“Sorry, we can’t.”
“Not yet, but maybe when…”
“No, honey, it’s just not safe.”
The past two years of the pandemic were exhausting for nearly everyone, but for parents, the added layer of having to say some version of “no” multiple times a day to pleading kiddos has felt particularly repetitive – and exponentially tiresome.
That is, until now?
Although the promise of a post-pandemic summer isn’t guaranteed – the risk of a potential new variant could rattle our plans at any time – things are certainly looking up. As COVID-19 cases have plummeted and safety protocols have relaxed, this might be the first season families are able to finally breathe a mask-optional sigh of relief and give their kiddos a long-overdue “yes.”
Still, coming off of two summers that had more rules than Monopoly, parents may have a hard time relearning how to let loose.
From a checklist of must-experience moments, to expert-backed tips to navigate your family’s re-entry, to how packing for a day out may look a little different with little ones, we’ve got your guide to your most carefree summer yet. (Or, you know, your most carefree summer of the past few summers …)
Metro Detroit Summer Bucket List
After a few straight summers without much need for schedule keeping, this one promises to be action packed. New attractions are arriving and previously shuttered festivals are back to their pre-pandemic size and scope. Before it fills up, consider adding these family-friendly delights to your calendar.
Have an island adventure at Belle Isle State Park.
You don’t need to hop on a plane to find an island getaway. Belle Isle, and its glorious 987-acre park on the Detroit River, offers a full day of fun for families. Whether you hit the beach for city skyline views, pop into the oldest aquarium in the U.S., or venture through exotic plants at the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, you’ll forget you aren’t actually on a tropical vacation.
Run the bases at Comerica Park.
Every Sunday when the Tigers are playing at home, Comerica Park lets kids — ages 4 to 14 — run the bases after the last inning. Plus, kiddos also get to ride the stadium’s carousel and Ferris wheel, which is normally $2 per person, for free. Don’t forget to grab a coney dog.
Glow up on the Glenlore Trails.
The illuminated forest that first became a sold-out sensation in 2020 returns this June with an even longer trail spanning one full mile. If you want to take an immersive walk through a dazzling display of lights and sounds, book your tickets soon: earlier time slots tend to fill up with young families. Photo courtesy of Glenlore Trails
Experience the magic of the Motor City Comic Con.
After being canceled in 2020 and moving to October in 2021, the three-day event is back this summer and promises to be the biggest one since its inception 33 years ago. With child day passes no more than $20 (and free on Sunday!), you and your littles can head to a galaxy far, far away — or, Novi — and people-watch all the fantastical cosplayers dressed up as their favorite comic book characters. Better yet, get into costume yourselves!
Go full steam ahead on a Day Out With Thomas.
Take a ride with your little one’s favorite storybook friend, Thomas the Tank Engine, as he pulls into The Henry Ford museum and offers memory-making moments, from lawn games to magic shows, around every turn of the track. Make time to take a spin on the old-time Model Ts.
May 19-22 + May 28-29
Journey to the Jurassic at the Dino Stroll.
Ever see a T. rex up close? A velociraptor or a stegosaurus? This summer, your family can get a close-up look at nearly 75 life-sized dinosaurs standing more than 25 feet tall and spanning 60 feet long. If that isn’t enticing enough, your budding paleontologists will also be able to study skeletons, fossils and dinosaur eggs at the Canterbury Village Dino & Dragon Stroll. Photo courtesy of Canterbury Village
Head to Fraser to experience a 13,000-square-foot bounce house towering 32 feet in the air with towers, basketball hoops, a giant slide, a ball pit, and even over-sized couches and chairs for parents to chill on. Sessions are divided by age group and last for three hours. Parents not jumping do not have to purchase a ticket. Photo courtesy of The Big Bounce America
Show your support at the Motor City Pride Parade.
Michigan’s largest pride event, which celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and draws more than 40,000 participants, will kick off with a Saturday festival in downtown Detroit. The Sunday parade, after being canceled the past two years, is also making its long-awaited return. Be sure to claim your spot early to see the rainbow-bedecked floats!
Set your eyes to the sky.
