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(photo credit: Illustration by Pepe Fainberg)
Historians do not offer much insight into what the Marquis de Sade did with his children during summer vacation, but certainly whoever decided the little darlings deserve two months off from school must have been a blood relative.
The "onesh hagadol," as it has come to be known around my house - at least by me - has parents gnashing their teeth already in February as they ponder "what are the kids going to do this summer?" For example, are we going to send the youngest lad back to sleepaway camp after he had to be brought back home three days into the program after his right eye blew up to the size of a volleyball when he was stung by a mosquito on the first camp outing? He's still frightened by volleyballs as a result, so that nice sports camp that actually picks the kids up at our door is out.
There's that great arts and crafts camp, but of course that would mean having to revisit Hadassah-University Medical Center, where they separated two fingers on our neighbor's son's hand, bonded together during a contest to see which kid could squeeze more glue out of a bottle.
No, if we have learned anything at all in 22 years of parenting, it is that there is only one thing that kids want to do during summer vacation: absolutely nothing.
"I want to be a bum," is what they say as we shuffle through the catalogs of camps, volunteer programs and other offerings, hoping to find something that fits both their interests and our pocketbooks.
Let's take the kids abroad, we muse. To France, or England, or the US. We see pictures in our heads of the happy family visiting the Louvre, the Tower of London or the Washington Monument.
FAST-FORWARD to reality and you're in an overpriced motel with three kids who only want to watch "one more" (teenager-speak for any number between six and 87) episode of Friends and whose insistence yesterday at stopping at the mall to check out iPods meant missing the tour of the White House. Not to mention the fight over who sleeps in the rollout bed. We actually awoke one morning on such a trip to find our younger son sleeping in the rollout in its collapsed position, oblivious to his contorted self.
And that's if you can find the motel. We spent two hours driving through the bowels of Los Angeles in search of ours. As we passed industrial buildings in search of a motel meant to be next to a marina, we realized the situation was hopeless. When we finally pulled in, after getting directions from a kind Mexican woman at a deserted McDonald's that appeared as if it were a mirage, we listened to the pimply-faced receptionist who explained that having three streets all bearing a variation of the name Washington "did confuse folks sometimes." Holiday Inn Express this, buddy.
Staying closer to home for a family vacation only makes things worse. We'll rent a tzimmer in the Golan for a week and it'll be great, you say, shelling out a year's salary for two rooms in a rickety shack that looked a lot different on the Internet. Add to that three hours spent looking for the charger to your daughter's cellphone in Nahal Yehudiya and yeah, it's been a great vacation, all right. While you point out the sights, they're busy clicking text-messages to their friends or asking that perennial question: "Are we there yet?" which is almost always followed by "What are we doing after this?"
There's always the local community center day camp, offering that nutritious roll with chocolate spread and bag of bug juice snack. But "day camp" means "morning camp" most places, leaving the kids to take over the TV and computer for the rest of the afternoon. And the cultural level of the camp is usually reflected in stories the kids come home with about belching contests, not to mention that the teenager down the block you suspect has been doing drugs for years is now a counselor at the place. The brochures and ads for these camps show smiling, happy youngsters, but don't be fooled - those kids were put on a strict diet of Coke and Milkies for a week before that picture was taken.
So home it is, where you figure at least they can get some of the chores done around the house while they're "bums." My wife likes to leave them notes with instructions, like: "Clean a bathroom." By now, however, the teenagers have learned that's code for: "Go on Facebook, watch six hours straight of TV and then as mom walks in, remember the overdue library book that has to go back right away and fly out the door."
THEY LEAVE telltale signs of their summer presence: "favorites" on your computer or other downloaded programs that render the machine inoperable in the face of an impending deadline. Once the machine is up and running, you're bombarded by ICQ messages from their friends asking for your kid every six seconds: "Are you there?" "Where are you?" "Are you sleeping?" "WHERE ARE YOU?" No, we're not LOL (laughing out loud.)
There's that yard work that needs doing, but then, who wants to rake when the preview of the new Harry Potter/James Bond/X-Men/High School Musical 75 has just hit YouTube? And don't let the fridge door hit you on the way upstairs, guys, as they leave you with nothing but an old cucumber and some outdated Prilis to eat as they buzz around the house, leaving dishes, empty ketchup bottles and the TV remote in their wake.
So go ahead and try to plan your kid's summer if you like. We're sure they'll have a great time at Camp Chaya Watha just outside Netanya's industrial zone. That is, until they're routed out by Katyushas, like our kids were a few years ago. If not, there's that lovely Camp Eizeh Shanda in the Beit She'an Valley where all the rich American kids go for the summer. Our oldest is still not talking to us about having to share her bunk with a bedwetting Bostonian, during that summer where it was so hot her sneakers actually stuck to the ground.
In the end, you've got to face it: You're stuck at home with them for two months. It's what they want. It's what you'll get anyway. But take heart. Parents Independence Day, otherwise known as September 1, rolls around eventually, when the kids go back to school and share stories about the great summer they had. "So what did you do this summer," one will ask. "Nothing," says the other, grinning from ear to ear.