Friday, April 30, 2010

Why I Hate Playdates

Hating playdates isn’t P.C. I know that. Yet I can’t manage to shake the dread I feel when my kids ask to have them. I know other parents who secretly feel the same way, but they hide their dislike for playdates better than I do. They mask their shame at being a parent who doesn’t want to support their children’s interpersonal development by not facilitating the playdate experience and thereby making their kid a social pariah before the age of ten. Don’t get me wrong – I actually like my daughters' friends very much. In fact I am constantly surprised and amazed by what a good group of kids they are – amusing and challenging in the best possible ways, with a healthy dose of snarkiness mixed with sarcasm – what is that, snarkcasm?- that I try to encourage in my own children. It’s not the kids that I hate, it’s the actual playdate ritual itself.

Playdates are time consuming to set them up, fill up afternoons of our always over scheduled days and force me to come home from work when I’m already exhausted and cranky and entertain another person’s child rather than get away with ignoring my own for a couple of hours. And as a working parent, I always feel like I never have enough time to reciprocate and have other people’s kids over as much as they put up with mine. And that showers me with guilt. Don’t want to be the mom they talk about on the school yard and accuse of dumping her kids on other people.

Then there is the stress of making sure it is not just a playdate, but a fun playdate. Because the last thing your kid wants is for word to get around that their house is a boring place to be or that their mom is too strict or doesn’t serve the right snacks. I already have enough of these issues – scheduling, reciprocity, presentations – to deal with at work. Do I have to face them on the home front as well?

Here’s the Wikipedia take on playdates that made me laugh. (Okay, I know, I’m embarrassed to admit getting info from there, but in this case it has a very succinct and insightful description of the phenomenon of playdates):

A playdate is an arranged appointment for children to get together for a few hours to play. Playdates have become the standard for children of many western cultures because the work schedules for busy parents, along with media warnings about leaving children unattended, prevent the kind of play that children of other generations participated in. The intention of a playdate is to give children time to interact freely in a less structured environment than other planned activities might provide. Playdates are a late 20th century innovation. Playdates are becoming part of the vernacular of popular culture and form a part of children’s "down time." Most parents prefer children to use these hours to form friendships by playing with other children either one-on-one or within small groups.

Damn those media warnings. Why can’t I just kick my children out onto the street to play with the neighborhood kids from dawn until dusk like our parents did? We were gone all day Saturdays, Sundays and after school with no adult supervision. Our parents had no idea where we were for hours at a time. We could have been plotting the downfall of western civilization and they would never have known. But the thing that struck me on the head like an unbelted car seat in a rear end collision was the statement, “Playdates are a late 20th century innovation.” Basically, we parents created this activity to add to our already over scheduled lives and it has now morphed in a childhood must do.

Like I said, the kids my girls hang out with are great. It’s the schlepping kids to and from playdates, feeling beholding when I can’t (because of work or sheer exhaustion) cheerily reciprocate with an afternoon of play with the ease (and great generosity) that most of the other mothers seem to do. And then there is that pressure. I once had a girl over for a playdate who asked if we had a cat because she mistook the dust bunnies on the floor for hair balls. And another who, after a snack of milk shakes, cheese sandwiches, cut fruit and gogurts complained, saying, “That’s all there is to eat?” I never seem to know what activities to engage them with or food to put in front of them that is going to satisfy or (God forbid) live up to the increasingly high expectations of the playdate experience.

And what if there is a mishap? Because I’m the type of person who always needs to worry about something – I sometimes think worry is the only thing holding me together – what if something bad happens while someone else’s child is on a playdate with you? I think for that reason I have all but eschewed the destination playdate out of fear of losing someone’s kid in the crowd at Camp Snoopy. What if, you prepare an elaborate snack of taquitos with fruit salsa which sends your playdate guest into convulsions because their mom forgot to tell you about their allergy to cilantro? Or exposing them to something inappropriate, which happened to our friend’s kid when they came home from a playdate and described to their parents how the host mom had naked pictures of herself in erotic poses proudly displayed on every wall in the house. Playdates are supposed to be fun and educational, but not like that.

