Year-Round School Schedule and Why We Love It So Much

Me and Meg by treeOur kids’ neighborhood K-8 public school happens to be on the year-round schedule, which means that though we only get five weeks off for summer break, we are treated with 3-week breaks spaced evenly throughout the year in the fall, winter, and spring.  Although the school year starts at the end of July (yes, that part is cruel), we finish with the other schools in our district the following June.  We have absolutely loved the year-round schedule.

Just when our kids have had enough with classes and homework, we get a few weeks off to refresh our minds.  And just when we parents are starting to go bonkers with our children being home all day, they go back to school.  Teachers say that their students retain more when they return for the new school year.  The teachers all love the year-round schedule as much as we do.

We particularly enjoy our fall breaks.  The weather is milder, the crowds thinner, and airfare cheaper than during the summer.  Many of our school families take their big trips to exotic places during the fall.  We take off to Hawaii every fall to go see their grandparents.  It alleviates the heartache we feel returning to school when other students are still enjoying their summer.  After all, while most families are going to back-to-school night, we are boarding a plane to paradise!

But, alas, no good thing lasts forever.  When Josh finished 8th grade, it was over.  No more year-round schedule in high school.  Due to sports and other inter-scholastic activities, all high schools in our area are on the traditional school calendar — long, hot summers and virtually no breaks all year except for a few days here and there.

Even worse, I would have our kids on two different schedules!  It pretty much meant that we were not going to be going anywhere for two years until Meg graduated middle school. Oh, the sadness!

What was I to do?

That’s when I took my friend Heather’s advice: enjoy spending time with one child at a time.

This August, after Meg already went back to school, I took Josh and his friend Sam to Honolulu for a week.  Yes, it was very hot, crowded, and expensive, but we had a wonderful time.  It was fun getting reacquainted with my teenage son while enjoying activities together such as snorkeling, swimming, and just hanging out.

Then this fall, I went back again to Hawaii for a mother-daughter time with Meg.  Her activity of choice was shopping, of which we did plenty in Waikiki.  The more time I spent with this girl, the more I enjoyed her.  We ate a lot of good foods together and spent much time with my parents and my sisters, her aunties, who also flew into Hawaii to be with us.  Between these two trips, my parents were also able to have individual times with each of their grandkids, which was a blessing.

(The only person in the household who hasn’t been able to go to Hawaii much this year is my husband David!  Don’t worry — he’ll be spending an extra week with Meg in Honolulu during winter break.)

Navigating the rough seas of various school calendars and breaks have taught me that, once again, parenting has a lot of unexpected surprises that could turn out better than even before.  Don’t get me wrong — we have absolutely loved year-round schedule and wish high schools had them, too, but we somehow figured out how to work with two overlapping schedules.  We are going to be entering uncharted waters once again when both of them are in high school next year, but I have a feeling that it is all going to be okay.  After all, in only a few more years, they are both going to be out of the house.  That is going to be so sad…but maybe unexpectedly good, too!

Does anyone else like the year-round schedule?  Tell me what to expect when our family enters traditional schedule.  What do you do with your long summers?

The Politics of Bringing a Friend Along to Family Vacations

2013-08-16 07.51.05-2We had heard about people bringing along their kids’ friends on their family vacations, but I never thought we would actually be doing it ourselves one day.

Then this summer, I took my son Joshua’s best friend Sam with us to Hawaii.

Lest you think that that is over-the-top decadent and that I should have stuck to low-cost options such as going camping at the nearby campground, let me explain.

I had some work to do in Hawaii mid-August, just before Josh started his sophomore year in high school but after Meg had already started her year-round middle school.  I could’ve either left both kids at home with David or taken Josh with me.

I let that thought sink in for a moment — just me and Josh in paradise.

As much as I have a pretty good relationship with my teenage son, I just didn’t think he would be overjoyed with the prospect of hanging out with Mother for five days in Hawaii.  In fact, I knew he would be spending an inordinate amount of time indoors playing online games with Sam in Texas, which he could very well do back home in Southern California…sans the airfare.

So, I got a great idea: Why not bring Sam along with us to Hawaii?

We told Sam’s parents that if they could fly him out from Texas to California, then we would take care of the rest.

“The rest” meant using my airline miles for his flight from LAX to Honolulu.  It also meant him staying with us in our two-bedroom timeshare unit which we were going to rent anyhow and is plenty big for the three of us.  Sam’s overjoyed parents gave us some cash for his meals and spending money, but we happily paid for some of the fun activities such as the fabulous luau in Waikiki and snorkeling in Hanauma Bay.

We had an unforgettable time!

