn't actually make it to the Caribbean on my 30th birthday, we did go for the first time later that year. Whether it happened exactly as imagined didn't actually matter. I just needed a temporary escape to look forward to so I could promise myself that I would, at some point, come up for air.
It's no longer a crying newborn keeping me up through the night — instead, it's a global pandemic that's lasting far longer than a newborn phase.
Now the stakes are higher, the timeline less certain and the risks much greater. But again, the corner of my mind where travel planning resides is a comforting retreat after the hard days. With N95 masks strapped around our heads and cautious hope in our hearts, we're counting the days until we can take off on our next adventure.
There is still so much uncertainty in our daily lives. I don't know when my 6-year-old will first sit in the same classroom as her teacher. I have no clue when we'll drink our margaritas in the lively, cramped local Tex-Mex joint instead of getting them to go. And I wish I knew when we'd make it through a day without strategizing how to reduce the risk of bringing home a potentially fatal disease.
However, I can tell you exactly how many days there are until we hope to go to the beach and how many weeks before we may make it to Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland.
Traveling right now has its risks, but it also has very real emotional rewards — and that's true even if the trips don't all happen when and how you first imagine. I can't wait until we actually turn the page away from this pandemic nightmare and feel once again "okay" in our normal lives.
But until then, you'll find my mind drifting away in its lifeboat as often as possible to thoughts of airplanes, hikes, villas, passports and adventures.