Someone told me about a blunt playdate mommy who informed the mother of the visiting child that their kid played well and would be allowed to come back. It was as if my friend’s kid had passed a checklist of playdate guest challenges and won the prize of being able to visit again. I agree with blunt mommy’s sentiment, but I’d never be that direct. We’ve had kids come over who have torn antique dolls to shreds, “accidentally” slapped my daughter in the face and cruelly tried to scare my younger daughter so she’d leave the older kids alone to play. And when their mothers came to the door and asked how it went, I said what any playdatephobic mom would say, “Oh, everything was great!”

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cairo and Other Things That Go Boom

My husband David was offered an opportunity to go to Cairo with a band he plays in. The lead singer is popular abroad and when this gig came up, she called the musicians she plays with to see if they were interested. An all-expenses paid, luxury trip to Egypt, the instruments would be shipped over and the musicians would receive salary and per diem for their services. The concert was being sponsored by some big international group who catered to high worth clientele and this group wanted to hear this singer and her band. Who wouldn't jump the chance to go? The downside? You're flying into a region of political unrest which experiences frequent militant attacks against foreigners, particularly Americans. Oh, getting blown up, yes, that's a downside.

Now, I love to travel, so much so that I am affectionately called a travel 'ho by my husband because I will do anything to go on a trip - buy bubble gum with a credit card to earn airplane miles, enter travel contests, finagle any situation to be included on an excursion. So of course, when he got the offer, my first question was, "Can I come?" David was hesitant at first, which really pissed me off. What, he doesn't want to go to Cairo with me, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity (which it really isn't because Cairo will still be there long after I'm gone), it will be like a second honeymoon, it will be an adventure to shake up the all too frequent routine we find ourselves falling into and making us crazy. Then I thought, oh, he doesn't want both of us to go because of the danger factor. What if we both go to Cairo and something happens to us? What about the kids?

I did research about the situation there, came across articles on how to travel in unstable areas, even saw an article in a travel magazine called "Exit Plan," about how to get out of a country during a political coup. Did you know they have private companies you can hire that will go in and extricate you should you be caught in the middle of a hot zone? The main advice I came away a hotel near the airport (in case you need to get out fast).

But really, there are ways to make yourself less obvious and less a target when abroad, or anywhere for that matter. Observe the local customs, dress appropriately for the region and religion, try to stay out of large crowded areas (markets and bazaars being a favorite target of suicide bombers) and sadly, if you see that large bus of American tourists visiting from Florida, don't go anywhere near it.

I floated the idea of going by several friends to see what their thoughts were about the danger factor. Most echoed the "You only live once...once in a lifetime" concept, and dismissed the idea that Cairo was that much more dangerous than here. "You could easily get mugged and killed on the street down at Hollywood and Cahuenga Boulevard if you hang out after 1am," one friend said. See, I could die locally without the expense of an airline ticket or thirty hours of travel time. Note to self, avoid Hollywood and Cahuenga after dark...

I talked to our dear friends who are our children's guardians. She was very encouraging, hopeful that we got to go. Then I reminded her that if something happens, our children would be moving in with them. She paused for a beat - she hadn't thought about that one - I think she was trying to figure out how an already overtaxed schedule (because whose isn't with kids) was going to absorb two more bodies, and then she said something like, of course we hope that wouldn't happen, but if something did, we'd raise them (my girls) right. Good answer.

So I go back to David, at peace with the idea that we should risk the journey, that will would be fine going together and that he should talk to the singer to ask if wives can come along. Of course, the singer's significant other was going on the trip...with some dubious title of sound man/manager, she didn't say no, but she back peddled when David asked. "The band members may have to share rooms, but I'll see," she responded. So much for all expenses paid, luxury trip.

