Spring break conjures up images of bikini-clad students doing body shots far from their parents watchful eyes.
At my house, though, it’s family time. My stepson lives most of the year in Colorado with his mom, and spring break is one of the few times he’s at home with us.
It wasn’t always like this. He spent half of his time with us for most of his childhood. The situation changed a few years ago when his mom moved to Colorado and we agreed that he’d live with her during the school year and see us on vacations.
Suddenly, we became the vacation parents. And spring break became family time, not party time.
Not like we were big partiers before. We basically ignored spring break. Now we look forward to it. I clean the house. My husband does a special shopping trip and buys all our son’s favorite foods. We make plans to see friends we know he likes. After a few years of this schedule, we have our routine down pat.
When my stepson arrives, we’ll get to spend a week living like a model family. We’ll play board games and good-naturedly wash dishes together. He cheerfully babysits his little sisters and my husband takes an afternoon off work so they can play squash.
Being the vacation parents makes it easy. We get to ask about his homework, but we’re not called into the parent-teacher conference if it doesn’t get done. I can let him sleep till noon without worrying that he’ll do it every day. Ditto staying up till 3 a.m. watching video games with his friends. It’s tempting to do all that, too, because the kid is on vacation. He spends nearly all his vacation time here. Part of my job is to give him space to let his hair down.
As pleasant as it is to always be on vacation together, I miss the old days when we were part of his normal life, too. When it was my job to make sure he cleaned his room and did his homework. When he had to wash the dishes whether he liked it or not. When little sisters were as much of a burden as a joy because he spent three or four days a week with them.
It’s hard work having a family divided. The girls miss their brother when he isn’t here. We miss him, too. I miss his school concerts and knowing his friends and having casual conversations over nothing. He’ll be going to college in a year anyway; we just experienced the distance sooner than most families. We stay close when we’re apart through Facebook, email and phone calls. But nothing can quite replace the flow of being in each other’s daily lives.
That’s why we’re so grateful for the time we do have together. Just spending a week living a normal – if exceptionally cheery – life is a more precious vacation than any weeklong party in Cancun could ever be.