Let’s take a breath and give ourselves a pat on the back for the resilience, strength, courage, and especially the emunah we demonstrated for the past ten months.  When our world was turned upside down by COVID-19, regardless of age or role, we stretched ourselves to navigate the New Normal and beat this plague.  We fortified ourselves and faced the challenges, turning adversity into opportunity.

With intercession (“the winter break”) arriving soon, I have some good news and bad news to share.

First, the bad news.  There has been a surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly after millions of people traveled through airports for the Thanksgiving holidays.  Also, as the weather gets colder and winter approaches, people will be interacting more frequently indoors, most probably in poorly ventilated places, which escalates the risk of transmission of the Coronavirus.  Finally, the general public will most likely not begin to get vaccinated until April 2021.

Now for the good news.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Four pharmaceutical/biotech companies are on the brink of releasing the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.  By the time you read this article, Pfizer and Moderna will have provided enough of the vaccine to immunize 20 million people, health care workers, and nursing home residents in the U.S.  In the history of medicine, the quickest vaccine to have ever been developed took four years. This one was ready in eight months.

The other piece of good news is that there are lots of winter pandemic-friendly intercession activities, and staycations have always been a popular option for winter break.

Before we move on to intercession activities, let’s recap some key events and lessons learned.

In mid-March, schools closed on short notice and educators moved quickly to launch remote learning.  Parents managed their own work from home and supervised their children’s virtual learning.  The warm weather brought with it some relief, certain summer camps opened, and parents organized safe and socially distant happenings such as road trips or outdoor activities for the family.   School administrators spent hours during the summer developing safe reopening plans and students returned to either full in-person learning or blended learning in the fall.

The yeshiva winter school break is traditionally a time to hop on a plane or cruise ship, if one’s finances and schedule permits, and escape to a warm climate.  Given the uptick in COVID-19 cases and a shortened or even cancelled winter break, flying or cruising are no longer viable or safe choices.  Some yeshivot have even scheduled scattered days off within the next months to discourage families from booking air travel plans and having increased exposure to COVID-19.

Let’s give our children credit for the immense emunah, flexibility, creativity, patience, and agility displayed since March.  Many are experiencing pandemic fatigue, but we need patience to hang in there and keep our families and others safe.  If we do that, next winter we can travel across the country or even to Israel.

The Pandemic Pivot

A word often associated with managing our New Normal is PIVOT.  Pivot means to turn or balance on a central point.  While this word was used frequently in surviving and pivoting from a business crisis, job loss, or death of a loved one, it can also depict a commitment to shift to a new direction.  Some call it the pandemic pivot.

How can we pivot to arrive at safe, fun and socially distant winter break ideas?

Road trips are a popular and safer pivot from getaways requiring air travel.  Staying in your own state may be your safest bet to avoid quarantine rules when returning from certain states.  Finding a destination that is not going to be crowded, such as a national park, may be a safe, peaceful, and enjoyable option.  Most children adore recreational vehicles and hotels.  Please review cleaning, social distancing, and cancellation policies before you book a hotel, Airbnb, or any attraction.

As with any pre-pandemic vacation, perform your due diligence and homework before booking a trip.

Keep your plans fluid, based on how the public health landscape continues to evolve.

Venues can close at a day’s notice or stay-at-home orders can be implemented, based on the COVID-19 positivity rates, hospitalization rates, and rates of ICU bed availability.

Before winter break, sit down with your children at a family meeting and explain the current pandemic environment.

Clarify why this year’s intercession will look different than others. Encourage your kids to talk about their emotions, expectations, and ideas for winter break.  Validate their concerns. Be patient and honest and help them feel safe.

Look for the silver linings in this year’s winter break that does not include an exotic destination (more privacy and bonding, cheaper).  Reinforce the practice of the three W’s of COVID-19, Wear, Wait, and Wash – wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.

Consider a Staycation

A staycation is a stay-at-home vacation that is spent visiting local attractions.  Intercession often creates financial and work-related pressures for parents.  With the additional pandemic stressors of job furloughs, virtual learning for children, work from home parents, and potential COVID-19 exposure, staycations are a safer and more economic vacation alternative.

Staycations sidestep long airport lines and the anxiety associated with air travel (such as security concerns and delayed flights).   The need to make every minute count on a pricey and faraway vacation sometimes detracts from the relaxation and bonding we want to experience.

Present a staycation as a win-win and model a positive outlook.  If you have  teenagers put them in charge of finding appealing activities for the whole family.

Enjoy the Outdoors!

If it snows, play in your own backyard or inspire your children to shovel the driveway and walkway for the family and neighbors in need.  Reward your kids with a tip and, of course, a cup of hot chocolate.

Who doesn’t enjoy building a snowman and decorating it or creating a snow fort?

Socially distanced outdoor fun:  Try snowshoeing, sledding, having a classic snowball fight, ice skating, or bundling up for a hike.

Play Tourist and Enjoy Nature

You can play tourist in NY & NJ depending on the COVID-19 environment.  If the weather is mild, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or ride on the Staten Island Ferry.  Enjoy Brooklyn Bridge Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Prospect Park, or the New York Botanical Gardens.  It’s easier to stay socially distant at these large grounds.

Like wildlife and nature? Visit the Bronx Zoo’s 265 acres and 8,000 animals.  Guests must reserve a date-specific ticket.   Or walk on the Coney Island Boardwalk and reserve tickets for the New York Aquarium.

Monmouth County Parks in New Jersey have exciting winter activities for the entire family. Check out the Parks and Program Guide at: https://reg.monmouthcountyparks.com/Documents/Winter-PPG-2020-web.pdf.

The perks of winter break for kids are sleeping in, not running to catch the bus or a ride to school, and having pure leisure time.  Suggest that they unplug from technology and allow their minds and bodies to refuel, recharge, and get positive.

Wishing you a safe and healthy winter break!

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.   Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).