“Joburg is wonderful at this time of the year”. Half the people who make this claim are never here over December. The rest of us find it “wonderful”… half the time. Johannesburg used to grow blissfully tranquil at this time of year as locals flocked to the coast. We would enjoy hot but not humid days and thunderstorm-cooled nights. The roads were empty, and the drivers were unusually patient.
Lately, the roads don’t clear out as much as they used to. Taxi drivers are as impatient as ever (emboldened by the thought that the cops are on leave). And the rolling blackouts at the moment eclipse the holiday spirit (although they offer the chance for a rustic getaway in your own home).
Twenty years ago, we schlepped our three kids for the sixteen-hour drive to majestic Plettenberg Bay. Our return drive took twice as long when our car broke down in Nowhereville during the wee hours of a public holiday. We haven’t been back to Plett.
We have been privileged to spend a few Decembers, including last year, in Cape Town, our ideal destination. It is stunningly beautiful, large enough to find a private spot of surf without any Vaalies and offers all the kosher amenities that allow a vacation to be a vacation.
Most of our summers have been quiet at-home holidays. But Joburg in summer isn’t always “wonderful”. As the de facto Rabbi on Call, with most of my colleagues away, I’ve had to deal with some traumatic incidents. Shaina has spent time in the hospital over this period too. Even without the drama, some people feel this is the best time to get undivided attention from the rabbi (the same attention the rabbi’s family hopes for).
As December crept closer, people asked us if we would get away. We worked at full throttle this year to reconvene our community after Covid. Shaina had three hospital stays, including twelve days in ICU. We could use the break. But only two of Shaina’s siblings live at home. Of the two, we encouraged sixteen-year-old Sarale to take a counsellor job in Cape Town.
That leaves Naomi, Yudi (who is twelve) and me to entertain Shaina. A new dad recently explained why their family will be here in Joburg over the holidays. The thought of lugging diapers, bottles and other baby accessories convinced him it would be more relaxing to stay home. Shaina’s situation is similar. We’d love her to toss beach sand in the air and squeal in delight each time a wave washes over her toes. Last year worked because we got in and out before the hordes, and we had our older son Levik there to work his magic with Shaina. This year, the prospect of packing up her cache of supplies makes staying home attractive. I cringe at the thought of driving from location to location to find one suitable for Shaina.
As much as last year was a blast, it brought challenges. One day, we drove for an hour to pick strawberries but left after fifteen minutes because Shaina was overwhelmed by the crowd. Steering her stroller through the sand at the suitable beaches was nightmarish. Entertaining her in a hotel room over the eight hours of a summer Shabbos afternoon was draining.
Wherever we spend the summer with Shaina, fun as it might be, will not be restful. Children with unique needs do well with structure. School time provides her with a healthy framework that keeps Shaina happy. The holiday freedom means working double-time to keep her smile on. We will sing, dance, run around, pet animals, eat chippies and swim. Shaina will hopefully have a blast. And, when school resumes, we’ll need a vacation.