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Making Memories Over Midwinter Vacation 

Yitti Berkovic

The pain that radiated through my body was so ferocious that I didn’t even know which part of my body I had injured. Had I broken a leg? Damaged my spine? Given myself a concussion?

Too scared to move, I waited for someone to rush to my side, expecting one of the hundreds of staff members who milled around the waterpark to come running to my aid. But no one came. Maybe they were too busy laughing their heads off at the woman in a shvimkleid who had flown up in the air and come crashing down with an ungraceful thud.

All alone, I stared up at the ceiling and thought wryly, “Well, isn’t this an apt metaphor. You tried so hard to make everyone happy, and you still ended up flat on your back.”

Yup. That’s midwinter vacation in a nutshell. At least that’s a mother’s midwinter vacation in a nutshell.

I’d spent all morning trying to devise a plan that made all the Berkovic children happy. That means I needed to come up with an outing that would be fun for a 15 year-old yeshivah boy with an off-Shabbos, a 12 year-old-girl licking her wounds because all of her friends were in Orlando, a 7 year-old who is scared of every attraction or amusement park ride, and a 2 year-old boy who doesn’t sit still for a second. 

Thankfully, the one with special needs had school that day, so that made things a tiny bit simpler. Still, it would be less complicated to achieve Middle East peace than to negotiate a plan of action with my diverse gang.

And they didn’t go easy on me. 

For weeks after they’d found out that they all had the same vacation (their schools conspired against me!), they’d bantered and bickered, stomped and frowned, debated hotly and intensely, and then turned to me as if I had the magical solution. My only solution was to procrastinate until the day vacation began, and when I realized there was no option that would make everyone happy, I called my husband and begged him to switch places with me. He clucked sympathetically, but I don’t think he’d ever felt so grateful to be at work.

I was on my own.

Finally, finally, finally, we settled on the mall: the boys would play a few rounds of minigolf (hopefully Mr. 7-year-old wouldn’t find anything to be scared of there), and I would go to the indoor water park with the 12 year-old and the 2 year-old. Perfect plan for the Berkovic brood: sadly, sometimes we’re happiest when we’re not together.

There was plenty of complaining as we drove over to the mall – the boys wondered what would happen if they were ready before the girls were, while the girl worried that the boys would rush us out of the water park. I pasted a smile on my face and turned up the music as loud as possible, pretending I couldn’t hear a thing.

But their complaining irked me. Why was I raising such spoiled children? I was trying my best to give them a fun day, but it felt like nothing I did ever made them happy. Why did I even bother?

My mood was pretty dark by the time we found a parking spot. The boys met friends and ran off with them to minigolf, and the girl met friends and ran off to the waterslides (see – not everyone was in Orlando!). The 2-year-old and I were left alone, and I spent the afternoon chasing after him, feeling every bit my age as I huffed and puffed around the waterpark. I tried to convince him to hang out with me in the lazy river – I liked the sound of that – but he shook his head and continued running just to wear me out.

I was exhausted and more than a little grumpy as the day wore on. All I kept thinking was, I wonder if my kids even appreciate my efforts – or will they kvetch the whole way home too?

That’s when my world turned upside down – literally.

I asked my daughter to watch her little brother for two minutes so I could go get a new diaper for him from my locker. She sighed and told me to please hurry because all of her friends were on line for the best slide. So hurry I did. I hurried even though everywhere I looked, there were signs that screamed, Floors are wet! Very slippery! Walk carefully!  But who had time to walk carefully?

So I hurried and hurried, and then I slipped. Bam! Like a scene from a bad cartoon, my feet kept moving as I fell, flailing around in the air as they tried but failed to find traction.

When I hit the ground and assumed – at least for that first minute – that I was badly injured, a million thoughts sped through my mind.  

They’re going to have to carry me out of here on a stretcher. Oh no – My daughter is going to be sooo embarrassed in front of her friends. They’re going to have to call an ambulance, and I’m going to have to leave my children – all of them minors – to fend for themselves and find their way homes. Then, I had the weirdest thought of all: Score! I’ve finally given my children a midwinter vacation they’ll never forget!

Despite my dramatics, I managed to sit up. Gingerly, I flexed my arms and legs and realized with relief that nothing was broken. Even my back didn’t hurt as I hoisted myself up (that pain would come later and stick around for a while), and even more miraculous, none of my daughter’s friends had noticed me making a complete fool of myself.

As I limped off to the locker, I caught sight of my daughter jumping up and down with her baby brother in the wave pool, gleefully oblivious to her mother’s bruised back (and bruised ego). There was no way to hide it – they were having the time of their lives.

I stopped and I watched, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Maybe I don’t need to take my kids’ kvetching and complaining so personally. Maybe they’re only kvetching to help me out – l’fum tzaara agra – they want to earn their mother a little more schar in olam habah! 

Or maybe kvetching is developmentally appropriate behavior, my children’s way of reminding me they are still children, dependent on me to teach them how to appreciate the fun and beautiful things life has to offer.

If I keep smiling instead of gritting my teeth, eventually they’ll learn to follow suit. Because despite the headaches and hassles, the kvetches and the contusions (mine was an ugly one!), making memories over midwinter vacation isn’t always about having a blast. It’s about teaching kids to have healthy expectations, good attitudes (even when everyone is kvetching around you), and hakaras hatov, even when things don’t go exactly as you hoped.

So, as you head into midwinter vacation, paste on that smile, turn up the music, and do the best you can to tune out the kvetching (and avoid any bodily harm). 

Remember, tomorrow they go back to school!

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