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Home for the Holidays

There's nothing like family time with teenagers on vacation.


Time has passed, and those young urchins have grown up to be just about 13 and most definitely 14. Things are different, including the holidays.

This year, we have two full weeks off for the Christmas-New Year's extravaganza, which for the working parent translates to a nightmare of too much free time for children of the teenage persuasion. This is the time when parents pray to the child-care god that someone, somewhere, will invite their children over — for an hour, for a day, heck, for the whole two weeks if they wish. Going to Hawaii? I can have him packed in an hour.

I don't really have the supreme bum deal that some parents have because I work at a school, and I get some of the same vacation time, but I do need to work a few days. When I inform my children that I must abandon chauffeur duties, if only for a few hours, and go to work, they do the "Unhhhnnnghhh …. what are WE gonna do?" grunt thing. They are no longer content to wile away the hours at their grandparents' homes, making crafts, watching videos and playing with the Christmas train. No, they want to be taken places — Blockbuster, Target, Regency, Old Navy, Barnes & Noble, Tower, the movies. Or they want to have a friend over. Or go to a friend's (preferably, because we live in a hut with no video games, which is "unbelievably boring," I've been told). Going places always involves spending money, which panics me around the big bloodletting holiday because I have nary an extra cent to spare. After the 25th the children usually have some of their own money to spend plus a few gift certificates, but they still need to be driven to the places they want to patronize. Why don't places like Best Buy have benches for weary parents to rest upon?

So I attempt to temper the parade around town with some down time at home. "Can I get online?" is the familiar refrain. Like a good parent, I keep the computer right in the middle of the house so I can monitor their activities. I look over my son's shoulder to see who he's instant messaging with … some girl in his grade named LilAngel.

"I'm SO bored," he writes.

"God, me too. …" she replies.

I go into my "no one needs ever to be bored" diatribe that includes mention of books, fresh air and even a concession to television. He grunts a response that sounds like "Mom, you just don't KNOW."

Is it that kids cannot handle unstructured time? Must they be doing something every minute? I know that at this age, being with friends is key, and I respect that, but the freakout that is displayed if they are denied access to peers seems disproportionate. I've tried to explain that, in fact, other families are spending time together, too. They are also going to visit old friends. They are also having dinner around a dining room table.

I must say that the wide two-week abyss has had some redeeming moments. One night my daughter and I sat on my bed and assembled our Happy New Year's cards that we sent out the day after Christmas. We talked and laughed about our dog and something goofy on television. Another night, I was reading "Olive, the Other Reindeer," and my cynical, sarcastic son sat next to me on the sofa and silently read it over my shoulder. He'd deny it, but I saw him doing it. I think this kind of stuff is called quality time. Whatever it is, I'll take any connection I can find to these children who used to be content playing with Lego and funny dress-up clothes. Until the invisible crazies who have snatched my children's personas for their adolescence return them to me in a few years, any quiet, shared moment will do. S

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