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A Parent's Lament: February School Break Broke Me

Pull up a Playskool chair and pop a straw in your juice box, writes Lisa Sullivan Ballew, and let me tell you the truth about February break. (Alice Achterhof/ Unsplash)
Pull up a Playskool chair and pop a straw in your juice box, writes Lisa Sullivan Ballew, and let me tell you the truth about February break. (Alice Achterhof/ Unsplash)

For those of you unfamiliar with the profound joy that only life with two small children can bring, you may not be aware that last week was February school vacation, and right around the corner is April school vacation. These are two weeks in Massachusetts when schools close, seemingly just for the heck of it.

There is a history behind these breaks, which began before World War I, and which are a boon to science museums, aquariums and movie theaters everywhere. And they're likely here to stay. Just ask Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang, whose proposal to scrap the February vacation week in favor of a longer December holiday vacation went nowhere.

Still, I’m left wondering if life is really so hard for children across the state that they need not one, but two weeks off to reflect, relax and fully integrate all the new concepts and skills they're otherwise mastering between 8:30 and 2:10, five days a week? Are their mental faculties so over-stressed by all that learning that they badly need this in addition to summer vacation? Really?

Well pull up a Playskool chair and pop a straw in your juice box, kid, because I know a thing or two about stress.

I’m left wondering if life is really so hard for children ... that they need three weeks during the year to reflect, relax and fully integrate all the new concepts and skills they're otherwise mastering between 8:30 and 2:10, five days a week?

For starters, is there any consideration being paid to the working parents of these children, and how disruptive and expensive it is to either take time off or secure temporary childcare? Sixty-five dollars per day for a babysitter is a bargain, if you can get it. Double that rate if you have two kids, times it by five, and you get the tidy sum of $650. Do it again in April, and you've got what amounts to a mortgage payment. For this price, your child will be reasonably looked after, spend a little time on a playground, eat processed snack food, and do a craft project. No judgment here. I'm just saying this isn't exactly enrichment your child is getting in exchange for your money.

So, maybe you reconsider and stay home from work to spend some quality time with your kids. It's a nice idea. You start warming to it. Sure, you'll have to use up those precious vacation days in cruddy February instead of August, as hoped. It's OK, though; the family doesn't need to take an awesome summer vacation. A couple days at the beach will do, maybe a long weekend, fighting the traffic. There's always next year. Or, that summer after you win the lottery and quit your job. Yeah. That summer.

You now have a whole week in February (or April, or both) to spend with your kids. What better way to spend it than skiing up north? A ski week would be fantastic! You wonder why you don't go on ski trips anymore. A quick search reveals just how much recreating those memories will set you back in 2017:

  • $339 for a five-day lift ticket;
  • $225 for your equipment rental (because who owns skis anymore?);
  • $239 for a five-day junior lift ticket;
  • $150 for kids' equipment rental (because you don't know anyone rich enough to borrow kids' skis from);
  • and — let's get real, here — $83 for a half-day kids ski lesson (because you know you're going to want a break, too).

You remember why you don't go skiing anymore.

Why not a stay-cation? There's plenty to do around Boston. Many of the museums are free (and extremely crowded), and there are day trips to ... I'm sure there are day trip destinations. Please tell me there are seasonally-appropriate day trip destinations. Anyone?

Moms and dads in sweatpants scurrying into bedrooms to hide from kids, sitting with laptops and phones, trying desperately to "work from home."

In case it’s still not clear, let me spell out what a typical school vacation week looks like for the average Massachusetts family.

Moms and dads in sweatpants scurrying into bedrooms to hide from kids, sitting with laptops and phones, trying desperately to "work from home." Parents hoping their kids don't fight, hoping their kids, also in sweatpants, on the fifth Netflix cartoon of the day, don't ask for something, anything, for 30 minutes so that they can get something done. Because what's the point of taking vacation days when there's nowhere to go, no affordable options, no reason to be on vacation at all, other than that's just the way it is?

We cobble together a work-from-home day, a day at the child care center, a couple hours with a sitter, maybe a play date, and a trip into Boston for something fun, like Disney on Ice. Tickets for that, by the way, were about $65 a pop, not including the price of the wicked cool souvenirs we all remember and love. Just an FYI.

Why do we have these school vacation weeks? I ask, through bleary eyes. It's just the way that it is, and we are all too tired to do anything about it.

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Lisa Sullivan Ballew Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Lisa Sullivan Ballew is an arts and media law attorney.

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