David was still lukewarm on the idea of both of us going. I thought he was concerned about our girls possibly losing both their parents because I insisted we go into a crowded marketplace to buy leather sandals. Instead, it was much more simple than that. "I'd like to take my first trip on the road with the band on my own. None of the other musicians wives are going." I felt like the mom whose kids don't want her to walk them into their classrooms at school anymore. So it wasn't about security, it was about fitting in with the band.

I resolved myself to the idea that he wanted and was going to go off to Cairo on his own. I fretted a little - both of us getting blown up together is one thing - I can deal with that because I wouldn't be around to have to deal with it. But him going on his own and having something happen? He would be leaving me alone with the girls -which really is a rather terrifying thought - forget about losing the love of my life, the kids would outnumber me - never a position any parent wants to be in. I was about to suggest to David that maybe going on the trip wasn't such a good idea after all, which sounds awful because it was a good idea when I was going to be able to go...but then the call came. The singer said that the group sponsoring the show was making her bring only a skeleton crew, not the full band, just bass and drum (and her sound man/manager/significant other, of course). I was sorry for David, but relieved. I was surprised by his response. Yes, of course he was disappointed, but in some ways he didn't want to go. Why? The guy who loves, steak and potatoes, fast food and pizza, who doesn't like anything too exotic or spicy, was worried about what he was going to eat in Cairo.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Public is the New Awesome

I’m a snob when it comes to certain things and I will admit that I never thought of myself as a public pool kind of gal. I’d never been to a public pool before. My only previous experience with public pools was hearing the stories my parents told of growing up in the 1940’s in Indiana, where the public pools were still segregated. My parents would tell us how the public pool was open to whites six days a week and that the only day the black kids could use the pool was on Thursday -because the city drained the pool out on Friday morning to clean it and refill it for the weekend. My only other image of a public pool was the hilarious scene in the movie The Sandlot, where the nerdy boy who can’t swim deliberately jumps in so that the attractive teenage lifeguard would rescue him with mouth-to-mouth. When I was a kid, my parents joined a private swimming and tennis club not far from our house. It must have made them feel good on some level after being restricted from public pools growing up. The private club was called Ridgetop and it was a fabulous place – large, crystal clear pool, well manicured lawns, and clay tennis courts. But seriously chubby at age 13, I couldn’t stand the idea of being seen in tennis shorts, let alone a swimsuit, so much to my parents’ dismay, I always had an excuse to avoid going to the club pool.

But last Saturday, after my youngest, Natalie, begged me endlessly to go swimming, I broke down and took her to the only heated pool I knew of - the public pool at the Sherman Oaks/Van Nuys park. A friend of ours, a closet public pool user, told us about it weeks earlier. Her beautiful, mid-century modern masterpiece in the hills overlooks the city, has celebrity neighbors such as George Clooney and Warren Beatty, but doesn’t have a pool. She said the best thing about the public pool was that it was a hidden gem, a brand new facility which was clean, inexpensive and incredibly well run. She beamed with pride as she talked about seeing our civic dollars at work, for once, providing the service and quality we always hope for but rarely get.

I was doubtful, but tired of having Natalie beg me to go swimming in a variety of formats – a note left on the dining room table, whining before bedtime, several emails with the subject heading, “When are we going swimming?,” I agreed to take them. I hurried everyone into their suits, searched frantically for sunscreen, swim caps (which I’ve yet to find) and a couple of towels which didn’t have Dora, Spongebob or a map of Hawaii on them, and headed off to the park.

At the front desk I was informed that the cost of using the pool was $2.50, discounted to $2.00 if I had a library card (which I did) and that the kids were…FREE! My favorite word! We paid our two bucks and went through the door to the ladies locker room. I hurried by the attendant, my cynical side believing that it was safer to take my purse with me than leave it with the teenager behind the caged holding area (alas there are no lockers) and took the girls out to the pool deck.

