The Healing Power of Day Trips: I helped my kids get over their grief, one trip at a time.

From the newsletter:

Watching my kids grieve when their schools closed was rough. As any parent knows, when your kids are in pain, you are in pain. 

My boys grieved for different reasons. For Ian, my high school son with autism, he missed the routine and contact with peers. And he missed learning things; he’s like a learning shark who never stops. Without friends or sports, he was entirely isolated when school closed; he didn’t get vital therapies that he needed. 

Jonah, my college kid, struggled to engage in YouTube classes with professors droning through PowerPoint slides. Every day, he chased professors, who didn’t return emails, to find out if they got his assignments that were submitted properly through the wonky electronic portal. Sometimes he watched his classes alone in a dorm room, sometimes he was home on our sofa – neither option was awesome for a 21-year old. 

Schools and college are central to the lives of young people in the country. Perhaps we expect too much of schools. Perhaps all those things that my sons missed — companionship, challenge, socialization, routine, purpose — should be filled in other ways. But the school to college to work pipeline is how the middle class functions right now, and there are no substitutes. 

Watching the boys so miserable made me rather hysterical, like any parent. Gradually, hysteria became replaced with resignation. Rather than focus on impenetrable institutions that I believe could have handled things better, I focused on my kids and how to keep their head above water for another week. 

We started taking day trips every weekend. It was a game – we had to visit a place that we had never been to before; it had to be within an hour of our house; the trip had to include an adventure and a meal. All the rules were flexible, because it’s just a game, so we went farther than an hour sometimes and did some repeat adventures. Over dinner during the week, we would haggle over ideas — museum or mountain? brunch or dinner? 

In the past few months, we drove to New Hope, PA, New Paltz, NY, Morristown, NJ, Princeton, NJ, Cold Spring, NY, Piermont, NY, and to several museums in New York City. We’ve walked on the tow paths along the Delaware River, where donkeys used to pull the barges that carried goods to New York City. We put our fingers in musket ports in old stone homes of the early settlers in New York State. We saw my old friends: Chagall, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, and Pollack. We ate dumplings, burgers, omelettes, and street food. I had more than one glass of wine. 

These trips was good and healing for Steve and myself, too. We left our home; the old girl has served us well this year, but I am rather tired of her. For a little while, we stepped away from the endless misery on CNN and the sink of dishes. It helped us distinguish between weekday and weekend. It helped clear the brain fog. And now I have a huge file of photographs of awesome places on my computer. 

14 months later, the boys’ old lives have not returned yet, but things are less painful. Like any death, you get used to the situation after a while. And I do think that our trips helped. They provided all of us with structure in a vacuum and some fun. 

This weekend, we’re taking our bikes to 181st in Manhattan, near the Little Red Lighthouse under the George Washington Bridge, and then heading south along the path near the Westside Highway.