That summer no one went away on a holiday. Planes weren’t flying and buses had big signs saying: “Essential Travel Only”. For some reason, governments around the world didn’t think holidays should be considered essential travel. Visiting your grandma wasn’t considered essential either. Joy was so looking forward to that, but it was not going to happen that summer.

It was a pretty sad summer for all the cottages around the lakes. Those cottages couldn’t wait for kids to be back. Cottages, just like grandparents, thrive on laughter and the pattering of tiny feet on their wooden decks. The pontoons remained dry. The fire pits didn’t roast any marshmallows. The canoes didn’t cross any lakes.

It was going to be a very long summer, and everybody was supposed to stay in their own backyard.

Some people have huge backyards with amazing swimming pools and beautiful decks surrounded by torches that keep the mosquitoes away. Joy’s garden wasn’t much. It was so crowded with flowerpots, fairy houses, and hanging baskets, that you could only fit a kiddie’s pool in there. On very hot days, Joy was dreaming of a swimming pool in which she could actually swim. Between the swings and the small table, there wasn’t room for much, on the little patch of grass.

Plus, that summer, Joy’s garden decided it couldn’t stay put anymore. The mint escaped the tiny herb garden, the climbing rose was peeking through the fence into the neighbor’s backyard. As for the forget-me-nots, they were growing everywhere, they sprung up under the Adirondack chairs and had no intention of going back into the box under the window. The dandelions took over the lawn and the ash tree was growing new branches right above the ground.

There wasn’t much Joy could do in her garden. That’s when Anna Banana’s mom decided to invite Joy and her sister, Jay, for a sleepover, in a huge tent in their back yard. Joy was excited, as she had never slept in a tent.  She took her pajamas, a swimsuit, a toothbrush, sunscreen, the “After Bite”, a book, and a water bottle and stuffed them in the school backpack. She hadn’t used it much that year anyway, so she thought she could put it to use. Then, just before she got on her bike, she remembered she didn’t get any plushies, so she ran back upstairs and grabbed her Cheshire Cat. She was ready to go. She kissed mommy goodbye, hopped on her bike, and rode into the sunset to Anna Banana’s back yard.

Anna Banana’s backyard was way bigger than Joy’s. There was a hot tub in there, but that’s not of much use during the summer. Who wants to sit in hot water? There was a swing, and a big terracotta chimney, and plenty of space left on the deck. There weren’t many flowers, but Joy didn’t mind. She wasn’t passionate about bees, and if there are no flowers, there are no bees. Joy didn’t like spiders either, but, when you go camping, even in the backyard, there’s always a small risk.

Have you ever camped in the backyard? Backyards are usually really friendly. Some evenings, Joy and her mommy would sit on the red swing and wait for all the fairy houses to light up. But Joy has never spent an entire night in the backyard, and she was a little bit worried. She knew that Socks, the neighborhood cat, sometimes passed by and she didn’t mind cats. From time to time there was a bunny who would crawl under the fence and indulge in the fresh grass. What Joy was a bit afraid of were the skunks. She knew very well that she wasn’t supposed to move if she ever encountered one. Skunks are very curious creatures, they want to know who you are and what you smell like, so they aren’t at all shy in coming closer to you. But if you move, they spray you and then you must bathe in tomato juice to get rid of the smell, at least that’s what mommy did when Joy’s cat was sprayed by a skunk. Joy didn’t fancy a bath in tomato juice at all. But she did want to go camping with Anna Banana. So, she decided that a small lantern will keep the skunks away and that was that. All fears were forgotten.

Anna Banana’s big brother, Bastian, helped set the tent. It was the biggest tent Joy has ever seen. It was the only tent she has ever stepped in. After all the excitement with helping Sebastian put up the tent, Anna and Joy went inside to prepare the sleeping bags. Anna even put her pajama on, although it was barely five o’clock and the water balloon fight hadn’t even started.

They laid down the sleeping bags and decided to keep a healthy distance. Anna was going to sleep at the far side. Joy was by the entrance in the tent. Jay and Emily, Anna’s older sister, were just across from Joy and she had promised to keep the spiders and skunks away. Joy was happy.

It took some convincing, but Anna had finally agreed to change back from pajamas into her swimsuit. And so, an epic water balloon fight began. They ran all the way to the front lawn, laughing and splashing each other. They teamed against the big sisters and got both of them so wet that Jay had to borrow a T-shirt from Emily. When the balloons were all gone, they just took the hose and had a great time running through the grass and dancing under the water drops that were falling from the sky. The whole neighborhood was watching them, they were the talk of the town.

After a while, Anna Banana’s mom called them inside, wrapped them in warm towels, and sat them on the deck to read a little, until dinner was ready.

Then Anna Banana’s mom took everybody out for a walk in the park by the school. Anna and Emily put on their rollerblades and Joy hopped back on her bike. Jay rode her skateboard all the way through the parking lot trying some new tricks. Jay really loved her new skateboard. When they got back from their evening walk, Bastian had another surprise for the girls. After dinner, he built a fire in the big terracotta chimney and they roasted marshmallows and made S’Mores. That was Joy’s favorite part of the day. It was just as if they were back at the cottage. They were only missing a lake, to take the canoes out, like they did every summer. But this was no ordinary summer.

When night fell, they got in their pajamas, and sat on the deck looking at the stars. They couldn’t see much, as the city lights are hiding the stars, but they could see some satellites past by. After a while, Joy and Anna brushed their teeth and then cuddled with their plushies in the sleeping bags. The big sisters started talking about Big Sister stuff ‘til very late in the night.

You will be happy to know that no skunk was curious to see who was sleeping in the tent, so nobody got sprayed that night. There were no spiders in the tent either. Emily and Jay made sure of that. Socks, the resident cat, the real owner of the neighborhood, did stop by.

And that was just the first time Anna and Joy camped in the backyard that summer. All the children in the neighborhood heard about it and soon, you couldn’t buy a tent anywhere. It looked like all the bikes were gone, too. So were the roller skates and the hockey pucks, but that is not something to be sad about. It only meant that people were trying to fill their summer days and nights with make-believe camping trips in their backyards, hockey games on the sidewalk, and long bike rides around the house.  And it was all good.