Those of you with small children (or those for whom the passage of time has not yet blotted out the memories of hard times of having small children) will understand how sometimes a vacation is not really a vacation.
And those of you with the sort of jobs that don’t recognize the forty-hour workweek (or those for whom the accumulation of massive amounts of vacation time doesn’t actually mean that you are ever allowed to not be working) will also understand how a vacation is actually never really a vacation.
Yet, despite the fact that I have a small child, and despite the fact that I have one of those unreasonably demanding jobs (unreasonable at least in comparison to what they pay me), I still approached this summer with a certain sense of excitement at the fun, relaxed season ahead of me: I would take a few well planned days off from work! I would spend quality time with my daughter! I would swing in the hammock in my back yard and read more than two and a half pages of a book at one sitting!
Summer vacation used to mean becoming a local on a rotating circuit of Greek islands. It used to mean airports and suitcases and shopping for bathing suits that I was skinny enough to actually look good in. It meant stacks of books and cartons of cigarettes, a lot of Mexican beer and too much clear liquor of indeterminate origin. Summer vacation meant filling myself up with enough excitement and relaxation to keep myself feeling satisfied with life even during the droopier times of year.
This year summer vacation has meant:
- Stuffing two days worth of business casual clothing into a carry-on bag so I could skip the luggage carousel after my work conference and get home in time to put my daughter to bed;
- Drinking a light beer with my lunch at said conference and asking to have it placed on a separate tab so I wouldn’t get in trouble when turning in my receipts for reimbursement;
- Spending my anniversary waking up every two hours to make sure my daughter was neither concussed nor comatose after she commemorated her parents’ special day by running/falling face first into the corner of a bookshelf at school;
- Desperately trying to keep up with the overwhelming flow of emails and work from my job that barely allows an honest long weekend, let alone emergency sick days to care for my bruised and swollen child;
- Totally ignoring any email or text message inviting me to any sort of event that might even remotely require my appearing in public wearing post baby bathing attire;
- Continuing our months long search for appropriate new housing and a months long debate with my husband (and with my own better self) about whether or not we really would be better off moving deeper into suburbia but further way from our friends.
I am trying to make the most of it, and I am trying to find the upside to keep this long overdue post from seeming so darned down. I took three vacation days from work (pre-baby-face-fall) so I could work in peace from home. I put an out-of-office reply on my email and drank a prickly pear margarita off the books to celebrate my successful conference presentation on the fascinating topic of Transfer Credit Evaluation Process Redesign. My husband and I threw a poorly attended and, hence, thankfully low stress Fourth of July barbeque. I took away the pacifier and taught my daughter to put herself to sleep at night (sort of) all in the span of less than a month.
And there, of course, is my daughter. As fun as it was dancing to house music at sunset beach parties, there is nothing like Koukla stomping around to roots reggae or the new Daft Punk at the toddler dance parties we throw in our living room every afternoon. As much as I miss swimming endlessly through the Mediterranean Sea, it’s no comparison to the joy of Koukla splashing and kicking in the lukewarm spa at my parents’ house on the weekends. Vacation may not feel much like vacation anymore, but that life-satisfaction-recharge I used to need so desperately throughout the drudgery of my workaday routines just doesn’t seem as critical as it used to. I may not get any of that much needed relaxation, but the excitement is ever present – just in a very different form than I ever thought it would take.
I have a week of vacation coming up that has been glaring at me from my work calendar for the last month or so. Realistically, what is the likelihood that I might be able to unwind enough to justify actually calling those days off from work “Vacation Days”? Even if I am able to cope with all of the preparation that goes into being away from the office and all of the cleanup involved when I get back, there is no such thing as a vacation from motherhood – I either have to deal with the guilt of taking my child to day care when I myself get to take the day off, or I have to summon the energy required for twenty-four hour a day child care. I’m debating whether it’s worth it to take the time off at all.
Maybe, though, I’m all wrong in how I’m framing the debate. Maybe the question is not whether all of the effort involved in vacation is worthwhile, but whether I feel that I need a vacation at all. Life is okay right now. Maybe it’s not great, not the best it’s ever been, not memorable in every moment, but it’s okay. Right now I’m satisfied with what I have, even if what I have is bags under my eyes, chamomile tea before an early bedtime, and a drawer full of bikinis that don’t fit. And maybe right now, my life just isn’t something I really need a vacation from.