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Opinion

Column: Joy to the world, the holidays are finally over!

The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside hosts an annual Festival of Lights.
The Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside hosts an annual Festival of Lights, one way to keep kids busy over the long winter break.
(Mission Inn Hotel and Spa )

We decorated the house with giant snowflakes. We saw “The Nutcracker.” We rode bikes to Marina del Rey to gawk at sailboats festooned with Christmas lights. We built Trader Joe’s gingerbread houses. We spent a night at the Mission Inn in Riverside during its Festival of Lights. We watched a Christmas tree lighting at the Venice Circle. We ate Dungeness crab on Christmas with our family in San Diego.

We fell asleep on the couch at 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

We got sick. We ate too much.

We got on each other’s nerves.

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The warm glow of the holidays has faded. Christmas 2019 is now but a memory.

And yet, I believe I speak for the exhausted parents of the 600,000 children in the Los Angeles Unified School District when I ask: Then why the hell are the kids still out of school?

Seriously.

Los Angeles public school students have been out since Dec. 20, and they don’t return to the classroom until Monday.

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Three weeks to celebrate the winter holidays?

Come on now!

One week: Fine.

Two weeks: More or less manageable.

Three weeks: I’ll be right back after I rob a bank to pay for childcare.

::

In 2017, the LAUSD Board of Education surveyed parents and employees about vacations, and what they would like to see.

Apparently, 44% of the parents who responded said they wanted to stick with a three-week winter break, and that was more than those who said they wanted a two-week break or didn’t care. But only 38% of parents filled out the survey. I’m just guessing here, but I bet the parents who don’t want a three-week break were too busy to respond.

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Molly Hedford, a mother of two children at Venice’s Westminster Elementary School, told me she always responds to the calendar survey by voting for two weeks of winter break.

“So here we are,” Hedford wrote me in an email, “band-aiding life for three weeks. Like every other parent, I am juggling 16 things on any given day of this eternally long winter break. My children are along for the ride, mostly on their devices, with some reading and math games thrown in to make me feel less guilty.”

And she raised another issue as well:

“How about two days over Thanksgiving like the rest of the country?” she wrote me in an email. (LAUSD takes an entire week off at Thanksgiving.)

::

My daughter went away to college in 2010, so I have enjoyed nearly a decade of empty-nester freedom. A year ago, I plunged back into parenthood, when my then-8-year-old great-niece unexpectedly came to live with me.

I adore her; she is a sunny, social child with a huge, charming personality. But we were both in a kind of shock in the beginning.

While she had some emotionally bumpy times, it’s no exaggeration to say that I went through a kind of emotional death and rebirth.

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Before she moved in, I was free to hop on a plane to cover a breaking news story. I would stay afield as long as necessary. I could stay out late. Sleep in. Skip meals.

Someone else rules my time now.

I make three meals a day. I live at the grocery store. My dishwasher is always full. I do two loads of laundry a week, at least.

We are ruining the environment, and my feet, with all the small plastic things that go along with childhood — Legos, doll shoes, beads, very sharp icicles that have fallen off the “Frozen” castle.

My house has also become a zoo where we keep only one kind of animal: unicorns.

We have unicorn dolls, unicorn stuffies, unicorn pillows, unicorn-shaped erasers, unicorn-bedecked T-shirts, dresses, backpacks. So. Much. Stuff.

But God, so much of parenting a younger child is beautiful.

We have cozy bedtime stories. She reaches for my hand when we walk. She snuggles, hugs and kisses. We have an entire library of jokes that only the two of us share.

Other, unexpected bonuses of mothering a young child at an age most folks are beginning to think about retirement: People think I am younger than I am. I get to trick or treat again. She keeps me up to date on the latest pop songs. (I definitely knew about “Old Town Road” before you did.) And the Tooth Fairy, Santa and the Easter Bunny are back in my life.

Still, by Week 3 of winter break, I was ready to be back at work — not to mention that my vacation was over.

My niece lobbied to stay home and watch TV all day.

I searched online and found a winter day camp. It offered a field trip every day for five days. It sounded absolutely perfect.

“Don’t make me go,” she pleaded. “I won’t know anyone.”

She always says that. I always force her to go anyway.

“I have a new best friend,” she announced at the end of her first day. She always says that, too.

On Monday, she jumped on trampolines. Tuesday, she toured the California Science Center. Wednesday, she hiked to a waterfall in the Santa Monica Mountains. Thursday, she visited the Petersen Automotive Museum, and on Friday, the Long Beach Aquarium.

All week, she’s had only one question: “When’s our next vacation?”

God help us.


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