So the kids headed back to school today, after their seemingly 6-month Winter Break.
When I was a kid …. it seemed like we got about 5 days off for Christmas. The way I remember it (which is admittedly not a certified fact) is we’d go to school until halfway through the 23rd or 24th and go back Jan. 2 — even if it was on a weekend.
Yeah, maybe I’m exaggerating, just a little. But I remember short winter breaks and long summers. I grew up in New Jersey, in a small, hilly town, and in fact, we DID have to walk uphill — and downhill — both ways. Usually through the snow.
But my kids just finished nearly a month off. Seriously, it was a three-and-a-half week break! Out in the teens, back in the teens — December 18 to January 13. That’s a ridiculous amount of time for kids who are supposed to be learning … and for parents who are used to having the kids in school during the day.
Nearly FOUR weeks! There are sitcoms that aren’t on the air that long.
Remember the lovely Heather Graham in Emily’s Reasons Why Not? One week.
There are pop stars whose careers don’t last that long — remember Hanson?
Politicians can be caught in a scandal, apologize and get re-elected in less time.
I’m just saying … it seemed like a long break.
We all love spending time with our kids …. but I know quite a few parents who were looking for school to start up again, say around the second of January. Or at least the 6th.
It wasn’t so much not knowing what to do with the kids.
It was actually doing it.
I know some families who travelled. I know some families who skied. I know some split families where the kids had time with each parent and other relatives. I know some families who thought this was a great bonding time with their kids.
Until around the three week mark.
After that, having the kids still at home got to be … like waiting for an injury to get better, or recovering from surgery. I’m not saying that to me, my kids are like a pain in the … anything, I’m just saying there are similarities. Eventually, no matter how much you’re enjoying the break … you’re really ready to stop taking the medication, and get back to your regular routine.
Not to mention the increased drain on the electricity. Because these days, wherever one or two or more kids are gathered and need to be entertained, there shall be electrical outlets. Video games, computers, stereos, televisions … all those electronic baby sitters soak up the juice.
When I was a kid, just like every day after school, I was outdoors as much as possible on Winter break. Which is how I wound up with my first broken nose.
Now that I think about it, the winter break break may have been the second broken nose — or, to be grammatically correct, the second time I broke my nose. Unlike many here in Southern California … I’m still walking around with my first nose.
It’s just been broken a few times. The first one was a baseball injury when I was 10.
We were at Little League practice, and the coach was trying to teach a new kid how to play catcher. I was on the field as a runner — a teaching moment for the catcher. As the practice pitch reached home plate, I left second base heading to third in a jog — a half-hearted steal attempt. A teaching moment.
At that point, the rookie catcher — let’s call him Cross-Eyes — apparently thought he was playing kickball, where as you may recall, you get a runner out by throwing AT him, even if he’s only halfway to third.
What he lacked in direction and understanding of the principles of the game, Cross-Eyes made up in velocity. His throw hit me in the left eye and nose, scraping the cornea and breaking my nose.
For one week, I had a grass stain on the white of my eye — grass from the baseball that transferred to the cornea. Which is understandably a squeamish detail for some … and really cool for others.
For two weeks, I had to wear a patch on my left eye, and trust me, in my neighborhood, there was nothing cool about the pirate look back then. I would have preferred to show off the grass stain.
I had a 30-minute respite each day — a single half hour I could remove the patch. I chose to watch TV during that time (foreshadowing my own kids pre-occupation?) …. and chose to watch … Speed Racer, what I considered to be the coolest show on TV.
By the time I returned to practice, I was the new catcher.
That was Spring. By the following winter, I had turned 11. The field across the street from my house, adjacent to the volunteer Fire Department, would usually freeze over during the winter, and made for a serviceable hockey rink — especially if the firemen sprayed it with water before a really cold night, making it even better ice.
They would often do that for us, because it was really in their interest if we played hockey there. If we didn’t, we might continue playing stickball, which often resulted in a broken window or two for the firehouse. Let’s just say there were a lot of Cross-Eyes in the neighborhood.
Anyway, there I am … late on the afternoon of December 23rd, playing hockey with my neighborhood friends. I’m playing defense, out in front of the goal. Here comes a breakaway, Louie or Football Head or Whopper is skating in all by himself, getting ready to take a slap shot.
I go skating toward him, wearing all the protective gear an 11-year-old hockey player needed back then: a sweatshirt. The kid winds up, I close my eyes waiting to absorb the puck with my still lean body …. and the world goes black for a minute.
Whoever took that shot … was not a great shooter — or had bad eyes … or had a grudge with me I was unaware of. He missed the puck completely. But he had exquisite follow-through, and connected solidly with my nose.
When I came too, there was blood everywhere, friends standing above me … and the voice of my mother, calling from the front porch across the street. “Miiiichael,” she yelled in her still heavy Alabama accent, even after 15 years of living in the northeast. “Are you ok?”
I had no idea how my mother happened to be out on the porch at that time, other than a mother’s instinct (or had I blacked out so long one of the kids went over there to tell her?) But I knew I didn’t want to quit playing … so I said yes, I was fine.
As soon as she had gone back inside, I walked over to the snow, buried my face in it for a minute, to stop the bleeding and freeze the pain … and then, kept playing.
Now, that’s not me being a tough guy, that’s me being a kid from that generation. There were two kinds of boys back then: boys, and crybabies. I’m not saying kids today are … softer. I’m just saying I never heard of a stress fracture, a nervous stomach, a growth plate injury or turf toe until I started coaching youth sports.
Anyway, we finished the game 15 minutes after it was too dark to see and I went home. My mother took a look at my nose, washed it for me, gave me some ice and told me to sit with the ice on my nose while she finished dinner — then she went back to attending to the other four kids.
The next day, my nose was worse. I was getting a good start on a couple of black eyes … but it was Christmas Eve, and I was on break from school: Party on!
Then the next day, if you’re following along, was the day of all days that as a kid you are NOT going to go to the doctor — Christmas Day.
First, where would you find one, second, why would you want to go? Just because you can now only breathe through your mouth?! As already established, I wasn’t no crybaby.
Finally, on the 26th, my mother looked at me when I came down for breakfast, and told me to go get dressed — we were going to the doctor’s.
He brings me in to his office, sits me up on the examining table, and starts to look. “Uh-huh,” he says, as he gently probes with a light and what felt like a foot-long screwdriver, already bringing tears to my tough 11-year-old eyes. “Uh-huh …”
And then, “Uh-OH.”
The doctor’s office was across the street from the hospital, which is where I wound up 30 minutes later. The doctor discovered an infection in my nose. Surgery two hours later, followed by a ridiculous bandage that made me look like a cross between Pinocchio and a bad science project made with popsicle sticks … and pudding later that night.
The nurses had woken me up, so I could watch a taped replay of the Jets in the playoffs.
All in all, I’d say I had it pretty good.
And I’m pretty sure, I still had at least two or three days before Winter Break was over.
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, an investigative journalist, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a joke writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities, an editor, and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 19 years, and has two teenage sons. Contact the author.