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Homebody Summers

With five minutes left before the big switch from the art room to the music room, my fellow Vacation Bible School volunteer had a circle of adorable 5-year-olds to entertain, mine included. 

“Let’s tell everyone where we’re going on vacation this summer!” she announced. “I’ll start…” 

And around the circle they went: the beach, my granddad’s house, the lake, Costa Rica, the beach (again). They giggled in excitement. A few of them clapped their hands together as they called out their family’s destination. I pondered what in the world my little one would say when it was her turn. That summer, like most summers, we didn’t have a vacation planned.

For a variety of reasons, we just aren’t vacation people. This meant, in the early days at least, that I spent a lot of summer feeling like a lousy parent. And mind you, this was before the dawn of Facebook when every click was a window into someone’s glorious family trip and a gut punch to my mom psyche. 

Admittedly, by the time mid-August reared its hot head and my daughters were ready to go back to school, I had figured out a way to get us somewhere for a day or two, maybe even a long weekend. But as the kids got older, I realized we were all doing just fine with our homebody summers. 

And there were perks. 

Many of our neighbors knew we were the family who didn’t travel, so the women-children were on call for pet sitting and mail collecting and the like. 

And more good news! It turns out that working away the summer and forcing your family into a state of creativity-inducing boredom is the kind of parenting that teaches kids to truly, genuinely appreciate everything their hometown has to offer. 

That’s right, if your family isn’t hightailing it out of town all summer long, you might find lots of ways to enjoy our fabulous town. Here are a few things I recommend during this last month of summer:

 1. Ride the GRTC Pulse and do fun things. First, kids love buses (or so I tell them!). Second, it’s $3.50 to ride all day up and down Broad Street. I like parking on the street around Willow Lawn so you can grab a bite to eat there after your adventure. The Children’s Museum and The Science Museum of Virginia share a high-tech Pulse stop. The VCU Institute for Contemporary Art (which is free) combined with an ice cream stop at Charm School is our favorite trip. If you have time – or if your kids are older and doing this solo, which is completely reasonable and recommended – stop by Rumors Boutique, a popular consignment store at 7th and Broad Streets that most parents of a certain age shouldn’t go to anyway (or so I’ve been told numerous times).  

2. Spend a half-day (or longer) in Carytown. The Byrd Theatre finally has those new seats, plus the popcorn is some of, if not the best, in town. Because the majority of the movies at The Byrd are only $4, you can actually afford to treat yourself and your kids. The Family Classic Series is a Saturday morning regular event, featuring a Warner Bros. short film, a concert from Bob Gulledge at the Mighty Wurlitzer, and a modern classic (think ET, The Goonies, or Babe). Stores we love in Carytown include: Chop Suey Books, bbgb tales for kids, Plan 9 Records, Rockett Fizz, Paper Source, and Ashby. Also, visit Bev’s Homemade Ice Cream. Generally, Carytown is perfect for window shopping and people watching – two of our favorite things to do.

3. Get to the James River. Whether you walk along the Floodwall on the south side of the James, walk or bike the T. Pott (the not-so-new-anymore pedestrian bridge), or hop the large, flat rocks, if you haven’t been to the river lately, you need to get that done with the kids – and soon. The pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle is accessible from Tredegar Street (near the newly renovated American Civil War Museum) on the north shore. The parking is limited here, but if you go very early on a weekend or just early-ish on a weekday, you should be okay.   

4. Do something good for other people. Last month was Anthem LemonAid, and hundreds of families raised thousands of dollars to help kids with cancer, and more specifically, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. If your kids didn’t have a chance to participate in that (wait, were you on vacation?!), there are so many ways to give back to the community. You absolutely do not have to wait for a major organization to execute a big fundraiser. Go to and look for our Reaching Out articles. Many of these organizations have an ongoing donation request list on their websites. Last month, Safe Harbor was collecting donations of sheet sets and pillows, and the Sacred Heart Center was looking for stuffed animals and gently used toys. This month, many groups are collecting school supplies. Work with your kids to have a school supply drive in the neighborhood, and then deliver those donations to an organization that helps families in the community. 

Finally, if your family is like mine and doesn’t travel much for whatever reason, take heart in knowing you are appreciated right here in Richmond – where there is a lot of good to be done and a lot of fun to be had. Enjoy the rest of your summer! 

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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