The Christmas presents have been opened, the New Year is almost upon us — and the seasonal balancing act for parents is well underway.

Eight-year-old Jabari Faubel is enjoying some needed downtime at home, the place his parents run their freight-brokerage business, which means his downtime conflicts with his parents getting actual work done.

“It’s always a struggle,” said his mom, Emily Faubel. “I think that’s the thing that’s really hard for me about Christmas break. It’s so needed for kids and I’m so happy Lincoln Public Schools blocks out time for kids. But so many parents work nontraditional schedules. It’s kind of a balancing act.”

The LPS winter break is between eight to 11 weekdays each year, depending on a number of factors. This year’s break is 10 weekdays, and because of the way the calendar falls — both Christmas and New Year’s are on Mondays — it means kids don't return to school until Jan. 8.

Over the past decade, LPS has scheduled a 10-weekday winter break eight times, but having one of the full weeks off after New Year’s is a bit of a rarity.

“It does feel like an awful long break because of the way it fell,” Emily Faubel said. “I was thinking ‘Oh, we have a long time left. I need to call and see what the Y pool hours are.”

LPS considers a number of factors when setting school calendars, including whether to bring kids back for a shortened week, said John Neal, assistant to the superintendent.

Starting a new semester means a short week is less disruptive for teachers than at the end of the semester, but in surveys, many parents say they’d prefer a full week off so they can factor in the weekends for travel purposes, Neal said.

Calendar planners also have to make sure the week-long spring break starts on a Monday and quarters are evenly divided. 

Bottom line: This year, coming back Jan. 8 worked out best.

“In the end, the committee chose to go with the longer winter break to avoid that shortened week,” Neal said.

The committee always debates the child care challenges working families face and travel plans others must juggle, he said.

“That’s one thing we go back and forth with,” he said. “It’s one of our toughest decisions.”

Child care is challenging for Kim Frey’s daughter and Wednesday, her husband was spending his day off with his two grandchildren.

“She struggles every time the school has off,” Frey said of her daughter. “It’s not just about having the time to find someone, it’s finding someone affordable.”

Wednesday, it was grandpa, who had a little time off work and put a bathroom renovation project on hold to shoot Nerf guns and get out the building blocks for his 9-year-old granddaughter and 6-year-old grandson.

Cooper YMCA in southwest Lincoln gets “tons” of kids over winter break, said Executive Director Tammy Poe, many in middle and high school who expend some energy in the gym, especially when the temperatures dip as low as they are this week. The YMCA also offers child care programs.

The Faubels try to find things for Jabari to do out of the house, yet still give him time to hang out in his jammies at home.

Emily Faubel likes the Children’s Museum programs because they offer fun activities and parents can sign up for just a day or two.

“Child care is expensive,” she said. “It’s nice not to have to commit to a whole week.”

Sara Gilliam, who has 8- and 3-year-old sons, likes the time off — but faces the same balancing act.

“It’s a chance to nest with my kids and just slow down, something we rarely do during the hustle and bustle of the school year,” she said. “I also believe that school in 2017 is challenging and very focused on academic achievement, and that kids truly do need decompression time to play and sleep and snuggle.”

That said, Gilliam’s 8-year-old was going stir-crazy before the sun set on Christmas Day. He's now signed up for skating lessons and a tennis day camp. 

Nearly all the elementary after-school programs at LPS offer child care during the holidays, and some of the schools combine their efforts over the break, said Nola Derby-Bennett, the Community Learning Center coordinator.

Bethani Proffitt’s husband works from home a few days a week and made sure he was home over break to care for their three children, ages 10, 6 and 5. The youngest will be in day care for some of the time.

While it’s challenging for her husband to work from home with the kids there, she appreciates the long break. This weekend they’ll be traveling to Kansas to spend time with extended family and if school were back in session, that would complicate those plans, she said.

For Faubel — who also has a teenage son and a daughter in college — the balancing act sometimes means she feels like she can’t give her full attention to anything. 

But having an extended break from nightly homework and packing backpacks for the next morning is worth it.

“Hands-down any stress it brings, I wouldn’t want to give it up,” she said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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