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Cheryl's Parenting Journal

Entry 44 ~ February 16, 2010
~ February Vacation is Back Again!

They sneak up on you like foxes in a henhouse, and the way I see it, you can either embrace them like warm summer days or face them with sheer panic. No, I'm not referring to your in-laws, I'm talking about school vacations!

Although it seems like seconds since our last school break ended, ready or not, our next vacation is already knocking at my door. Since our family isn't jetting off to the South of France or heading to the sunshine state to visit the big mouse himself, chances are phrases such as "I'm bored; there's nothing to do around here" or "What are we doing today?" will be echoing throughout our home within minutes after the school bus drops our clan off on Friday afternoon. Having eight children, those melodic words will be reverberating back and forth before I can get a word in edgewise--not exactly the most relaxing way to start a fun-filled vacation week. Yes, these are the moments that can define you as a parent!

In our household of three girls and five boys under the ages of sixteen, those and other daunting questions are asked on a regular basis when a rainy day or school vacation pulls into town. Not wanting their boredom on my conscience, I am forever pulling tricks out of my magnificent black hat that even Houdini would have been proud of--yet even my best attempts don't always hold their attention for too long. Despite their displeasure with some of my entertainment strategies, however, my kids still rely on me to be the official cruise director during vacations. They expect me to cram as many fun activities as possible into each day unlike when I was growing up (this is when they roll their eyes) and a vacation day or rainy Saturday meant my siblings and I entertained ourselves--only breaking from such exhausting play for lunch and dinner. Most of today's generation of kids cannot comprehend such a thought, so as parents we continue to head back to the drawing board for a more creative approach.

For me, the creative approach always starts with my very favorite word, PLAN. I find that if I want to maintain my sanity and my sense of humor, planning is crucial. It's a skill actually, and I rely on it just as a surgeon relies on his steady hands to perform an operation. Of course, my kids are continually helping me to sharpen this skill, and during a vacation week staying sharp, not dull, is the challenge.

I've tried everything from the clever to the outrageous while planning their free time. When they were younger, I would stash extra Christmas gifts away for surprise entertainment when boredom reigned throughout our kingdom. I can still hear the "oohs" and "aahs" when they saw those cheery magic markers and loosely bound pads of construction paper being set on the dining room table. A few times I even managed to hide some bigger ticket items like Barbies and Tinker toys--talk about cheap entertainment. But as they get older, being clever isn't quite as easy. So again, I rely on a plan to keep my troops happy.

In my circle of friends, I'm known as the Queen Mother of theme days, probably because I've tried nearly every theme imaginable to add a bit of zip to a ho hum day. One year's vacation centered entirely on a week chock full of arts and crafts projects. I can vividly recall happily making homemade play dough in every color of the rainbow and how it ended up every place in the house except in the makeshift art station set up in the kitchen, so it's been officially banned in our home now. Popsicle stick houses, tie-dye T-shirts, paper mache piņatas--tried those too, but my personal favorite was watching them create geometric patterns from their breath against our bay window where I had instructed them to keep a sharp eye out for their father's car to return home at the end of a very long day.

Of course, there were successes like restaurant day, where we shaked and baked our favorite goodies and the kids ordered from menus that we made on the computer. Movie day also received rave reviews when we turned our family room into a retro drive-in theatre complete with my daughters wearing roller skates as they served their brothers who waited patiently in their pretend cars for the burgers and shakes to arrive.

No matter what the theme du jour was, I have always made sure to jot down a quick summary on the pages of my calendar as to what we did during the vacation regardless if it was a smashing success or a dastardly disaster. Years later, these little reminders have provided our entire family with quite a few laughs, but have provided me with something even more important-a reminder that although some vacation days seem endless, their childhood isn't. Before I know it, they'll be grown and on their own and it will be me searching for them and asking "What are we doing today?"

With that in mind, I am going to try and treasure the ordinary moments during our vacation week, and when the last of my sanity is being tested, I will definitely remind myself that they aren't going to be these ages forever.

Take care,
    ~ Cheryl

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