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Reluctant to take that first big outing since the pandemic hit? I was, too

We tackled the Shedd Aquarium: And it was great

A young beluga whale swims with an adult beluga.
A young beluga whale swims with an adult beluga. (Getty Images)

If you’re a parent, you probably know the feeling: This mentality that’s just like, “Whatever happens to me, I can survive. But don’t let it impact my kids!”

It’s not that strange of an idea. I’ve heard a lot of adults, especially living through this age of COVID-19, say something to the effect of, “It’s not US I’m worried about. But I’d feel awful if I got someone else sick -- an elderly person or someone who’s immunocompromised.”

So when the pandemic arrived in the U.S. early last year, my husband and I were cautious, masking up and avoiding unnecessary trips out of the house -- and we’ve stayed this way, for the most part. Outside of a few decisions that not everyone in our lives has agreed with, we’ve remained pretty vigilant. It’s for the kids; leading by example and showing them how this should be handled. It’s for the grandparents. It’s for the guy down the block with diabetes. And I’m happy to report that my immediate family has remained COVID-free. I feel like we’ve been doing our part.

So, when places around us slowly started reopening earlier this year, my husband and I were excited but reserved. We didn’t want to rush out, especially considering the rise of COVID variants and the fact that the vaccine wasn’t as readily available as it is today.

I was curious about one place in particular: The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. I love the Shedd, and have been there maybe a dozen times in my life, as someone who grew up in Michigan, frequenting the Windy City on special trips. I now live about an hour away, and was dying to take my kids, who are currently obsessed with fish and all things ocean life. Full disclosure: It wasn’t JUST the Shedd that I was interested in. I think this strange period in our lives is pretty fascinating, and I sometimes find myself going down a rabbit hole online, looking up protocol for random sporting events in different cities or the NCAA Tournament or even wondering what our first concerts back will look like.

Anyway, back to the Shedd: I started by doing some Googling. By late February, I thought a trip might be in the cards for our family. So I booked us a reservation, and off we went the following weekend. I’ll share some takeaways:

  • It doesn’t have to be scary. I know, the word “scary” can be a little much. But, getting back to that point I started with, about the kids: We try to do things right mostly for their benefit. It’s about leading by example, and plus -- if I were to get COVID, it would likely be manageable. I guess that’s the alarming thing about COVID-19 -- you truly never know that for certain, but I’m in good health. On the other hand, if my kids got COVID? I’d be so upset. And I realize that might be silly because children aren’t seeing as many symptoms and side effects, but with so much unknown regarding the long-term implications of contracting coronavirus, I’d feel awful if I endangered them -- or anyone else, really. We mask for others, we’re courteous for others, and I try to instill this mentality within them. Like I said, we’ve taken some calculated risks over the past year, but not many. I wasn’t *scared* scared, like shaking in my boots, but as far as indoor adventures were concerned, this would be our first in a long time. I was on the fence, but the Shedd truly had systems in place that eased my fears and concerns. Pick a place you feel you can trust.
  • So, if you too are considering an outing ... select a place like the Shedd -- somewhere that feels safe in your book. The aquarium was very organized: You chose a time, in advance, to come in with your group; you pre-paid online; hopefully you made it in while your window was still open (because they warned that you could be turned away otherwise); and there were capacity limits, as well. Masks were enforced, obviously; families used elevators one party at a time; there was ample hand sanitizer available and dining areas were closed. We were more than OK with all of that!
  • Some of the responsibility is still on you. There was just one room or area, I think, that felt a little too crowded and congested. So, we waited on that space, and I think we came back 20 minutes later. Social distancing didn’t seem to be much of an issue otherwise, but the responsibility still falls on you and your family. It can be hard, with seemingly a million kids running around. But it was a good reminder: I’m sure it’ll be this way moving forward, at baseball games and even the grocery store. Know your limits and what you’re OK with.
  • The changes didn’t impact the fun. I’m not sure about your kids -- I’m sure this depends on age and other factors -- but my children are pretty adaptable. They’re young, and they listen reasonably well, but truly, masks didn’t affect the joy that they experienced at the aquarium. My son’s too young for school and my daughter mostly attends virtually, so they’re not used to wearing face masks in an everyday setting, like some kids. But my husband and I told them these were the rules, at least, they were at the aquarium, and there was no further negotiation. They ran around happily in them the whole time. Could adults please be this flexible? Speaking of that ...
  • You might need to be adaptable, too. We’re all probably sick of hearing phrases like “new normal,” but really -- this might be our reality for quite some time. If you’re ready to venture out, or you’re thinking about it, just give up the idea that it’s going to be some version of the event or place that you have in your head from two years ago. Places have changed. Protocols are different now. I was slightly bummed to find that an exhibit or two had been closed (I think just temporarily), but I had to remind myself how much businesses and outings have been altered. And heck, I’m not even sure if the closures were pandemic-related or not. I’m sure aquariums and zoos have things temporarily unavailable all the time. Don’t set yourself up with an unrealistic expectation. Go into the experience like, “this will be great!” rather than pretending we never had a pandemic.
My masked children. (Michelle Ganley/GMG photo)

Hopefully, we can only go up from here. Although numbers in some states remain pretty bleak, the vaccine provides some hope, and it’s now largely available to adults in many states.

So if you feel comfortable with an outing, we’d love to hear about it. And if you’re still not ready, no rush. You have to do things at your own pace.

My son, by the way? He’s 3. The Shedd was so much action for him, all at once -- we don’t even take these kids to the grocery store; our work schedules make it so we don’t have to -- he fell asleep in my husband’s arms after just an hour. And it wasn’t just a little nap. He was OUT cold. You might have a similar “sensory overload” situation on your hands. Just a fair warning!

If you do venture out (to anywhere similar!), I’m all ears! Drop your experience in the comments or email me at mganley@grahammedia.com.


About the Author:

Michelle is the Managing Editor of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which writes for all of the company's news websites.