Save the turtles and my sanityBy ELIZABETH QUINN,
Oh, spring break. How I used to love thee. Ski trips or beach trips, entire days with friends, and no school!! One year when I was a kid, my family returned from a beach trip to find it was snowing in Mississippi, in March—spring break was just magical.
These days, I spend the week before spring break in prayer. I google ‘how to meditate’ and ‘best ways to find calm and peace.’ While there’s lots of great information out there, none of the sites I peruse tell you the truth. There is no calm or peace to be had in a home with four children who have been given a pass on all forms of structure for a week. And let me just clarify this, my kids’ school actually lets out on the Thursday before spring break for teacher training days. I have no doubt that those trainings are important and contribute to all the reasons I love my kids’ teachers and our school. I’m in awe of all the things teachers do for their students—but I love them the most when they are in possession of my children. I’m also 99% sure that the first four hours of the first day of teacher training involve a pizza party where dancing spills out into the hallways and they stage races on their rolly teacher chairs. I ran this theory past one my teacher friends and she said her spring break, “doesn’t involve pizza and rolly chairs so much as it involves pajamas, mindless TV shows, and wine.” My friend is also prepared to write a companion article to this one titled, ‘The Direct Correlation between Spring Break and Teachers’ Mental Well-being.’ I hope she enjoys the field research that article will require.
Eleven days. I’m left with manic, ecstatic puppies on speed for eleven days. Because the thing is, spring break children are not normal children. They are not the kids I get back home at 3:00 in the afternoon; they aren’t even the kids I spend my Saturdays with. No, these are super-children. Take all the things you love about your child, and all the things you want to eradicate from their being and pump those characteristics full of steroids and Red Bull and then you have a Spring Break Child.
They see the long expanse of spring break stretched out before them, and the potential in those eleven days is limitless. They don’t even know where to begin! Should they have a lemonade stand? Or start a dog walking business? Form a band? (Hand to God, my child asked me to let her Google event venues the last time she and the neighbors ‘formed a band.’) Play in the creek? The creek is a concrete-lined drainage ditch of dubious safety levels, but they’ve named it Majestic Cliff & Creek and stand at the top of the culvert looking down at the trickle of water flowing over chunks of broken concrete and see adventure. This is an attribute I love about my child: her ability to see a health hazard as a trip into the mysterious wilderness. The problem is, Spring Break Children take it too far.
She doesn’t just want to hang out by the creek with her friends and come up with names for the chunks of concrete, although they did nail it when they named this one concrete blob ‘Booty Crack Rock.’ No, since they have all week long, they want to traverse the drainage ditch the length of a neighborhood block, through vegetation so thick you can’t see 10 feet past Booty Crack Rock, and they want to clean out all the litter to be found. A noble pursuit, no doubt. And then they want to make posters telling people not to litter. These won’t just be regular signs made with magic markers and poster board though; they want to paint turtles on them to remind people they should help save the turtles. They have a very specific vision for this ecologically-minded art and it will require a trip to the craft store. Well, even the basic version would require a trip somewhere because I’m not the kind of mom who keeps poster board on hand.
After they have procured the items needed, made the heart-stirring posters, and exposed themselves to tetanus and water moccasins to beautify their neighborhood, they plan to set up a lemonade stand and the profits will go to—they aren’t totally sure. Maybe the turtles? Maybe a recycling campaign? They’ll figure it out later. This will require another trip somewhere because I don’t have enough lemons or any lemonade mix, and I don’t have any disposable cups, because I care about Mother Earth too, you little reduce-reuse-recycle upstarts.
By this point in the day, the baby is probably napping and I can’t leave to take them anywhere. While they wait, they might decide to have ‘band practice’ and write a song about the environment and turtles which they’ll use to spread awareness and maybe perform at that venue they looked up which turned out to be a strip club when they showed me the Google results.
I know this sounds wonderful, kids wanting to do their part for Mother Earth and one would think these passions should be encouraged and praised. The thing is, they’re full of it. I’m not doubting their motivations, but their follow through is abysmal. If I drove them to the craft store and the grocery store and provided the materials needed to make the signs and the lemonade, the end result would not be a cleaner Jackson. They would abandon each phase of their plan in various stages of completion, leaving me with a kitchen table covered in paint and wet paper towels and glue oozing onto the floor but no completed posters, kitchen counters sticky with dried lemonade, approximately 27 dirty dishes and utensils scattered about, and I would hear the telltale crunch of sugar under foot all over the house as I went looking for them to make them clean it all up. I would not find them manning a lemonade stand, or hanging posters along our street, or practicing their new turtle-themed song, or even pulling plastic off the algae-covered bottom of Majestic Cliff. No, they would have aborted all plans to save the world and crashed on the couch to watch TV in the playroom—from which they’ll emerge later to tell me they’re bored. This is just Day One.
My friends who homeschool are laughing at us and posting memes that say ‘Keep calm, the museums will be empty again after spring break.’ Which is very funny because it’s very true—by Day Two we school moms are looking for educational outings, or any outing to keep them from destroying our house. I know we look desperate and ridiculous, as if we can’t handle our kids at home for a week (eleven days) but these are NOT our kids. They’re some Frankenstein-like creation wrought from an abrupt change in schedule and massive amounts of unstructured time.
And so, I pray. I pray for patience and gentleness and wisdom. I pray for creative ways to stimulate my children’s brains and to keep them from getting tetanus. I pray for good weather so they can run wild instead of being stuck inside for days, which always results in sibling-on-sibling violence. But mostly I say prayers of gratitude for the teachers, and that they enjoy their spring breaks—just not so much that they decide not to come back.
Reading Therapy: I read this book over a decade ago, but to survive Spring Break I may need to read it again so I can learn more about how to save the turtles. The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe is the story of a daughter reconnecting with her mother, Lovie Rutledge who’s known as the Turtle Lady for her work preserving the loggerhead sea turtle nests on Sullivan’s Island. While it’s not highbrow literature, it is a lovely, feel-good book and an easy beach read for those of you headed to sink your toes in the sand. Lovie shares some wisdom I’ll try to remember when the Spring Break Children have destroyed my kitchen again: “Quick, set aside your chores and turn your head. See how they laugh with such abandon? Only the very young can laugh like that. Look how they are giving you clues to who they are.”