Holidazed and Confused

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We are no longer an agrarian society. What’s up with the extended school breaks? 4 strategies to maintain sanity over the holidays.

“Only 5 more days of school until winter break!” The old lady crossing guard with the ruddy weathered face and jaunty Santa hat chirped this greeting to me years ago, as a swarm of minivans flowed about her in front of the school. She was my Moses of the drop off lane—parting the sea of cars with a raise of her hand and leading my kids and me to the safety of the Promised Land, aka Van Gorden Elementary. 

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This greeting had become her yearly ritual that started soon after the Thanksgiving holidays. With the intensity of a town crier, every passing school day she sing-songed the number of days separating her from total and complete work liberation. She was my own personal advent calendar, my canary in the coal mine alerting me to the coming liquidation of my free time.

By the time she hollered this pleasantry, 8 year old Megan, 10 year old Jack and I were approaching the pedestrian crosswalk. Since Jack had a tendency to bolt without warning, and my shoulder was on the verge of dislocation from his pulling, I prayed that the moms in the minivans were paying attention to our chaotic 3 person squad and obeying local traffic laws.

Shoulder hurting, I struggled to give the kindly and festive crossing guard as polite a smile as possible, knowing I was the one with the problem, not her. I could not muster a socially appropriate verbal response to her greeting, however. I felt my gloom pitifully contrast with her exuberant holiday cheer, and felt like the lamest, Grinchiest person alive.

Inwardly I grit my teeth while thinking this decidedly unfestive thought, “Break? What break? You have no freakin’ clue lady.”

Hold on to your egg nog. That time of year is drawing nigh. Winter break. By the time you read this, my kids are on school break and I’ll be in the thick of things, knee deep in the holiday caregiving hoopla.

I may quite possibly be hiding under my bed in the fetal position after cleaning the peanut butter and saliva cocktail that I have discovered smeared throughout Jack’s ears, the walls, the dog, my hair.

School breaks do not afford me the luxury of downtime. In fact, I lose the little break of the school hours to get stuff done or to simply take a cleansing breath. And I know I’m not alone. All parents—even those of typically developing children feel this way when their kids are young.

But then those typically developing kids grow older. They utilize their parents more like Uber drivers and concierges, if my daughter is any indicator. Megan, now 14, isn’t reliant upon me for her basic survival–unlike my 16 year old son Jack, who is.

Like a woman forgetting the extreme pain of childbirth, parents of neurotypical children should be excused for blocking out the years of diapers and bath time and feedings. I know I would. Megan is neurotypical and my caregiving struggles of her earlier baby years have disappeared into the fog of my middle-aged mind.

Parents with typically developing tweens and teens will say how exciting it will be to have a break from the rigors of the school schedule. They now have time to kick back, relax and have family time. Check out those holiday lights at the zoo in frigid temperatures. Spontaneously check out a movie together. Ski.

All activities that, while literally possible for our family, have zero appeal in the special needs world in which I roam. I grow weary even considering the logistics of any and all of these activities.

Since my teenage son Jack still requires the basic caregiving tasks of a toddler, I marvel at how I did it when both my kids were little before the 2 ½ hour tease of preschool came into my life. And for those of you in the trenches now, up to your armpits in baby gear, I salute you. And give slow appreciative claps for how you get on with your day having not school, but dinky nap times as your only respite. It’s hard, I know. I’ve been there!

Parents of older children in our situation, having had a taste of a break that school gives us, may face this oncoming time with a mixture of apprehension and dread. That’s normal! We can love our kids and still fantasize about hiding out on a deserted tropical island. That doesn’t make us bad parents, that makes us human.

If you feel anything at all like I do, all is not lost. Here are some tips to get you through if you are staring down a 2 ½ week holiday break like I am.

1. Remember that often anticipation is waaay worse than reality

I repeat this to myself like a mantra when any school break draws closer. I remind myself of the good breaks we’ve had before. Reality has been kinder to me than my overwrought theoretical imaginings.

2. Focus on activities that have been successful for you in the past

Do those activities which you enjoy doing with your child (without checking out Facebook and feeling like everyone else is having an infinitely better time than you are). Perhaps limiting social media consumption at this time may help. At our house, having classic Christmas movies on the t.v. and colorful lights strung around the kitchen makes me feel relaxed and cheerful.

3. Set the bar low if you need to.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to be your child’s special needs therapist with nonstop enrichment activities. Is your child warm? Fed? Clean? Loved? Awesome. Everything else is gravy.

4. Get your strategy together

Think about a realistic worst case scenario about the break and how you might handle it. Then think about a best case scenario. Finally, think about what most likely will happen. By visualizing each of the possible outcomes, nothing will surprise or possibly disappoint you. Perhaps your break will be a mixture of all three possibilities. That’s ok too!

Let me remind us all that we’ve got this. I’m rooting for you, my fellow caregiving soldiers in the trenches. You may be tired and overwhelmed from any additional work the holidays may create for you, but you will get through this period. I leave you with a few Stoic quotations that bolster my spirit when I’m feeling stressed. I hope they can help you too:

“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” 


“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.” 

Viktor Frankl

“We should always be asking ourselves: ‘Is this something that is, or is not in my control?” 


“Asia and Europe: distant recesses of the universe. The ocean: a drop of water. Mount Athos: a molehill. The present: a split second in eternity. Minuscule, transitory, insignificant.” 

Marcus Aurelius

Happy holidays to all and here’s to a peaceful and healthy 2019!

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash
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