It was a glorious day – L.A. in April, one of those reasons people move here – clear skies, temperature in the low 80s. The pool was clean, new, nearly empty and had four lifeguards on duty. We swam for two hours and had a wonderful time. I was a new devotee of the public pool experience.

The next day, while my older daughter was taking dance at the Burbank Rec Center, I noticed that no one was on the public tennis courts adjacent to the building. I asked the Rec Center supervisor what the policy was on reserving a court, in the back of my mind scheming how next week I would come back, bring my tennis gear and sneak in some “me time” to play while my daughters were taking classes. The supervisor reached under her desk, pulled out a racket and balls and said, “The courts are first come first serve and we’ll even loan you the racket and balls.” Amazing!!! “What’s the fee?” I asked, because there’s always a fee. She smiled as she told me there was none. She didn’t even asked for my driver’s license so they could track me down if I tried to walk off with the rackets (which were new and in great condition). So while Nicole danced, I hit the public tennis courts.

I have to preface this by explaining that prior to the ages of five and seven, neither of my girls had been to a hotel that didn’t have a club floor and twice daily turn down service. In fact, it was really embarrassing the first time we took them to a motel and Nicole looked around and asked where the guy was who was supposed to take our bags. So they were something of snobs themselves when it came to travel and leisure and I have no one to blame but myself…and my husband, but he will always deny any responsibility for their actions unless they are being cute, brilliant or generally well behaved. But I say this to explain that before now, the only tennis courts they had been on were the ones at fancy hotels or the one at the private community my father lives in back east. The public tennis court experience was new one for them as well.

Natalie and I had a great time playing tennis. We had the courts to ourselves, which was good because we were all over them as we hit balls everywhere but where they were supposed to be. The public courts were even lighted at night and stayed open until 10pm! We played for almost an hour, although more than "playing" it was really an effort to teach her how to get the ball over the net. But it didn’t matter. We had as much fun chasing after balls as we did when by some miracle we got a volley going. When we stopped, I turned to Natalie and asked, “Isn’t this cool?” She quickly corrected me and said, “This isn’t cool, it’s awesome. Public is the new awesome!”

On our way home from the library, Nicole reminded me that she needed to start reading a book for her upcoming book report project at school, so I suggested that instead of going to Barnes & Noble, we stop at the public library that was on our way home. She looked at me skeptically. Now I am ashamed to admit that in their toddler days, we didn’t spend as much time at the public library as we should have (particularly given all of the amazing community programs they have) and I only recently realized that my daughter was confused, thinking that you bought books at the library instead of borrowing them. We parked at the Burbank Library and went into their enormous children’s book room. There were three librarians on duty and one was eager to help my daughter find just the right edition of Robin Hood to read for her assignment. As Nicole and the librarian wandered through the shelves in search of Robin and his merry men, Natalie and I browsed the displays, spotting a book by David Shannon called A Bad Case of Stripes. Natalie grabbed it off the shelf, found the nearest comfy chair – of which there were many – and began reading. When it was time to check out, we went up to the counter. As I searched through my purse for my library card, Nicole asked how much the books were going to cost. Natalie, now hip to our adventure (re)discovering the joys of public services, quickly corrected her, saying, “It’s free. This is the public library!” Natalie was right, public is the new awesome.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Short shorts, UGG boots and Doing Megan Fox

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! If you thought venturing into the woods of Oz was a frightening proposition, try spending some time on the playground during fourth grade recess. I hadn’t really paid much attention to what other fourth grade girls were wearing until the morning fashion wars between Nicole and I started to escalate to a daily screaming and crying battle where she insisted on wearing – no matter what the weather – short shorts with UGG boots. In defense of the glaringly age inappropriate outfit she said, “All the other girls wear it!” That morning I looked around on the playground, and she was right, they were all sporting the look. I bit my tongue to keep from saying, “Yeah, but if the other girls jumped off a cliff, would you do that, too?” I knew she would ignore me anyway, and clearly I was channeling my own mother.

