Mama Madison: The long vacation

A few more 'cold days' would have prompted homeschooling

It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero. All three kids sat glued to the Internet and watched rural districts, then Milwaukee public schools and finally next-door neighbor Verona fall. They were hoping the Madison schools couldn't be far behind.

The robo call we received at 4 p.m., indicating no early release, but a full day on Monday, really messed with their minds and spirits.

But at 5:10 p.m. it was official. And the kids had a new hero. Her name was Jennifer Cheatham, superintendent of the MMSD. She, with her trusted weather advisers, had made the call. School was canceled on what was supposed to be the first day back in class after a two-week winter break.

I breathed a heavy sigh of resignation. One more day of vacation for them. A day no one in our house really needed.

Now, I don't blame the MMSD administration for making the call to cancel. I'm not one of those "we are making kids wusses by canceling for cold" type of people. Especially when a lot of the kids in the MMSD don't have access to North Face, Sorel, SmartWool or other expensive gear that makes walking to school or waiting for a bus in below-zero weather a safe possibility.

But like many parents I know, I wasn't exactly thrilled about an extended winter holiday for the kids. I work from home and was looking forward to getting my "office" back to myself. But just as importantly, I really felt it was time for the kids to get back into learning mode. I have little doubt some significant brain cells have atrophied over the past two weeks. I blame Xbox Madden, Club Penguin and what appears to be my sons' desire to break the world record for continuous viewing of The Simpsons.

Yes, a book was cracked over break. The most recent edition of the Guinness Book of World Records to find out how many episodes they needed to shoot for.

So, last Monday I briefly considered dipping my (frozen after a two minute walk with the dog) toe into the world of homeschooling. If the kids, after all, were going to get a freebie day of vacation due to dangerous wind chills caused by a meteorological phenomenon called a polar vortex, shouldn't they have to do a little research on which poles were involved? Or at least be able to define vortex?

Maybe, I thought, they could do a history/literature crossover project on how Laura Ingalls and her family would have survived said polar vortex in either their Little House in the Big Woods or the pad on the prairie.

But instead, on the 17th day of vacation, the kids pretty much did more of the same. They just traded out Bart, Lisa and Maggie for their other favorite sibling set, Hayley, Alex and Luke of Modern Family.

Since they are "real people" as opposed to cartoons, I chose to call this progress.

And when I asked about the possibility of them pulling together a five-paragraph essay on how the Dunphys might survive a polar vortex, it was their turn to school me. "Mom, it would be more like five sentences. It never really gets that cold in L.A. Try earthquakes for a Southern California natural disaster."

So needless to say when we got word-via Facebook, Twitter, text, phone call and email -- that school would be closed again on Tuesday, my heart sank. I didn't even try to come up with a worthwhile educational project beyond tossing boiling water out the door to see it change to snow.

My kids definitely need teachers who are the real deal, real soon. Mrs. Krabappel and I are totally tapped out.

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