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Either way, it's a welcome change

If I'd wanted to have summer all year round, I would have stayed in Los Angeles. I didn't. I wanted seasons, so I came East and, come to think of it, also North, where when it's really cold you can comfort yourself with the thought that soon it will be warmer. And vice versa.

Eventually, we all complain a little when the heat gets to be a bit too much, though usually sometime in late August I have a moment of weakness when I consider the possibility that wearing shorts and T-shirts all the time is perhaps a good thing. But the feeling always passes on the first crisp autumn day, when suddenly a sweater is required.

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In the same way that I favor seasons, I'm also fond of summer vacation for kids. I don't think I'd do well on a year-round school calendar.

I think absence makes the heart grow fonder. I think kids need to miss going to school; that way, they want to go back. I look forward to the boredom that my children wrestle with, two-thirds of the way through their two months off. Boredom is the true mother of invention. (I should know. I'm a mother.)

By June I'm practically chomping at the bit, so very ready am I for school to be over, for the imposed structure of my children's schedule on my life to be lifted. I think we all need the lack of structure, whether we know it or not - a time to catch our breath and breathe deeply. If life is a merry-go-round, then there's no getting off. But at least in the summer, the horses start to saunter.

In our house, on our carousel, they do anyway. Work even shrinks a megabyte or two at my husband's office, allowing us all the occasional luxury of family dinners on weeknights, too. Last year, my kids didn't even go to day camp. We all read books, we all went swimming, we all hung out together as much as possible. For the first time, I didn't hire a baby sitter. (Why should I pay someone to ignore my children when I'll gladly do it for free?)

But by the first of September, I am almost giddy when I see those aisles and aisles of back-to-school displays at the supermarket and the stationery store. I would be a home-school disaster. I need to have my children do their learning somewhere else. I feel all my skills are taxed to the max just keeping them clothed and fed. And if you saw some of the meals I've cooked and some of the wardrobe choices I've made, you'd be glad my kids go to school, too.

Besides, by mid-July they've already heard all my jokes, which means seven weeks of summer repeats. When they're back in school, I can recharge, work on new material.

Also, by summer's end we're ready for some quality time - apart from each other. They find out who their teachers are, what classmates they'll have in the coming school year. They say they wish that summer would last forever, but we all know they don't really mean it. Endless summer would mean no trick-or- treating, no making cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving dinner, no Christmas caroling. Endless summer would be a bummer. I like things regulated. I like change. That's why I like the seasons and the school system.

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I also like renovation, which is a quality that has come in handy this year. Apparently every school in this great land of ours is undergoing a major overhaul, upgrade, or expansion. Our school is in the throes of a yearlong rebuilding project. We're determined to make the best of it, because the alternative is foolish. Why make the worst of it? Why not enjoy the upheaval? It won't last. Like the school year, it will end.

So I want to thank state and local governments for providing my kids with a public-school education and for making education mandatory. Because on those rainy, dark December days when my kids start whining, "Why do we have to go to school?" I can simply hide my smile as best I can, and say: "because it's the law."

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor