Those summer months!

School is somewhere you drop your kids during the day, allowing the parents to go off to work and earn enough money to pay the school fees and buy all the books and stuff the child/children need. In many, perhaps most, families both parents work because otherwise there’s not enough money for “stuff” and/or because mummy (or daddy) would go bonkers sat at home childminding. In most, perhaps all, jobs the company gives you what they think is a generous 5 weeks holiday a year or thereabouts. For some reason as yet unclear to me schools, those places you drop the kids so you can work, have a rather more laid back holiday regime involving a few odd weeks dotted around the calendar, like a winter break and then this massive 8 week stretch in the summer. I’ve heard excuses that schoolteachers need 8 weeks holiday in the summer because there’s a lot to do and the job is quite stressful. Maybe so, but not more so than most other jobs I would suggest so I think this is all just a lot of baloney regurgitated in the hope that nobody sees the truth and gives them the same holidays as the rest of the planet. I don’t think the kids need an 8 week break either.

It has to be said then that as a child minding service for working parents, school leaves a lot to be desired!

“Education!”, I hear you say. Well yes indeed, education. School and whatever follows should be cramming their little heads full of mildly useful stuff like “What’s the Capital of Nigeria?” or “How long will take the marble to come to rest at the bottom of the fish-tank?” but it should also be preparing the child for what happens when it is no longer cosseted by the establishment or parents – i.e. life. All they manage to squeeze into the weeks that school is actually open is the first part, a little knowledge, the three R’s, some socialising. What they appear not to have time for is the preparation for life part. I suppose that’s because they take so many weeks off and for the most part find themselves unable to “think outside the box (or curriculum)”.

It seems to me then that what the world needs, or at least Warsaw, is a system whereby they can teach your kids the usual stuff during “normal” school time and then with a little imagination they could fill at least 6 of those 8 weeks with the preparation for life part plus sport, fun….whatever. In doing so they would greatly enhance the kids education, keep the kids occupied and allow the parents to carry on working to pay the school fees without having to kombinować like mad to get through the 8 weeks so they can avoid taking the kids to work and hiding them in the disabled toilet.

I really can’t see why we don’t already have such a system? There must be enough people wanting to work and earn money to be able to cover the 8 weeks with teachers even if the regular ones insist on having this time to de-stress themselves and mark some homework. Kids like to be active and engaged all the time so I’m certain they would prefer it to being stuck with babcia in the woods being force-fed and told what to do and what not to do every 5 minutes. The parents for sure would like it as it does away with the summer of kobinowaćing and keeps a routine for them at all times outside of their 5 weeks of holiday. They’d also very much appreciate the extra knowledge their kids pick up during the summer. I could even suggest a few topics for the lessons for the under 10’s:

  • An appreciation of the concept of time. How long is an hour, minute, etc. Telling the time. The calendar…and so on. Why you don’t need to keep asking “Are we nearly there?”.
  • An introduction to money. Where it comes from, how to spend it, how to make more of it, understanding the value of things versus the cost….etc. Why mummy and daddy can’t buy everything all the time.
  • Feeding. Why you need to eat. What food is good and bad. Why you can’t live your whole life on sweets.
  • How to make friends and influence people.
  • Technology – everything from phones to computers, games to social networking to more specialised software. What is possible and how to do it.
  • Literature – understanding good and bad writing. Reading some good stuff.
  • Art & architecture of the world. Lessons in painting, pottery, weaving….
  • History and why we need to care about it.
  • Washing, cleaning – how to wash and clean everything including yourself. Also in introduction to things like filling a dishwasher, taking out the trash, feeding animals, tidying up the medicine cupboard, buying groceries…..
  • Fashion – elementary fashion sense, what goes well together and what doesn’t
  • ….etc

But no, I’m dreaming again. Instead of all that useful stuff we have this 8 weeks of medieval time-planning where the kids are dumped on us, the school gates close and it is up to us to work out how to manage the 6 weeks we are not spending on the Costa Brava, which invariably involves assorted relatives and, if you’re lucky, a kolonie (summer camp) or two. And all that brings us round to what we’ve been doing with Zosia this summer and why we’ve been enduring hurricanes and all the other ravages of the countryside every sodding weekend recently.