I tried to convince Nicole not to wear the outfit, without giving too much detail as to why I think the look is trashy and wrong for someone whose hormones haven’t even kicked in yet to be running around with half their butt hanging out. I simply said that they weren’t appropriate clothes for school and that short shorts are best for summertime, the beach and playing at home and that winter boots are best for wearing - big surprise – in winter. Short shorts and UGG boots worn together…please explain to me when the “dressing like a hooker on Hollywood Boulevard” look became fashionable with the under ten set.

Trust me, back in the day, but that day being college not elementary school, we would dress in provocative ways to go out to parties and clubs. Mini skirts, thigh high boots, lingerie cami tops that flashed both belly and cleavage were mandatory. Hell, we’d even wear some craziness like that to class on occasion. But we knew what we were doing and clearly the objective was to attract attention from the opposite sex. But when fourth graders start dressing in similarly provocative fashion, what is the objective? What image of themselves are they projecting to the world and particularly to the hormone raging, just-on-the-cusp-of-puberty fourth grade boys? And in a society where we already have issues with the objectification of women, I don't think it is a good idea to allow them to dress in a way which screams, “It’s all about the booty, forget I have brain!”

At drop off the other day, I was explaining my frustration to a mother of 2 boys when another woman leaned in and joined our conversation. Her daughter lives in short shorts and UGG boots and the mom immediately became defensive about her daughter’s fashion choice. “It’s a cute look,” she said, forcing a smile. “They’re so innocent they don’t attach any sexuality to it.” I tried not to laugh. They aren’t so innocent and they know exactly what the look says. (Once you’ve heard your seven year old refer to a shirtless guy on a basketball court as “hot,” you will never again question their awareness of the opposite sex.) The mother went on to say how her nine year old doesn’t even know where babies come from yet, that they are na├»ve and this is just their way of being in style. Later, Nicole told me that the girl knows the facts of life – her father told her because he said her mother would be too freaked out about it. I wonder if the parents who let their young girls wear short shorts, UGG boots and other provocative looks are the ones who are denying that their kids are blossoming from babies into young people, with all the associated body awareness, sexual curiosity and a desperate need to be guided through this incredibly confusing, awkward and exciting life change.

The girls aren’t the only ones engaged in this pre-adolescent social preening and interest in the opposite sex. A mom with a fourth grade son told me he came home and asked his parents what a blow job was. He said the boys in the bathroom – why do these conversations always go on in the bathroom??? – were talking about how they wanted Megan Fox to “do one” on them. I don’t remember at nine ever having sexual conversation like that with my peers. Now, granted, I was never a nine year old boy and maybe the conversations in their bathroom were significantly more advanced than the ones in ours. When I was growing up, for the girls, the big thing was playing truth or dare to get you to admit who you liked, playing spin the bottle but then being too frightened to give anything more than a kiss on the cheek, and running into the boys’ bathroom to see what the only heard of but never seen urinal looked like. Talking about sex acts with celebrities was so beyond anything we considered at that age. It worries me because it shows that this generation of kids is so accelerated in everything they are exposed to, say and eventually, will do. We need to put the brakes on their childhood, let them slow down and not race through every stage of life. There will be time for short shorts and UGG boots – when you’re at least a teen or old enough to hang out at a bar, not when you’re still sipping juice boxes at elementary school.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Relative-ly Speaking

I had a horrible fight with a relative this week – yelling, name calling – at times I felt like I was arguing with my seven year old instead of someone decades out of high school. I’m sure they felt the same way about me. It was a mean argument. The kind you have very rarely, if at all, where you say things you’ve thought and bit your tongue to avoid saying for years. Each person accused the other of a lifetime of awful things and horrible behavior and oddly, in retrospect, I realized that most of the things they accused me of, were character traits they possessed. Many of the taunts I launched at them like armour piercing ballistic missiles were things I do myself. It was as if two mirrors got into a reflecting contest, but the reflection of one only showed the other.

