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How I Spent My Summer Vacation III

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September 14, 2022
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Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end of summer, which technically doesn’t end until September 22. But I prefer to bypass this date in preference to the Starbucks calendar: Once the coffee giant rolls out its annual pumpkin-flavored beverages, summer’s end is forced on us once and for all.

Of course, I felt ridiculous as I recently tried to blow on a boiling cinnamon and pumpkin concoction I had ordered during a heat wave in Los Angeles.  It was a blistering 99 degrees outside. Still, according to corporate America, which also ensures that Halloween-themed products are on the shelves by mid-August, summer’s over. 

Some readers may have noticed that for the past few years, I’ve written an annual column devoted to my summer exploits. The first, published in the thick of the pandemic in August 2020, was titled, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” and highlighted my attempts at growing corn on my cramped and polluted Pico-Robertson balcony. In hindsight, I may not have possessed stellar mental health that summer. 

The second column, published in September 2021, was titled, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Again,” and described my attempts to grow mini-watermelons on my balcony while also incessantly fighting with a local squirrel. In hindsight, I still hadn’t recovered from the mental toll of the pandemic. 

I’m thrilled to share that this summer, the only thing I grew, and grew aplenty, was a robust mustache above my upper lip, which I neglected to trim due to my total inability to multitask work and family obligations. And, for the first time, I enrolled my young children in extracurricular activities, which meant that I always came last.

Yes, this summer, it finally happened: I officially became an unpaid chauffeur. Naturally, I’d been driving my kids, who are four and six, around town for years, but the frequency of unpaid driving time that occurred this summer was particularly impressive. It wasn’t uncommon for me to drive my kids to appointments or playdates at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., noon, 4:30 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. And when we arrived home, there were only two questions on my kids’ minds, which they vocalized repeatedly: “When’s dinner?” and “Can we watch something?”

My only respite from serving as an unpaid Muber (“mother” and “Uber”) driver was granted each Shabbat, when, for 25 hours, I was able to stop driving and instead, serve Shabbat dinner, breakfast, lunch, snacks and another early dinner while folding many loads of laundry and begging my children not to use the lint roller on each other’s faces.

Here’s a little secret: Not all families associate summer with fun vacations and juice boxes by the pool.

Here’s a little secret: Not all families associate summer with fun vacations and juice boxes by the pool. Many mothers, particularly those who work and lack enough access to childcare, dread the end of school and mentally prepare for summer as though they’re about to face a short-term prison sentence. We love our children more than anyone, but we also know we won’t have any privacy in the bathroom again for three months. 

I was blessed to be able to enroll my kids in camp for over a month, so that summer was passing along in a tolerable fashion until late July, when our youngest son woke up in the middle of the night with a fever that lasted a miserable seven days. He also endured nonstop headaches and stomach aches. Our pediatrician believed that he had contracted an adenovirus which mimicked the flu (both flu and COVID tests continued to yield negative results). Suffice it to say, he missed an entire week of camp, which meant that I missed an entire week of work and mustache-trimming.

The day that our youngest child fully recovered and returned to camp, our oldest one began showing symptoms of adenovirus. In his case, he was also afflicted with viral pink eye (as part of the virus) and endured eight days of fever, as well as flu symptoms. He also missed an entire week of camp — the last week, in fact, which included an ice cream sundae party and a visit to Universal Studios. Naturally, I missed another week of work and tried my luck at pulling out my mustache with the lint roller. 

And then, exactly 10 days after adenovirus entered our home, I woke up one morning with a hideous bout of viral pink eye that, amazingly, was exacerbated with a severe allergic reaction to an eye drop. My left eye (and cheek) were so swollen that it almost closed shut; I looked as though I had been punched with brass knuckles. I spent the next seven days donning large sunglasses indoors, as though I was a celebrity. According to our pediatrician, this virus has an unbelievably long incubation period.

Parents (and especially mothers) train themselves to “check off” as many personal and professional tasks as possible before camp ends, because we know that once camp does end, our kids own us. 

Parents (and especially mothers) train themselves to “check off” as many personal and professional tasks as possible before camp ends, because we know that once camp does end, our kids own us. And I was really counting on my kids enjoying camp until August 5. Thanks to adenovirus, they actually finished two weeks earlier. Let’s just say I wasn’t ready for their early arrival. And each day, the tantrums seemed to increase. It was intolerable.

Eventually, the days began getting shorter and our family kissed summer goodbye from the comfort of a booth at a local kosher Persian restaurant during Labor Day weekend. I knew it was time for my children to stop being home with me when our four-year-old had a complete meltdown because I had only ordered beef kabob, rather than his preferred chicken kabob. 

As he screamed and other diners stared, he offered his first threat: “If you don’t get me chicken, I won’t be Persian anymore!” I turned to him, pointed to the robust mustache above my lip, and said he would always be Persian. 

His next threat was even more serious: “If you don’t get me chicken kabob, I’m not going to be part of our family anymore!” I turned to him once again and gently asked if kabob was more important than family. His grimace said it all. 

Finally, he whimpered, wiped the tears from his eyes and proclaimed an eternal truth: “But Mama, chicken kabob is life.”

And that’s how my summer ended. The next day, my kids were off to school with chicken kabob and Persian rice in their lunchboxes. I drove back home, poured some liquor into my morning cup of coffee and commenced writing this column.


Tabby Refael is an award-winning LA-based writer, speaker and civic action activist. Follow her on Twitter @TabbyRefael

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