Dealing with Zosia this summer has involved a half-kolonie (day care) tennis camp for two weeks, a full-kolonie (summer camp) horse riding and dancing and another two weeks spent with babcia in the country cottage-in-the-woods. The latter two have meant that our routine was to work our asses off all week then on Friday immediately after work to pack a bag and head south to do battle with the countryside all weekend to then come back to Warsaw just in time to work our assess off all week again and so it continues!

The countryside is a dangerous place. All those images of dandelions wafting gracefully in the breeze and lambs skipping gracefully by are a lot of nonsense. What you’ve got is hurricanes, floods, lightning and kleszcz! That’s why we don’t all live in tents in a field these days but we have houses in a city, because people got fed up of the kleszcz and the hurricanes.

I kid you not when I say that every single weekend we’ve gone to the country the view from my driving seat every Friday at around 19:00 has looked like this:


Typical weekend weather in the country

That one was taken this Friday just gone when a hurricane hit us on the way out of Warsaw. The road from this point on was hellish, just a string of fallen trees, police, fire engines, smashed cars, flooded roads……and although it was pretty fierce it wasn’t that different to all the other weekends. When, 3 hours later, you eventually get to babcia’s cottage you find the electricity is out so no water (no pump), no lights, no nothing, so you might as well be living in a tent actually. Babcia’s neurosis has been on overdrive assuming we’ve been stuck by lightning, washed away in a mud-slide or driven off the road by demons from hell so she’s pretty wound up, just to add to the welcome feeling!

If you make it alive to the next day and decide to go for a walk in the woods you’re warned at least 20 times about the dreaded kleszcz! In English these are called “ticks” and they are blood sucking killers. Apparently, they can suck your blood at a rate of a litre a minute and so after about 7 minutes all there is left is a mummified version of you attached to a tiny little insect thing with an arse the size of a zeppelin full of your blood.

Blood-sucking killer kleszcz!

According to babcia, who recently had one removed, they live everywhere in the country but especially in oak trees. Oak trees are renowned for offering special summer rates to kleszcz so it makes you wonder what the marketing boys were thinking of when they named the new housing estate we keep seeing advertised as – Osiedle “Pod Dębami” (Under the Oaks). Might as well have named it “Osiedle Kleszcz!” and done with it. It is therefore essential to wear vintage German WWII metal helmets whenever walking in the woods in case you accidentally stray under an oak and are dive-bombed by No.3 Squadron Kamikaze Kleszcz Airborne. If the kleszcz don’t get you then you’re sure to be hit by a falling branch or bitten by an escaped rabid dog or just die of an overdose of fresh air or something.

Living in the cottage in the stormy summer months, which is in fact the only time anyone lives there, is like living in London during the Blitz. Every time the dark clouds gather there’s an elaborate routine of opening or closing windows, switching off mobile phones (because the lightning will find them and kill you), unplugging the TV, covering the table and chairs with a big plastic thing, moving the terrace furniture around and then going inside and hiding in the basement for a couple of hours. I can tell you, it’s a whole lot of fun!

The good news. The good news is that this was the last such weekend for a whole year! Hurrah! We’re off on holiday soon and then it will be back to the dull but blessed routine of Zosia at home, school, work and so on until Christmas. Thanks goodness we’ve survived another summer without harm, other than mental harassment.


15 thoughts on “Those summer months!

  1. Ian, you are so right about what is needed during those eight weeks off. I would add “Manners and common courtesy” as a subject matter. Originally, kids had eight weeks off to help with the harvests, in the days before child labor laws were enacted when the whole family had to work in the fields or starve all winter. For some reason, those eight weeks stuck and kids all over the world, apparently, are still free during the same months.