So this horrible fight, which unfortunately took place in front of my children, colored my entire week in a variety of ways – mostly bad, but in a few cases, good. I was so hurt by the cruelty of what was said to me and how it was delivered, in that sort of passive aggressive, underhanded way that some folks excel in - me, I’m the type to stand up on a chair and call someone a jerk face right out – never been good at being subtly manipulative – that I cried buckets throughout the week, showering down at unexpected moments when a memory of what was leveled at me rose up like the L.A. river about to overflow its banks – that’s a joke for anyone who lives in L.A. and knows that the L.A. river is about as deep as spit. I hated for my kids to see me that way, vulnerable, mad beyond belief, and shocked that people I thought loved me, on some levels told me they felt just the opposite.

The good thing that came out of the fight was that I realized I never wanted my children to experience someone being so verbally mean to them, certainly not family, certainly not me, and the argument made my look at and treat my children in a very different way this week. I appreciated them more, took time to speak with more care, and was quicker to explain things to them than I was to get angry. I’d look at them in the early morning, sleeping, knowing that in a few minutes I’d have to wake them up, disturb the peace that only sleep can bring, and I wondered how I’d feel about them as adults. How we’d communicate, what lines we’d cross as a mother, daughter and friend. Would we even be friends?

I started to think about the accident of birth. Not that the birth itself was unplanned or an accident, but that having a baby is the equivalent of a human crap shoot. For that matter, who your parents or siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins anyone you're going to have to stare across the table at on any given holiday, is the ultimate gamble. You toss the dice on the table, and never know what numbers are going to come up. As parents, you decide to have children. You bring them into the world, love them, raise them, send them off, but you never know what you’re going to get when infant turns into adult. You don’t pick your kids off a shelf in Costco and say, “Oh, I’ll take the one that will grow up to be a Stanford graduate, electrical engineer, have two kids, and live in the suburbs, preferably someplace I'd like to retire to." You might end up with Mother Teresa, Charles Manson or Bill Gates, but more likely, someone in between, much less infamous (good or bad) and probably not as rich. And you have to be mature enough to respect who that child becomes. You might end up liking them, the relationship maturing to a level beyond family and into a lifelong friend. I like to judge if I’ve reached that level with someone (family or otherwise) by applying the martini test – is this someone I’d like to go out and drink a martini with? If so, they’re a keeper. If not, I tend to want to lie, say I’m going to the restroom and then slip out the back door before they’ve even gotten to the olive in their drink. But the thing we never think about as parents is what happens if our kids grow up and we don’t like the person that child has become? Makes it a hell of a lot more difficult to keep the already complicated –okay, let’s be real – messy, emotion filled, layered, contradictory, strained and yet important ties between family members connected. And why should we keep them connected?

I wrestled with that question this week, coming up with reasons such as the need for family, for my kids, for emotional support in our senior years, both mine and theirs. But in the end, I am still not sure that is enough to justify or allow decades of bad behavior just because you’re related. Is that the price you have to pay to be in a family? If so, I’m thinking I’d rather pay the sixteen bucks a head to take my kids to see Avatar in 3D. Hell of a lot cheaper than staying connected with family, and I get popcorn with the movie.

I’m still licking my wounds and a part of me hopes the other person is doing their own emotional triage. I haven’t decided if I can venture back into the ring to do battle with family again. It’s not a well refereed fight. There are often punches below the belt because let’s face it, these are the very people you have known since you were born, who pushed you out themselves or were raised up along side you...they know all your vulnerable spots and often find it easier to take all of their own career, health, relationship, family frustration, anger and disappointment, turn it into a large emotional switchblade and stick it into you where they know it will do the most damage. Why is it easier to dump on family than to really address what’s bothering you in your own life? Good question, one my own children have probably wondered about themselves, if not now, they will one day, probably during an expensive therapy session where their mother will be to blame for all their presumed short comings. So, why is it easier to dump on family? A friend of mine who I’ve known since I was four, summed it up brilliantly. She said, “It’s because your relatives think attacking family is safe. They can dump all their shit on you and believe that because you’re family, you’ll take it and still be around later…until you’re not.” I realized how right she was. At a certain point, when it becomes too toxic, you can step away from your family’s dysfunction, particularly when their dysfunction is screwing up your own. And believe me, I value my dysfunction. I've honed it to a fine art and apparently work on a daily basis to pass it on to my own offspring, who again, will blame me for it in therapy years from now.