The Michigan Challenge Balloonfest is back in Howell and organizers are planning to make it even better. Don’t miss the launches, the fly-ins and that special Saturday night glow guaranteed to make your summer a little bit more magical.
Hope for wind at the Detroit Kite Festival.
An annual tradition that went on hiatus during the pandemic, many families may be willing to brave the crowds — and risk the tangled kite strings — this year in order to behold a sky full of colorful kites in flight.
Your Day Trip Packing List: Then Vs. Now
A wallet with your ID and credit card.
A wallet with your ID, credit card, health insurance card, COVID vaccination cards for you and the kids, three different library cards, a membership card to a museum you are determined to use once this year, a buy-10-get-1-free punch card you never remember to use at the frozen yogurt shop you’ve gone to dozens of times this month.
An extra pair of sunglasses
Spare diapers (at least one for every two hours away from home!), wipes, burp cloths, and, once potty trained, an extra pair of underpants, socks and pants.
A bottle of sunscreen
Six bottles of sunscreen — the mineral-based one they always refuse but you’re determined to try every single time, the stick version of that mineral-based one, the one where the cap turns blue in the sun, and the one they will actually just-barely tolerate in varying SPFs: 30, 75, and 100. (You forgot your fancy $65 facial sunscreen on the bathroom counter.)
A protein bar
An assortment of fruit pouches, a baggie of half-crushed Goldfish crackers, a not-quite-leak-proof sippy cup, a banana with a single brown spot that makes it entirely inedible, and a few loose, stale Cheerios hiding out at the bottom of your bag.
How to navigate your family’s return to normalcy
Even for the most COVID-fatigued family, the return of a “normal” summer — ahem, packed crowds, long lines and high temps — may be trickier to traverse than expected. Whether you’re ready to go big or inclined to go straight home, Dawn Livorsi, a staff therapist with The Family Institute at Northwestern University, has advice to keep your cool in every scenario.
Start off simple.
You might think your kids are ready to jump feet first into a freewheeling summer, but keep in mind: COVID has been a factor in nearly every decision concerning them — at home and at school — for years.
“I’d recommend small steps to reintegrate,” Livorsi says. “As opposed to jumping into a multiday summer camp or a pool party, start with an afternoon playdate that feels manageable, especially if they need to acclimate to the experience of being away from home or away from parents.”
Ease gradually into one experience before piling on another, and be OK with backtracking as needed.
In fact, it’s normal for even the calmest of kids to be nervous about new activities, Livorsi says, “considering all the starts and stops we’ve had.” Sure, it may be disappointing to realize even preschoolers aren’t as uninhibited as they might have been if not for the past two years. “But listening to their concerns and then normalizing and validating them as a universal experience that we’re all managing is important,” she says.
Make a plan –– but be flexible.
Even for those families who’ve hit up masked museums and events, most venues had limited occupancy to account for social distancing. Now, with spaces at maximum capacity, it’s important to prepare kids for what that means in practice.
“Some kids have never been out to experience these things,” says Livorsi. “It’s an opportunity for families to do some creative problem-solving, to think through what could come up.” Do they have fears about getting lost? Being jostled or pushed? Discuss each scenario.
Eating inside a restaurant, waiting in a long line for a public restroom, or changing up a routine (a skipped nap, for instance) all come with a learning curve if you haven’t done it in awhile. Teaching kids age-appropriate ways to regulate their emotions — like taking deep breaths or even a sip of water — can help them to redirect distressing feelings and soothe themselves if ever these experiences start to feel like too much.
Life rarely goes as planned even without the ebbs and flows of an ongoing pandemic, so Livorsi suggests parents set realistic expectations and help prepare kids for all possibilities — including the bummer of a canceled event or the reversal of a mask mandate. “We need to give them some sense of predictability, but in the times that we’re in, we still have to be flexible.”
Expect resistance –– but watch for red flags.
Parents should expect to see some common symptoms as kids transition back to more typical gatherings. They may be clingy or show separation anxiety, they may be irritable, they may exhibit different eating habits or they may experience regressions — like accidents after being successfully potty trained or the return of a kicked thumb-sucking habit.
