The Death of the School Holiday

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May 29, 2015

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The month of May is fast coming to an end, and parents everywhere are confronting (or have already confronted) a most terrifying and looming reality: School holiday. Several weeks when a child stares at her parents and declares, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” When I was a child, as soon as the wall clock in our class reached 3:00 pm on the last day of school, we would run out of the classroom, generally happy to embrace a lazy summer of fun, friends, and doing nothing particularly important. But one thing was clear from my parents: We would entertain ourselves or else be forced to confront our boredom. Of course, this meant that I spent several boring afternoons not doing much at all.

Not so anymore! Today, school breaks have become a minefield of expensive, life-affirming camps, each promising to transform your child from the ordinary, dreary and meaningless creature he is into a spectacular, engaging, fully-formed angel. Furthermore, educational companies love to terrify us parents into believing that our children, who probably did not do that great on their exams, will forget everything they just learned unless we get them enrolled in holiday programs to prevent backsliding.

My wife and I fought through the blizzard of camp forms: science camps, writing workshops, football camps, karate camps, full tuition, swimming, poetry, drama, art, and countless other activities for kids. What do we want our child to grow up to become? The application forms on our dining table felt less like a pile of papers than a mountain of life expectations. Of course, each of these camps politely asks for a several thousand rupees for a one-week camp. (“Don’t forget to pack their lunch!”)  I rubbed my temples. I could feel my credit cards explode into flames as I mentally tallied the costs of keeping our older child engaged with the world during her break.

I go back and forth on the camp experience. Sometimes, I think it will be a life-changing time for my daughter; she’ll blossom and discover her purpose. I allow myself to imagine that someday, 30 years in the future, she’ll come to me and say, “Thanks, Dad. That camp really changed my life.” And I’ll say, “Oh honey, no problem at all. Now, hurry to the airport and catch your flight. The Nobel Prize committee is waiting!”

But another part of me laments the loss of the traditional ‘do-nothing’ school holiday spent playing with one’s friends. The reality is that school holidays have become, like so many other modern parenting challenges a point where anguished, anxiety-ridden parents are compelled to spend thousands of dollars to keep their children engaged, entertained, and on the enlightened path to self-discovery. The kids in our neighborhood today, rather than spending their days running back and forth between houses, are scattering to a patchwork of fancy camps and expensive trips far away from one another.

Like everything in our hyper-speed world, school holidays have become expensive, action-packed, and competitive. In other words, the opposite of a holiday. You are expected to be able to tell your fellow parent-friends how much you’ve devoted yourself to your child’s growth by virtue of how many activities for kids you’ve planned. After all, we live in a world with 17-year-old tennis champions, multimillionaire teen computer programmers, and Nobel Prize nominees who are still going to 11th standard.

Give me the days spent spraying a water hose aimlessly at my brother and nights spent around the corner at my best friend’s house. Sigh. Who am I kidding? Our daughter’s camp checks are already in the mail. Barely a week after her holiday starts, I’ll be ferrying my daughter to her all-day math, reading, writing, football and drama camps—and, probably, extolling the amazing virtues of these programs to anyone who wants to listen, and many who don’t.

But I am content, I guess, with the end of the true school holiday as a cherished childhood memory. Just as long as my daughter thanks me when she collects her dual Nobel Prizes for Peace and Physics in 2056 as she’s dubbed the greatest footballer of her lifetime. Always keep your expectations realistic, after all.

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Written By Rajat Soni

Rajat is an Indian-American stay-at-home father of two girls, aged 7 and 3, one of whom was born in India. After working as a lawyer and raising his girls for several years in Mumbai, he moved to the U.S., where he became the primary caretaker for his daughters while his wife started a new job. He’s interested in exploring the role modern fathers play in the lives of their young children.

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