On March 17th schools closed for what would be the rest of the academic year. That same day, we locked ourselves up at home. One of us would leave once or twice a week for groceries, but that was all. We kept at it for a couple of months. By mid June, when it was clear that going to Spain this summer would be a miracle, we realized that we really needed a break. And a mini trip to Michigan would achieve just that.
We were a bit nervous, especially because we have a newborn. So, for our first trip during Covid-19 (anyone who is talking about doing things post Covid are kidding themselves), we chose an area we are somewhat familiar with. A place a comfortable drive away from Chicago.
We wanted to be close to Saugatuck, and I found what looked like a lovely house on VRBO. We rented it for only two nights, since I was a bit apprehensive to leave Chicago for longer just yet.
As we drove north, we left behind the industrial landscape of Indiana. Seeing it becoming diminutive from our car was liberating, and it immediately made me feel better and more relaxed. I’d swear that I even breathed better. There was no traffic, as has been the case often since the pandemic started. And we were both more than eager to truly try the car we bought in the Fall, and that has mostly been sitting idle in front of our house. It deserved a little adventure after being broken into in March.
Baby pit stop in South Haven
On our way to Holland we stopped in South Haven to have a social distancing picnic with good friends. Kids’ Corner is a delightful and fun playground, with the added bonus that the slides are metallic. You may wonder why that is important. Pablo’s Cochlear Implant got fried last year by the static in a plastic slide. Since then, plastic slides are a big no for him. And any chance of him playing in exactly the same spots than his brothers is more than welcome. The other bonus of this playground is that it is made of wood. That made me feel a little less worried about potential Covid transmission.
Holland: Windmill Island Gardens
One of the intricacies of traveling with a newborn is that they need to be fed often. And since I breastfeed, the only way to feed him is to stop.
After the breakfast picnic, since the house wasn’t available until 4, we stopped at Windmill Island Gardens, to find another picnic chair where I could nurse the baby. The boys were not very adventurous, but they had long trails, and a huge open space.
Before we headed to the house, we stopped to get groceries. I was surprised that there was no shopping cart cleaning, but every employee used masks in the stores and thanked us for wearing ours, which leads me to think not everyone does. I also saw plenty of people inside stores not wearing them.
I found a beautiful house on VRBO. It was the first time we used the app, as I am a spoiled hotel girl, so I was a bit apprehensive. It was even more beautiful in real life than in the photos, comfortable, very clean, and bright. I am not going to publish the link to it, but if you want it, message me and I will be happy to share it. I just saw that they have opened up some more dates for August.
Even though it was quite late, the boys really wanted to go to the beach, so we headed to Oval beach, which we already knew. My advice? Don’t go with a baby. As beautiful as it is, the beach is too steep to safely place a stroller. I learned that the hard and scary way, as our stroller tripped with the baby inside. After a quick cry, he was fine, but I was quite rattled until I managed to abuse the kindness of a pediatrician friend who assured me over the phone that most likely, he was fine.
Sometimes you have to make your life easier, so after buying groceries to cook a lovely dinner, like you see in the movies, we decided to pick up Burger King, since it was 8 pm when we left the beach. You don’t see Burger King in the movies, but it made for an easy dinner. We had a great evening in a perfect and tidy house, with no screens and plenty of Saramago. One of my favorite things to do on vacation is to read at night when the kids are already asleep.
Lake Makatawa, and Ottawa beach on Holland State Park
The best thing about getting away was that, at times, we would totally forget about Covid 19. The worse thing about getting away was also that at times we would forget about Covid 19. Masks were not worn widely by patrons, and by virtually no one in the closed areas of the beach, like the restrooms or the restaurant. But once I started worrying about the waves, and the water, and the sun, and the mosquitoes, for brief periods I would completely forget about the last four months. And that was very, very refreshing.
Ottawa Beach was perfect, with a beautiful view of the Red Lighthouse, and plenty of space to camp. The water was calm, and a soft breeze helped fight the heat. It felt weird to suddenly be surrounded by so many people, but it was a good weird.
Kollen park for a last baby pit stop
After one las morning in the beach, we picked up ice cream at Kilwins (a must if you go to Michigan). We needed a place to seat and eat it while the baby also ate, so we could drive back to Chicago in one sitting. We had seen a gorgeous park several times, so we decided to head there. Kollen Park had plenty of sitting options, fantastic views, an empty playground, and, other than a couple of self distancing groups, not many people around. Once more, the boys were able to run, which was one of the main goals of our short trip to Michigan.
Kids are funny, and if you ask mine, probably what they remember the most is playing apples to apples and the miniature beach with ducks and a black squirrel we found on our last evening, during a short walk around the house. If you ask me, what I took away was some much needed calm and recharged batteries.
Organizing a trip knowing that museums and many attractions are closed is a bit more challenging than your usual. For example, the last morning it rained heavily for an hour, which meant that the beach wouldn’t be an option until noon.
Some things have changed. The only photo of the six of us that we took was done inside the house with a lamp, a water bottle and a book as props, as asking someone to touch our phones is completely out of the question. I guess that for our next trip we’ll bring a little tripod.
But traveling with children is still doable. You may need to adjust your nutritional expectations (hello drive throughs!), plan differently and increase your adaptability. But the extra hassle was completely worth it, and our short trip to Michigan achieved all we were looking for. Hopefully we will be able to escape the city a second time this summer, hand sanitizer and mask in hand.
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