“Much of that is going to be managed with some experience,” Livorsi says. “They go out, they do it a few times and they get more comfortable.” Patience is paramount, as is allowing every member of the family to go at the pace that’s right for them: “For some kids, the best thing for them might be to sit in the discomfort of it and realize that they can do it, while some may just not be there yet. In that case, take a step back and figure out how to better prepare them for next time.”
If, however, worry is eliciting outbursts or impacting their ability to function in day-to-day tasks, it might be time to seek additional support, such as counseling.
“They’ve missed a lot already, so if they’re now missing birthday parties or day camps at the local park, we should address it,” she says. “We don’t want them to miss out on anything else.”
Acknowledge your own anxieties, too.
Just as parents need to support their children’s re-emergence, they need to do the same for themselves. “They’re going to have to figure out how to manage their anxiety so that it doesn’t impair their kids’ experiences,” Livorsi says. “If you send your kid out the door biting your nails, your kid is going to feel nervous, too.”
It might feel like an act of treason to watch your child sneeze (into their elbow, of course!) in public and not turn six shades of red and apologize to everyone in a quarter-mile radius, but letting go of some of those knee-jerk responses is a good starting place.
Her key advice? Focus only on what you can control. “You can’t control what others do,” she says. “But you can make decisions for your family based on your best judgment.”
And, Livorsi says, it bears repeating: “Remember to give yourself permission to have fun.”
A special note to ...
Those who became parents during the pandemic:
Although they’re new to parenting, Livorsi advises parents of pandemic babies — or, now, pandemic toddlers — to trust themselves. “There’s going to be a lot of people who’ve missed you and are clamoring to see your baby, but be sure to take it slower,” she says. “Don’t succumb to the pressure to go back to normal — because there has been no normal for you to go back to.”
A special note to ...
Those who lost the last years with “kids” at home:
Many parents are mourning the loss of two crucial years with their growing kids, who’ve since graduated into tweens or teens no longer interested in participating in family outings. “What’s unfortunate is we can’t go back and try to force it — that would be a mistake,” Livorsi says. “There’s some grief in that, in knowing they’ve surpassed this developmental stage of your collective lives.” Instead of dragging your kids to some version of forced family fun, she suggests a collaboration. “Ask them what they’d suggest doing that everyone would like.”
You Can Stay:
Pandemic-Era Pastimes We Don’t Want to Go Away
Not everything that came about as a consequence of COVID was a bad thing. A short list of what we hope will stick around for good:
Park picnics. Meeting up with friends for lunch al fresco doesn’t have to require a 45-minute wait for the next available patio table. An oversized blanket on a shady patch of grass works just fine. And, now it’s safe enough to go potluck! Just no double-dipping in the hummus, mkay?
Nature preserve playdates. There’s no need to turn your playroom into a disaster area when you can coax your kiddos to meet up in the great outdoors. With 4.6 million acres of public land in Michigan, including forests and state parks, there’s no shortage of space to explore.
A ‘rain or shine’ attitude. Eight seasons of being forced to socialize outside has taught most families how to make due with inconvenient weather. Raining? Just grab the galoshes and go!
Prefer to Get a Bit
Heading to the airport with kids was stressful pre-pandemic. Consider this advice before booking your flight.
Summer is the busiest travel season, and Fridays are, year-round, the busiest travel day of the week. You’re sure to face excessive crowds, and if you add the occasional weather delay, you run the risk of a longer-than-expected stay at your departure gate.
Check the requirements at your destination.
Particularly if you are traveling internationally, you’ll want to be sure you have the most up-to-date intel on rules surrounding COVID testing and possible quarantine procedures. If any step is confusing, call your airline and ask to connect with its official testing hotline.
Pack extra masks.
If the TSA’s mask mandate remains in place, you’ll want to be sure you have extras of the style your children prefer in case they get wet or dirty.
Board the plane first.
Normally, it’s nice to let kids run around the gate as long as possible before they are saddled into cramped airplane seats, but extra time (and space!) to wipe down surfaces is worth the request for early boarding.
Many airlines have paused snack and beverage service, so be sure to have enough granola bars and trail mix to go around. Also, don’t forget about you! A hangry parent doesn’t stand a chance.