Children on vacation in Israel.
Children on vacation in Israel. Photo by Michal Fattal
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When we parents watch the marathon at the end of the summer Olympics this week, we will be able to relate well to the exhausted athletes as they stumble over the finish line.

Because August, in addition to being Olympic season, also represents the final leg of the marathon known as summer vacation for school-aged kids. Like the Olympic run for the athletes, it is an event that parents may be fully prepared for, know that they should really try to enjoy and fully experience, but yet, by the final laps, they are counting the seconds until it ends.

It always feels fine at the beginning of the race when school lets out. You head out of the starting gate, start trotting along, and everything seems pretty pleasant, and even liberating. You don’t have to wake up early and rush around getting kids organized for school, supervise their homework, or schlepp them around to afterschool activities. The older kids are happy being at leisure, the younger ones are usually attending some form of day camp that keeps them busy.

After a few weeks, the situation begins to deteriorate. The older kids, a month into their break, seem to be transforming into vampires, staying up late, sleeping all day, and spending all those waking hours glued to the television or the computer. Summer camp winds down.

This is the point at which it feels like time to get away and when I usually schedule our family’s trip to the U.S. to visit family and friends.

Note that I use the word ‘trip’ and not ‘vacation.’ As we all know, travelling with kids, especially with two or more children resembles a military operation, more than it does a ‘vacation.’ And anyone who has moved to Israel or anywhere overseas, knows that ‘home visits’ are particularly tricky to organize.

Because the plane tickets are ridiculously expensive, in order to justify the cost and the travel time, such excursions tend to be a long trip - lasting as long as at least one parent can afford to be away from work. In my city of Ra’anana, with its high percentage of families who immigrated to Israel from abroad from as distant as the U.S., South America, South Africa, and Australia, the streets are noticeably emptier in the summer. And because of the expense and the time away from work, you feel you must make the most out of every moment, have meaningful family experiences, to take the kids on educational outings, and of course, shop for every item you can’t find or is ridiculously expensive back home, all the while figuring out how your suitcases will get home (harder this year with newly draconian luggage limitations the airlines have imposed.)

It’s also an emotional and psychological pressure cooker - seeing everyone you want to see, take all the family member’s needs into account (one wants to be in amusement parks, one wants to shop, one wants to be glued to her iPod so she can read about the latest scandal involving the stars of Twilight.)

But who can complain? With all the stresses and strains, after all you are still away from it all, having fun, seeing people you love and miss all year, and being overseas has its built-in entertainment value, as far as keeping kids occupied is concerned.

The really tough part of the summer parenting marathon lies ahead - when we hit the wall in late August, after all structured activity - camps and travel - come to an end. Suitcases explode all over the house in a marathon of laundry and unpacking. Teenagers once again are vampiric - this time enhanced by jetlag - inseparably attached to their computer and television screens, while the younger kids beg to be taken to the intolerably crowded mall where the whole world is engaged in back-to-school shopping.

Amidst the chaos, huffing and puffing, the finish line of the school year in sight - we parents do our best to keep kids at least somewhat occupied and supervised so we can get back to work - and earn the money it will take to pay for all this summer fun next year.