I've been going to the Cape for summer vacations for as long as I can remember. As a child, we would go with my cousins and share a house for a week. I remember hot days at the beach, body surfing with my dad and my uncle, sand always in my food, and sleeping on the floors of the cottage since there weren't enough beds for everyone. They were simple, long days where you played freely and slept soundly after the late summer sun usurped every last bit of your energy.
As a teen, I remember fewer family vacations. Summers were spent visiting people who had pools or, even better, belonged to pool clubs. Pool clubs seemed exclusive and elusive at the same time—it was fun to be invited and get a sneak peek at what happened behind the stockade fences obscured by tall trees. There were special club rules and etiquette, and we would buy food at the snack bar instead of packing a lunch like we did when we went to the beach. Kids played organized sports at the pool club, like tennis and swim team, and it was best to arrive early in the day to select the perfect vantage point for viewing who else might sneak in for the day. Dads always seemed to disappear for golf and moms congregated under umbrellas, leaving much of the child care to lifeguards in bright red swimsuits and dark sunglasses.
My family didn't migrate to a summer home or take big overseas trips like some other families we knew —with 3 kids and 2 working parents, we stayed closer to home. But we also lived in a neighborhood where you could ride your bike to any number of houses and spend the entire day playing outside, only to be summoned at dinner time by the decidedly crisp incantations of my 5'2" mother. My parents made it easy to enjoy summer fun at home, though—they built us an above-ground pool in our back yard and signed us up for summer music camp.
My first experience at summer music camp was a day camp at a local high school within walking distance of our house. It was a full-day musical workout — morning large ensemble rehearsals, lunch, group lessons, outside activities then jazz band and pit orchestra in the afternoon. We played all day, played all kinds of music, and many of us experienced our first torrid middle school summer romances, giggling with a drummer making jokes behind us or making furtive glances at a sax player down the row. The kids I met at camp became the same pod that I would see later at music festivals, in youth orchestras and wind ensembles. It was exhausting and exhilarating, and these summers helped sow the seeds that bloomed into my lifelong passion for music.
The end of the camp day wasn't the end of performing for me, though. My town hosted a robust summer musical theater program, so evenings were spent in the orchestra pit learning scores to Brigadoon, Bye Bye Birdie, Anything Goes, Fiddler on the Roof and more. When I learned to drive, I could join my trumpet teacher for other shows in other towns. A Chorus Line, Carousel, South Pacific—I learned the books to so many classic Broadway shows and got a tiny glimpse of what it would be like to live as a musician.
There were more camps along the way, but as I got older, music day camp was replaced by summer jobs and then real jobs to make ends meet while I tried to take auditions and get a freelance career off the ground. For many years, my only summer vacation was stealing a couple of days to go to the beach or visit family. Before we had a family, Hans and I did travel a bit, but it was hard to find a chunk of time that we could take off without missing work, and we had just a shoestring budget to plan our trips. We managed some fun excursions, though, and swam with seals in Maine, scorched ourselves on the Jaws ride at Universal Orlando, and found ways to take advantage of major life events like weddings or road gigs to catch up with friends around the country.
Having kids really curtailed summer vacation plans for a number years. We tried to take Max to Hawaii to visit one of my closest college friends when he was only 7 or 8 months old. He is our first-born, and every experience we had with him was novel. We thought about leaving him with my parents for the week and basically having a second honeymoon, but he was about to cut his first tooth and who knew what other milestones he might reach while we were away snorkeling and hiking under waterfalls in lush tropical forests. As it turned out, Max cut his first tooth while we where in the ticketing stiles at Logan Airport, and since there was no way my parents could get to the airport before takeoff, he came with us. It was our first experience having a tag-team vacation, but not our last. Add 2 more kids to the mix and our vacations became simply visiting family who would spend time with our kids while we could catch up on our sleep.
I'm not sure when the clock started ticking so loud, but one spring we started counting how many summers were left before the kids headed off to college and we might not be able to plan a family getaway. We needed to find ways to carve out at least a week over the summer to spend time together as a family. Summers were tricky with 3 kids who have diverse interests, but we have managed to eke out a week or so between baseball and tennis tournaments, summer theater classes and sleep-away camp to take a trip. We started small by renting cottages on Cape Cod, then branched out to bigger trips like Acadia, Washington DC, Arizona, California, Utah, and eventually a two-week trip to Italy. We've slept in a trailer at the top of a mountain under the Northern lights, traversed white water rapids in central California, hiked treacherous trails at national parks, discovered international monuments like the Coliseum in Rome and visited ballparks from coast to coast.
Unfortunately we never got a chance to plan a vacation this summer. We didn't know when Max would have to start work after graduation, or where and when Abby would go to college. COVID hit before any of those things were determined, and even today plans for the fall are in limbo as we get nearly daily updates from the schools about their reopening plans.
So, vacation was much quieter this year, with no plane rides, no hotel stays, no dining in cool restaurants, no movies, no souvenir shopping, no boat excursions, no outdoor concerts and no baseball games. We did get to the Cape, and stayed in my brother's beautiful new home that they purchased in January. We had made plans to spend time with them to break in the new place, but instead we shared lunch on their patio as we left their house after our vacation so they could begin their own.
There was fried seafood and ice cream, bike rides, mini golf and some beach time, but mostly there was more of what I've come to realize is a treasured gift that I will likely never experience again in my lifetime, unencumbered time with my adult children.
If I had written an essay back in January about what I would DO on my summer vacation, I surely never could have predicted our current situation. But if you asked me what I wanted MOST from my vacation, the answer would still be the same—free time to enjoy my family, to celebrate the fine people they have become, to hear their hopes and plans for the future, to laugh, and to remind myself how lucky I really am.