Sunday, July 6, 2008

First Weekend of Winter Break

The School Calendar here is very different than I'm used to.

As a school kid growing up in Michigan and Ohio, life had a yearly heartbeat. There was a big heart-muscle contraction in September when the school doors opened for business, welcoming us all back into our new classrooms with our tanned faces and skinned knees, and the corresponding heart-muscle relaxation as the doors burst open in late May or early June disgorging us again, squirrelly and ebullient with the plans and possibilities of three full months of nearly unfettered freedom.

The school year had two phases for me.

There was the Christmas-Is-Coming phase, dotted with happy family holidays amid progressively decreasing ambient temperatures and culminating in the New Year's celebration which meant a lot of merry glass tinkling and hopeful wishes and plenty of time sliding around in the snowy outside on probably-dangerous metal devices recently freed from their festive paper wrappings or discovered in the garage wrapped in a big red bow.

Then there was the Slow-Thawing-Into-Summer phase with less numerous, less regular and less festive holidays and breaks (Valentine's Day? Easter?) during which anticipation of the next summer's break would begin to crest. Memorial Day would hit at around the time when I'd pretty much given up all intention to study and had fully taken to longing stares out open windows at the gorgeous sunny weather outside. The Memorial Day Family Trip would be a kind of dry run for Summer Fun. It was gratifying to get a taste of what was to come, but knowing that we'd be returning to school after the long weekend tended to hang overhead like ominous dark clouds.

Down here in the Down Under the Down Under, they arrange things much differently. Term 1 starts the school year at the start of the new year, and Term 4 ends the school year, at the end of the year.

School starts on Feb 4th. At the end of summer break.

Term 1 starts on February 4th and goes to April 18th.
Followed by 16 days of vacation.
Term 2 starts on May 5th and goes to July 4th.
Followed by 16 days of vacation.
Term 3 starts on July 21st and goes to September 26th.
Followed by 16 days of vacation.
Term 4 starts on October 13th and goes to December 19th.
Followed by 56 days of vacation.

We're just at the end of Term 2, on the two-weeks-and-change before Term 3.

Gone is the three-months-of-freedom that I knew as a kid. Though in fairness, my girls have never had a full three months back in the States. The school year there ends later and begins earlier than it used to when I was a tot. This is probably because of the fashionable misapprehension that kids today have more to learn and should thus be at it longer every year.

Also of note here is that the "couple-days-here-couple-days-there" approach is gone. Where I took my school breaks scattershot through the year with a full week dedicated to "spring break," I only got a two week chunk at Christmastime (which seemed fitting given I needed some free time to lose, break, melt, and destroy many small plastic pieces and to sustain cuts and various abrasions from my year's haul of attic-bound child fantasy fodder---the ideas of which I'd clung to so tenaciously and about which I'd regaled my parents so mercilessly---from the previous year) here there are two week chunks occurring with regularity.

As a parent, I prefer this as it means that we can take our children out and see the country a bit and still have plenty of lazing-about "vacation from the vacation" time before school kicks into gear again for the next term.

Probably the biggest difference evident (and one not yet experienced first hand by any of us) is that Christmas Break and Summer Break are one and the same.

At 56 days, it's a long Christmas break, but a short summer break. And unwrapping a pair of Snow Skis that Santa brought makes much less sense than unwrapping a pair of Water Skis. And those long days indoors playing with a brand new slot car set in front of a roaring wood fire while watching big downy flakes through frosted windows are to be replaced by outdoorsy afternoons at the neighborhood pool sporting overly-colorful plastic guns with large tanks strapped to them at improbable places.

The actual winter break (what's just starting up now) is a very different beast for Zoe and Haley than it ever was for me. It's a couple weeks of trying to stay warm with no Christmas or holiday ritual of any kind before school resumes again.

I hope they have fun, and can make it all the way to the years' end when they get the Big Payoff. I hope it's worth waiting all year for.


Dr. Cathy Ezrailson said...

Thanks, Steve... for the nostalgic look at your school years...also for the girls school schedule. Flying to NZ in the "off-season" is much much more affordable...That is another advantage of the girls' new school schedule. Seems EVERYTHING is an adjustment for you folks...hope it is going well.

Brandie said...

I also remember the stretch between spring break and summer to be almost worthless while I was in school. In fact, while moving I ran across some old report cards and the declining grades and notes like "not working to full potential" support my memory.

It seems like the NZ way may (almost) solve that issue.

MLW said...

You should ask Joanne about WI New Years traditions. It seems to me they often involved the parents upstairs talking and laughing in a very warm house, with us kids downstairs, drinking pink squirrels and lip synching LET'S GO CRAZY and 1999 by Prince Over and Over. (And over?)I vividly can see Joanne doing air guitar to Let's go crazy and jumping off of the one stair into the big room where the wood stove was.
Must have been a big year for Prince, and it's the strongest memory I have from that time.
You remember that, J?