Seattle's Child

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families getting outside November 2020

Shin Yu Pai, husband Kort Bergman, and their son have discovered the joy in spending more time outside since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Photo by Joshua Huston

Getting outside — and finding joy

Families step out into nature and find a whole new world during COVID-19

A funny thing happened last April. Life slowed down. Was it forced upon us by a global pandemic? Sadly, yes. But despite the frustration, uncertainty, fear and grief that have accompanied our changed lives in 2020, some families have made lemonade out of their lemons by getting outside. With more time on their hands during quarantine, two Seattle families have reconnected with their city’s outdoor offerings, as well as with each other.   

Daisy Tsang of View Ridge says that before the pandemic, she and her teenage daughters might have gone to a park once a month, but not much more than that. Between Daisy’s job as a Mandarin teacher at the Seattle Waldorf School, and her teenage daughters’ swim lessons and piano lessons, there wasn’t much free time for getting outside.

Once the stay-at-home order was in place and schools transitioned to remote learning, Tsang says that she started to walk a lot. Almost every day. She was bothered by how much screen time her daughters were getting:

“I just suddenly felt like we needed to take care of ourselves. “

Tsang adds that since they were isolating at home, they didn’t have to rush and go places. “During that time, I started to have a rhythm,” Tsang says. Around 5 pm, she would go out for a walk on the nearby Interurban Trail, often accompanied by one or both of her daughters.

Tsang noticed that her older daughter started getting closer to her. “She talked to me about her friends and changes. That was the bonus,” Tsang recalls.

In August, the family enjoyed a trip to Deception Pass before a return to remote learning in September. Tsang’s 77-year-old mother came too.

“We hiked a little bit and we spent most of the time at the beach. We enjoyed sitting there talking,” recalls Tsang.

“I think we missed that family togetherness outdoors.”

Discovering biking

Shin Yu Pai of Bitter Lake says that more free time has allowed her family to be spontaneous.

Prior to the pandemic, she and her husband, who both worked, had to wait until the weekends to spend time outdoors with their 7-year-old son. Even then, it was minimal and typically involved neighborhood walks.

“The shift to a new routine during the summer was pretty big,” says Pai.

She became the primary earner after the naturopathic clinic her husband worked for closed. Although it was an unexpected change, her husband can now spend more time with their son while she works from home.

In April, her in-laws, who live in Texas, shipped them the bicycle her son usually rode when he visited, knowing he wouldn’t be able to visit this summer. At the time, neither Pai nor her husband had bikes. Pai’s husband quickly ordered a bike online in May (which took about a month to arrive due to the high demand last spring) and Pai purchased a used bike on Craigslist. After working with their son on his own bicycling skills and familiarizing him with the roads, the family set out together.

“The whole summer was basically long bike rides, up to Echo Lake and down the Interurban towards Greenwood,” says Pai. (She admits part of the goal was to tire her son out by the end of the day by getting him outside.)

Trips also included regular visits to her son’s kindergarten teacher, who lives nearby. While picking berries from her bushes and smelling the roses in her garden, they would talk and catch up. “It was a really special thing for him to see his teacher … it became hard to feel connected because the quarantine happened so abruptly.”

Since our region’s cooler, wetter fall weather rolled in, Pai’s family has kept getting outside, but replaced their bike rides with two-mile walks to Bitter Lake Community Center, up through Broadview- Thomson K-8 School’s campus and back home.    

A few weekends ago, they took their first trip to Carkeek Park since the pandemic began. The beach had been their son’s favorite place to go the summer before, to dig in the sand and play in the water. Despite fog and overcast skies, Pai says, “It was transformative for my kid. He didn’t complain about how far to walk. It reminded us how important it is to get into nature.”

Pai says that being outdoors — getting outside regularly — has also benefited her and her husband. It became very clear how much when Seattle experienced more than a week of hazardous air quality in September due to smoke from forest fires. “Up until then, we were both managing our grief and frustrations around the pandemic really well … When we couldn’t go outside and breathe the air without endangering ourselves, that took a huge toll.

“I felt depressed about the inability to be in nature and have that reset.”

As 2020 has shown us, we can’t take anything for granted, especially all of the benefits that come from simply being outside.

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