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Family vacationing on campus
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/5/2008 12:08 AM

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In a land long ago and far away, spring break used to mean a vacation to someplace warm, or maybe someplace cold if it involved mountains and skis.

If you have younger kids or just manage your lives well, you may still reside in that wonderland -- in which case you are most likely still on vacation and not in Naperville reading this.

Many of you who had to brave the chill to retrieve your newspaper from the driveway this morning may have older kids, kids who can create two spring break problems: spring high school sports and college visits.

Sometimes, the two go together -- you're stuck here with spring sports anyway, so you might as well sneak in a college visit or two, since you can't go on a "real" trip.

College and spring break used to mean something totally different, didn't it? Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale …

But back to the 21st century.

Last year we tried to pass off a college visit as a "spring break trip" to our youngest. She saw right through that one. Maybe if the college had been University of Arizona … but it wasn't.

I've visited enough colleges during spring break now to pretty much lead one of the tours or even the pre-application information session. (Apply early. You will be helped in someday getting a job because our university has many alumni to network with. Apply early. Pick the meal plan with a medium amount of food. Oh, and make sure to apply early.)

Spring break college tour groups are bigger, there are more siblings in them, they are a little more relaxed than groups other times of the year.

I now wish I'd collected a magnet from every school I've visited, or took a picture of each of the tour guides to … do what with? I have no idea.

But for that one hour, you get somewhat attached to them, though all you know is where they're from, what year they are, what their major is and if they can talk loudly and coherently while walking backward.

My kids asked me about the time I visited the college I attended. There was no tour, no information session.

How did you know where you wanted to go, they asked. Didn't seem to be a big deal at the time. I read a "College Review" book, I had visited the city the school was in years earlier and liked it, I went there with a friend and hung out around campus for a few days -- during spring break, now that I think about it.

Our spring break transition from wallowing in warmth to sports and selections came slowly. The first time, we left town late because of sports and spent half the week on college visits, the other half in a warm climate.

Our sunshine was phased out over a year or two to this year of all sports, with a Midwestern college visit shoehorned in. At least it was a sunny day. It was also the tour guide's first tour, but I gave her a hand.

We've found an upside or two to staying close to Naperville during spring break -- great parking spots available during high school sporting events and plentiful parking downtown. Not quite worth staying in town for … but close.

One other way to semi-rationalize the chilly "vacation" your family is having is to remind the kids how much money they're making taking care of the pets of all of the people who are gone on spring break.

For years we were the ones employing the stay-at-homes; now our kids are on the flip side. Eventually they may thank us.

Some day, we'll run out of colleges to visit or kids who need to choose a college or play a spring sport. As I ponder that, staying home doesn't seem so bad at all.

Joni Hirsch Blackman is a Naperville mom who lives on a cul-de-sac. Contact her at