The boys' spring break is next week. Spring break is always early at Our Fine School, because it corresponds with the spring breaks of our local universities. At least I assume that's why Spring Break comes so early. Maybe it's just that the administration of Our Fine School thinks a gray, gloomy rainy week in March--which describes every spring break of Jack and Will's school career so far--is character building.
Our plan is to spend the second half of next week in Charleston, South Carolina. In third grade, the kids study U.S. geography and state capitols, and each third grader is given a state of his or her own to study and do a big project on. Will's is South Carolina, so off we go.
Jack is not enthusiastic about this trip. He claims to have no interest in Civil War history or the history of slavery (we're going to tour a plantation while we're there), and he is particularly uninterested in spending time with his family. That, in fact, would be his area of least interest--family interaction. He's asked a couple of times if he can stay home, a question that has elicited great whoops of laughter from his father and me.
The thing is, I remember my middle school spring breaks (though I'm old enough to have attended a junior high as opposed to a middle school). We lived on an Army post in Germany, and in my seventh grade year I went to Amsterdam on a bus tour with my friend Nancy Tye and her mother. For some reason, on the way to Holland Nancy decided I was beneath contempt and ignored me for the whole trip. Fortunately, I'd brought along Rich Man, Poor Man and was suitably occupied during our travels.
The next year, my family traveled to Berlin, the city of my birth. We stayed on the American post, in officers' guest quarters, and I remember one night overhearing my brothers (one older, one younger) complaining to my mother about what a horrible, moody person I was. I think of this conversation often these days, especially when I'm pondering sending Jack to military school.
In ninth grade, we went to Paris. Oh, how I loved Paris! I was going to study French, I decided, and move to Paris the second I graduated from high school. The only problem with Paris? My parents and brothers were there, too. And there was that night when we got off the Metro one stop too early and found ourselves on Pigalle Place, the notorious red light district. Right about then, something disagreed with my stomach and I very badly needed to go to the bathroom. I was, as they say, pure out of luck.
So yes, spring break spent with one's family during the early teen years. I remember it well, and I remember really not enjoying it all that much, even in two of the world's greatest cities. (Amsterdam is a great city, too, but I wasn't there with my parents, which made it less trying, even with my best friend pretending I didn't exist.)
All this to say, I sympathize with Jack. I'm going to think of ways to let him be more independent on the trip. He doesn't have to sit with us on the boat ride around Ft. Sumter, for instance; he can lag behind on the plantation tour. But go he must, as must we all. Thirty years from now, when he has an adolescent son, he'll need to have this trip to Charleston to look back on so he'll understand his own child's misery and be compassionate, and not think too seriously about selling the kid to the gypsies.
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