As a child, I don’t remember my family ever taking a spring vacation. Because we always took driving trips, generally to places where we had relatives to house us, a spring trip to a warm climate was not in our wheelhouse. Back in the day when I attended the University of Michigan, the school year ended in April. Because of the school’s calendar and a lack of funds, I have no memory of taking a wild college spring break either.
For my granddaughter with significant disabilities, spring break will literally break her, along with the rest of us.
We rarely took spring vacations with our own children. Our family trip was always in August, the traditional times for shrinks to travel, so my main memory of spring break as a parent was miserable Chicago weather and not much to do. One of my daughters did take a spring break vacation in college that likely resembled the photo associated with this prompt, but that was an anomaly in my family. In the present, for my children and especially for my grandchildren, spring break is unfortunately anything but fun.
As an educator, at least I didn’t have to go to work during my kids’ spring breaks. Not true for my children. In their families, both parents work outside the home and they have no paid vacation time that coincides with their children’s spring breaks. Instead of taking a memory-filled vacation, life becomes a scramble to come up with childcare. For folks like them who are unable to travel to warmer climes, spring break activities around home are few and far between. People they rely on for childcare are often away, after school activities cease, and it is challenging to find things to do when the temperatures range in the thirties to forties and it rains most days.
Even worse, however, is what spring break does to families with children who have special needs. One of my granddaughters attends a school for students with learning disabilities. When asked to make a list of “fun things to do over spring break,” hers included:
- Listen to my music
- Do laundry
- Go to Gramma and Grampa’s house
- Eat pizza
- Make brownies
- Take the dog for a walk
- Teach the dog how to sit (that will never happen)
- Swim (on the weekend when one of her parents can take her)
Sounds like a roaring good time.
For another of my granddaughters with significant disabilities, spring break will literally break her, along with the rest of us. She is only happy when her life is predictable and consistent. Like many kids on the autism spectrum, she needs school and the structure it provides. Days off are a disaster, so a whole week plus two weekends with nothing to do spell misery for her and chaos for her family. For my granddaughter’s parents, who need to balance the demands of work with their daughter’s need for continuity, supervision, and specialized programming, getting through spring break is like assembling a tough jigsaw puzzle. In order for them to get any work done, they have to hire behavioral therapists and teachers from her school to spend some time with her at home. After paying for this, they probably earn negative income, but at least they won’t lose their jobs.
Of the many challenges that families of children with significant special needs confront, school vacations may be one of the most difficult. Like mine, these families are now counting the days until spring break ends and life becomes more stable and productive for their kids. As spring break progresses, I know my granddaughter’s behavior will become increasingly challenging. When she returns to school, she will have to relearn how to do school.
Watching my granddaughter and her family struggle to get by this spring break is painful. Life has created so many obstacles for their child. Having a schedule that is consistent and comprehensible to her would go a long way to ensuring her happiness and her ability to learn as much as possible.
Of course, as an educator I understand the importance of spring break for teachers. Working with children is exhausting, and teachers need time to recharge their batteries. Most of them also have their own children to manage during school vacations. There is no practical solution to this. For lucky families, spring break is an opportunity to spend special time with their kids. But for many, it is a challenge for parents to find coverage for their children so they can work. And for families of students with disabilities, there is an added layer of stress.
So no, there will not be any wild parties or funny spring break stories for my family. It will be more like an episode of Survivor minus the tropical climate, and hopefully no one will be voted off the island.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.