I didn’t feel badly about leaving the boys alone at the resort while I took care of business, because they are pretty independent at 15.  They walked to the nearby IHOP for their breakfasts, and they hung out at the pool or the beach.  I gave them permission and access to room-charge foods and activities, although they showed much restraint in exercising this privilege.  I was quite impressed.  Sam must be a good influence on Josh.

When our kids were very young, we brought along baby sitters or hired them at the destination on our vacations.  We paid all of their expenses and then some for watching our kids.  I figured Sam was Josh’s “sitter” on this vacation — we probably should have paid him for taking care of our son!

Our friends Marty and Doris let their son Kyle join a family on camping trips each year, and our other friends Mary and Kenny always bring along their godchild (or godgrandchild) Tayler to summer camp without her parents.  People make it work for them in many different ways, but I have some suggestions to make such vacations go as smoothly as possible:

1.  Discuss the expenses involved with the other parents before embarking on such a trip.  Some parents want to make sure they pay for all of the expenses, while others are only able to chip in some spending money.  Be prepared to pay for 100% unless otherwise mutually decided upon.

2.  Make sure your child is mature enough and responsible enough to accept this invitation.  Spending five days on vacation with someone is different from an afternoon play date.  The more you can train your child for independence ahead of time, the more fun the excursion is going to be for all.  Sam was responsible, thoughtful, fun, and just assertive enough for all of us to enjoy our vacation together. We would take him again in a heartbeat.

3. Keep communicating with their parents throughout the trip.  With facebook, Instagram, email, and texts, it was easy for us to keep updating  Sam’s parents from Hawai with fun photos.  I’m sure that his parents were pleased to see their son having fun in paradise!

Have you ever taken a friend along on vacation?  How did it work out for you? Share with us here!

Once a Mom, Always a Mom

My parents, happy in paradise...I mean, Hawaii.

My parents moved to Honolulu to retire about 5 years ago after finally relinquishing their Japanese citizenship to the US. Today, while traveling in Tokyo, I received an email written in Japanese from her with the subject “Please Be Cautious.” The body of the email went like this: “North Korea is testing its nuclear missiles between April 12 and 13. I think you’re flying back to LA during that time. Please be careful.”

A part of me is glad that I still have a mother who cares about me like no one else ever will. However, another part of me can’t stop laughing at the lunacy of her caution. What, pray tell, should I do to prepare myself in case of a nuclear missile launch? In particular, if they actually do shoot a nuclear missile towards the very aircraft in which I sit, what could I possible do to escape my certain demise? Run into the lavatory? Duck under my seat? Notify the Authority? There are times when we all have to face our final destiny, and no mother can stop that. Certainly not by email from Hawaii.

This is the same mother who tried to grab my hand while crossing the streets of Honolulu during our last visit. No, she wasn’t trying to steady herself; rather, she was trying to protect me from cars whizzing by Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki. She’s nearly 80 years old, so I can’t imagine her providing me with much protection, in spite of the fact that she is still in great health.

Many of my friends ask why, when their only grandchildren reside in California, would my parents move to Hawaii. Wouldn’t they want to be involved in their grandkids’ lives? How could they only see them, at most, twice a year on vacation in Honolulu?

The truth is, my mother cares too much, and she almost smothered all of us when my kids were young. She couldn’t stand watching me learn by mistake in parenting, and she couldn’t stand to see me or my kids experience pain. So, in her most loving and caring way, she chose to remove herself physically from us to create a geographical distance between us because she could not separate from us emotionally. Where would be the most sacrificial place to live in retirement? The paradise known as Hawaii. My dad was not going to refuse.

My mother's latest project

It’s turned out to be the best decision for them ever. They are enjoying their golden years strolling the beaches of Waikiki and playing frisbee together at Kapiolani Park. (Actually, I think frisbee is great exercise — jumping, reaching, throwing, catching…) My mother picked up oil painting at the ripe old age of 72 and has been churning out amazing works of art on a regular basis. My dad, who has always been a learning junkie, has signed up for unlimited classes at the local Apple store and has become quite an expert. I think he secretly hopes to someday work at the Apple Genius Bar so he can help out old people.

They bought their plots at a cemetery on Diamond Head, and every now and then they pack a picnic lunch to go sit under the tree canopying their future resting place. “We went to go visit our grave today,” she reports. “You should join us sometime. I’ll make some rice balls and your favorite teriyaki chicken for lunch.” I really don’t care to go visit my parents’ grave any sooner than I have to, but one of these days I’ll go humor them.

So, here we are in Tokyo visiting my parent’s homeland, and my mom is sending me directives by email. I just let her know that I appreciate her concerns and leave it at that. As much as I tell myself I won’t be doing the same when my own kids are grown, I just have a feeling that I’ll be sending similar emails to them in a few decades.

After all, once a mom, I’ll always be a mom.

Do you have any stories of your own parents still trying to parent you? Let me know in the comments below!