  2. Interesting read as ever but I’m kind of left wondering whether you had this viewpoint about school holidays when you were under 10?

    Whilst we may not have got 8 weeks in the summer we did get 6, half terms, easter, xmas, etc…..

    I know I looked forward to the holidays when I was at school.

  3. It’s funny but I’ve been trying to remember how I did feel about summer holidays when I was that age. Trouble is it was an awful long time ago.

    I think my mother didn’t work and so it was easier for my parents than it is for us. If one parent is at home it is a completely different situation. Or even, if there is another relative who positively enjoys looking after your children and puts the effort in to make the time they spend together productive and enjoyable, rather than just a chore and extra stress. But my point really is that the system should be such that parents such as us do not have to impose on relatives and friends if we, or they, don’t want that.

    Kids are, I think, always ready for a break from school but their enthusiasm for a break will depend on what they’ll be up to during that break. For Zosia for example, given a choice of school with her friends or stuck in the countryside with babcia she would probably choose the former. What’s needed is a sort of official version of “summer school”.

  4. There is “kolonie” or “polkolonie” Scatts. This is the Polish summer school, and this is exatcly where kids learn all those things you mentioned before. There are plenty of organisations (church, scouts, caritas, palac mlodzierzy and so on.) where volunteers spend time with kids.

    BTW. In Poland schoolteachers have 8 weeks holiday because this is a good “bonus” to keep them in their job. The people are well educated and could earn much more money in other jobs.

  5. America and Poland both have ten-week long school holidays. In Poland Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz is to blame – the one thing this former school teacher managed to achieve while in office was to extend to summer holidays from nine weeks to ten. According to something I read somewhere, ten weeks is too long and results in memory loss on return, so the first semester of the new school year is spent on catching up with what children have forgotten in the second semester of the old school year.

    Poland can’t afford to give its workers longer holidays. Shorter school holidays are the answer.

  6. Kleszcze. Consider their lifestyle. It takes three weeks for an adult kleszcz to make its way from the forest floor to a strategically-positioned branch overhanging a footpath or blackberry patch. Once there, the long wait begins. The kleszcz has infra-red detection sensors worthy of a heat-seeking air-to-air missile. Better in fact. And then it senses a mammal heading its way. Trigonometry kicks in. The kleszcz senses the optimal moment and releases itself from the branch GERONIMO! to free-fall onto a nice piece of exposed human flesh. Then a Long March to somewhere warm, dark and damp; an armpit or crotch will do. Then – drill through the skin, and suck that blood! Not a big problem if the kleszcz is healthy, but if it is infected with parasites, you will get mucholiopsypsypoza (see also: walking around indoors without slippers) and die an agonising death.

    So my trips to Polish forests in summer are spent hammering around on a mountain bike wearing a helmet, long-sleeved shirt and long trousers. And in 14 summers, so far so good. I just wonder how many kleszcze have either a) bounced off my helmet or b) released themselves off their branch too late, having miscalculated my speed. In either case, the evil little blood-suckers would then spend the next three weeks getting back up on to their perches on an empty stomach.

  7. Re. point 2 on your list of topics to be taught to kids: according to Alex, money comes from the bankomat. Dah, isn’t that obvious?

  8. you think you got problems. last night on the phone I noticed a huge dark spot on my ceiling. When I got off the phone I slowly stepped closer to look to see what the heck it was. at first I thought it might be a bat (the thing was huge) it sort of looked like darth vader in form. first I went and sprayed him thinking to either kill him or stun him so I could get a broom and knock the living daylights out of him. he flies away and disappears and there I am still trying to figure out what the heck it was, and night is approaching quickly. I can’t go to sleep with this thing in my apt. now what!!! then I heard him flapping his wings and get my broom and smash him a few times with it ..appears not to move and I grab him with some tissue and down the toilet he goes. Some kinda giant moth…I mean huge. at least now I don’t need to worry about some giant moth landing on my face or in my mouth while I am sleeping (that’s if I was able to)

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