Even as we packed the rental car outside our Manhattan apartment in mid-March, the farm wasn’t our destination. We planned to ride out the pandemic with relatives in Washington, D.C., at their spacious home with a large yard. But we stopped about 60 miles away, at an Airbnb on a blueberry farm in rural Baltimore County. We thought we’d stay a week. Even though it wasn’t blueberry season, it would be a good adventure for the kids, we reasoned. Like a vacation — the vacation we were supposed to take that week during the kids’ school break — with space, fresh air, and an entire farm to explore. “Might be some farm activities” was included in the description of the farmhouse and property. As the mother of a 3-year-old boy obsessed with machinery, this sounded like good news.
Before we found the farm, I thought my kids could play independently because in our two-bedroom apartment they always could find something to do during the 15 minutes of downtime we typically had before some activity or outing. The first April day we sent them outside to the backyard, they stood motionless and forlorn as if dropped into a forest in some cruel child-survival reality-TV show. They got the hang of it, and by August they were running out the door at 9 a.m. and had to be called in repeatedly for lunch, having already feasted on rosemary and mint from the farm’s lush herb gardens. “Can you eat too much (insert herb)?” became a com-mon Google search for me.
We slowed down and sped up. We figured out how to work from home when everyone is home: Do it whenever you can, wherever you can, however you can. I drafted an article on computational biology in the laundry room, using the dryer as a desk. My banker husband worked in the bedroom with the window open, on call to save us from farm misadventures, like our daughter’s first bee sting while playing Marco Polo in the blueberry bushes. We figured out how to exercise without a gym: Run up and down hills. We realized, as cheesy as it sounds, that home is where you make it. We all still laughed at the same things and still loved the same things in a world 180 degrees from our Manhattan one. Without our belongings, our routines, and our friends, all of which we deeply missed, we were still the same people.
As the summer drew on, we re-entered the world — albeit a different one. Our children went to day camp where, after temperature checks, they observed caterpillars and slugs. We joined another family at a lavender farm, in masks, for a socially distanced bluegrass concert. We became regulars at the blueberry farm’s Saturday-night program of pizza and live music. Six months after we ate dinner with three other couples in a yurt restaurant on the Lower East Side, my husband and I had a date. This time we dined outside of an old horse barn. A draft IPA and a crab cake never tasted so good.
When we left the farm in August, we did not renew the lease on our Manhattan apartment. Instead, we found a new place to rent — a house in Baltimore County. While we missed parts of our old life, too many aspects of our new life worked. The beauty of nature, the freedom in unstructured time, and the richness of being together were all things we valued before, but had become increasingly out of reach, drowned by the currents of our city life. Here, surrounded by cornfields, we can make our own currents. Good vaccine news has primed the world for reopening. I sometimes fear we will ricochet back to a frenetic life, like the one I described in a journal entry dated Dec. 14, 2019. On that day, I took my daughter to an 8 a.m. skating lesson, took myself to a 10 a.m. exercise class, scurried downtown with the family on multiple buses to meet another family for dim sum in Chinatown, then raced uptown with my daughter for a classmate’s birthday party, before heading out to the suburbs that evening with my husband for a holiday party. This year, that party was held on Zoom.
I do yearn for concerts and karaoke and parties, dining without worry, and visits to elderly relatives. But I will hold the lessons of the past year close, as a guidebook to turn to when once again events seize our calendar’s empty spaces. Someone will have a meeting when a child has soccer practice and another child has a piano lesson, and afterward there will be two birthday parties and a really great music festival we all want to attend. That will be when we need to say no to something, when we need to think back to the days in 2020 when our children made up games in their rooms for hours, we got our cardio by hiking in the woods hunting for animal tracks, and a bike ride to a nearby brewery was the weekend’s only outing.
We will remember the time when, away from everything we knew, we were able to tap into what we valued all along. To think, it all started when we pulled off the highway and into a blueberry farm.