The other good thing that came out of the argument was that I realized I never wanted my daughters to be as angry at me as I was at the person I was shouting at over the phone. It made me think about family and relationships with spouses, parents, siblings and all the assorted crew. It made me think about how I want my daughters to remember me when they are adults, long after I’m buried six feet under –by the way, I’ve decided that on what I want my tombstone to read - “I’m so tired, I could go to sleep right now,” which pretty much sums up how I feel almost all of the time. But I digress...I want my girls to know me as a person who allows them to grow up to be who they are and who recognizes that they have changed from children into adults, and that I will not continue to attribute their childhood faults and failings to them long after they have left them in the crib. I want them to know me as the type of person who values them for who they are, not what they (or their spouse) do, what college they attended or if they have a vacation home. Vacation home? Huh? We’re barely able to keep the home we have from completely falling down around us as home improvement projects get pushed aside in favor of those frivolous little things like paying the mortgage! I will have an interest in what they do, emotionally support them when they fall and cheer for their successes. I want Nicole and Natalie to know that our family can love and support each other without them having to compete with their siblings or their parents. And mostly, I want them to know that whoever they grow up to be as a person, that I loved them from the start, will continue to work on our relationships through the ups and the downs, and will always love them no matter what, in a genuine, substantive way. And when I'm old and come to visit them, they should take comfort in knowing that my emotional switchblade won’t make it through the metal detector and will be confiscated by airport security.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Less is More

Spring Break - Two words which usually spark fear in my heart. I know I will need to entertain my children for a week – morning, noon and night – with no school to occupy the daytime hours. This year, I got smart; I arranged to take spring break week off from work so that I didn’t have to invest a fortune in a babysitter or camp. One year, I was even foolish enough to bring them to work with me that week. At first, I thought it was not very fair to my kids because they would be bored sitting up in my office all day. Silly me! They loved it. Six straight hours of playing on the extra computer in my office, eating junk food from the vending machine and playing the son of a co-worker who was also condemned to serving his spring break time at the office. They ran up and down the halls, visited my co-workers in their offices, shredded papers for the office manager, watched videos and ate pizza in the conference room. Not fair to my kids…actually it really wasn’t fair to my co-workers who had to endure the children invading their territory for five days straight. But my co-workers were good natured about it – to my face – I worry what they said behind their office doors or at the water cooler. But my kids had a ball. They beg to go back to the office any time school is on break.

But this spring break, even though I had taken time off, out of financial necessity and timing, we opted out of taking an expensive or even moderately priced trip somewhere and decided to have a staycation. I approached this idea with hesitation, certain that my girls would gripe. They love traveling, going to hotels, hanging out at the hotel pool. They’d much rather be on vacation than at home. But for that matter, so would I, so clearly it comes naturally to them. Instead, I planned a trip each day of spring break to somewhere in Los Angeles that they’d never been before. We went to Chinatown, the Mexican market at Olvera Street, rode the shortest railway in the world, Angel’s Flight, hiked to the Hollywood sign and went to the beach in Malibu. Each day when had lunch out and each girl got to buy a souvenir. They went to bed tired and happy every night. Happier than I’d ever seen them on a vacation to some swanky beach resort, which is always fraught with arguments and teary eyed moments about some portion of the trip. I was surprised and thrilled to learn that they’d be so happy with so little. Other than restaurant lunches and trinkets from tourist stands, they loved just spending time together as a family. Spring break at home has got me rethinking our summer vacation plans, which just may end up getting ditched in favor of having a summer staycation as well!