Monday, December 11, 2006

Winter Break

by Mouse

For every year but one,* I have lived on an academic schedule. Even before I started school, both of my parents worked at the university, so our vacation times were determined by dates of finals and the start of a new semester. Until our family grew to a point where it became too expensive to fly to visit out extended family,** Winter Break was our chance to go see everyone. Since one side of the family is Jewish, the other Christian, we never had to worry about conflicting dates.

By the time I got into junior high, Winter Break often meant having some work to do, maybe a book to finish, a rough draft of a paper to write, a double set of math problems to complete. High school was similar, though the expectations grew: entire books to read, papers to write, projects to do. But I never really minded. Winter Break meant having the siblings and parents home most of the time; it was good to have an excuse to retreat to my room for some quiet. Plus, being the big nerd that I am, I actually enjoyed the work.

When I went to University and during my first graduate school experiences, I gained some freedom during the holidays. Since our final exams took place in the second and third weeks of December, my semester obligations were over by the time residence closed for a month. Sometimes there was some independent work I could work on, but mostly I devoured books of the non-required sort. The one exception occurred the year I had a professor who did us the “favor” of setting the research paper’s deadline after the holidays; as a result, it became the focus of much of that time.

As a teacher, I continued to have a good amount of time for myself during Winter Break. Where I taught, exams were set for the week before vacation, and I would almost always grade them that same day. I would bring the raw data from my gradebook with me so that I could start figuring grades—which wouldn’t be due until mid-January anyway—but I didn’t have to do that work. Since we weren’t allowed to assign work for our students over the break, I didn’t have to worry about a backlog of work after break, so I could afford a little fun time.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that now, as a graduate student again, I find myself with work that will hang over my head for the next few weeks, occupying a corner of my mind in the midst of the festivities. If I get myself organized before we head back to the States, I may be able to take care of two of the three major items that come due in early January. But the exam scheduled for January won’t budge. And so I will need to find a balance over the next few weeks—taking moments to enjoy my family and our traditions while remaining disciplined enough that I get to work when less important things are happening, e.g. putting things down for the menorah lighting, but finding a quiet place to study when A Christmas Story comes on.

It hit me towards the beginning of this holiday season that I have little recollection of holiday preparations in Toronto from last year—I had a similar schedule, plus we were looking for a new place to live. I must have been walking around with blinders on. I haven’t had a chance to be much more observant this year. But next year. Hopefully next year, when I’ll be well into a new stage of my program and when we may host the in-laws up here, I will finally get a chance to discover Toronto’s holiday spirit. I’m storing up all the good suggestions and will join the holiday celebrations with abandon.

*The one year I worked in the corporate world. And I was hyper-aware that entire year of what I was missing.

**We then switched to three weeks in August so that we could drive to see everyone.


Mouse is: a mother, a lesbian, a graduate student in the Humanities, an American in self-imposed exile, an observer, an introvert, and an expert in Thomas the Tank Engine and Mighty Machines.


Her Bad Mother said...

I'm feeling VERY fortunate that I don't have much to do this break. Well, there's much that I COULD (should) be doing, but in terms of solid obligations, these are few. Come January, however, things will be different - papers, grading, lectures to prepare. All this, AND my own work. SO I should get started now. but I won't, because I'm silly that way.

metro mama said...

I am enjoying a very lovely hiatus. It sure is fun to read stuff that's not required reading.

sscribe said...

Its only since my son has gone to school that I am into the "winter break" mode and school schedule of things ... which I kinda prefer to the 12 month non-stop pace I used to keep. Hope you have some time to enjoy the holidays!

something blue said...

Oh how I would love a winter break. It's such a busy time of year and I get so down on myself when it escapes me.

Enjoy your celebrations!