Not too long ago, a friend of mine was preparing to go on maternity leave when a coworker asked her, “Are you looking forward to your vacation?”
You wouldn’t believe the outrage that spewed forth when she shared this coworker’s comment on Facebook. “Yeah, right, like going through labor & delivery is like lying on a beach!” “Oh no, she didn’t!” “Because two months of no sleep is a vacation?” “I would have punched her.” I don’t know the details of the situation or the intentions of the coworker – perhaps she was just making small talk and chose the wrong words – but the unanimous opinion of all the responders was resounding. Maternity leave is not a vacation.
Yet, it got me thinking. Maternity leave, an entirely too short period of time during which a woman’s body is ripped apart and an entire family’s little world is turned upside down with wailing, bone-deep exhaustion and around-the-clock busy-ness, is also a sweet and miraculous time of bonding, wonder and overwhelming emotion. It’s not a vacation, but it is a break, of sorts – a change of tempo – a momentary change of scenery. And when maternity leave is over, and a mother returns to “work,” that break is stripped away. So, is there a little tiny bit of truth to this vacation concept?
I didn’t take a maternity leave, really – I just left the workforce indefinitely. When I left the office, were there people that viewed me as stopping work and starting something easier, gentler, and less stressful? Something kind-of, sort-of resembling, in a vague kind of way, a vacation?
I’m going to draw attention to the elephant in the room now, and point out that I am, in fact, a stay-at-home parent, and I don’t have the responsibilities of the workplace on my shoulders. Many people in real life and online have hinted that my life is somehow easier because I don’t work. If there is an insinuation out there that I don’t have a job, then it follows that I must be on vacation of sorts. I’m not saying I agree with this logic, but I acknowledge that opinion exists.
Using a sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude, I decided to test the theory in my day-to-day life by acting as if my life was, indeed, a vacation. This summer, I said to myself, “Okay, maybe this is the time I should be taking advantage of the freedom from the office and maybe I should really appreciate and capitalize on the vacation-like qualities of my life.”
The Professor is 5 years old and Huckleberry Finn is 3, so let’s be clear right out of the gate – I’m not talking about an all-inclusive vacation in Cabo with endless cocktails, massages and naps every day. I’m talking a trek-along-a-carseat-and-stroller, keep-the-kids-occupied, relax-in-5-minute-snippets type of vacation.
Here’s what I tried to do: (A) visit local attractions, (B) eat great food, (C) maximize sleep and relaxation, (D) play outside, (E) go off the grid by ignoring technology, (F) see new things.
Here are some of my conclusions.
- It is possible to successfully be a tourist in your own town by visiting local attractions (A) and seeing new things (F), and in fact, it was so rewarding that I’ve kept it going. Not a week passes even now where we don’t visit a local attraction, be it a zoo, a museum or even just a playground we haven’t been to before. With or without kids, I think this shift in thinking and the act of “doing” is infinitely rewarding. How many people grow up in New York City and never see the Empire State Building? It’s a shame, and it’s a wasted opportunity. Every town has attractions. Seriously, every single one. There’s an aviation museum in my hometown that I never went to. I’m not sure I missed out on much, but … I’m not sure, because I don’t think I ever went.
- Great food (B) is an easy way to add joy to every single day. What’s the point in saving our favorite meals for special occasions? A Tuesday night is just as worthy of my best recipes as a Friday evening.
- On vacations, there is an urgency to get outside and see the sights of the new place you are visited, and I think we should have that sense of urgency in our hometowns, too. Time spent in nature (D) is universally healing. Making a concerted effort to get out of the house doesn’t actually require much effort at all, and it makes everything better. My little men smile and laugh more, I breathe easier, our bodies become lighter and more flexible, our minds become more clear, and everything seems colored in a different sort of light after we’ve been outdoors.
- I use my phone (E) way too often. I often reach for the phone to check the time, a seemingly benign activity that should take a couple seconds at most, and I get pulled into the labyrinth of text messages and Facebook notifications and emails that sucks me out of reality for many minutes. Sometimes it even distracts me completely from the task at hand and sends me spinning off uncontrollably. It doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t need to have my phone on me all the time and risk being sucked into the vortex. It’s an area I really need and want to work on.
- It’s not realistically possible to go off the grid (E) completely for more than a week. To find a great recipes (B), I had to look online. To find coupons for the Botanic Gardens, I had to search the internet. To plan fun outdoor playdates, I had to text my friends. The “stuff” of life goes on, whether you pretend it does or doesn’t. Further, the laundry still needed to be done, the food still needed to be purchased, and raising the children took the same considerable amount of effort as always. The business of life kept going, despite my attitude of “vacation.”
- Maximizing relaxation and sleep (C) is easier to say than to do. After the littles go to sleep, I have approximately an hour before I need to fall asleep myself without being a zombie the next day. I’m not willing to give it up for extra sleep, and the business of life really must go on.
My life really isn’t a temporary vacation. It’s a permanent, joy-filled thing. It’s messy and stressful and wearily exhausting at times – but it’s also sweet, and fun, and full of little moments of relaxation, bonding and laughter.
Maternity leave is not a vacation. Semi-permanent stay-at-home parenting is not a vacation, either. But, maybe there is a takeaway here.
We can add vacation-like things to our lives, and increase our enjoyment of life every single day. And it doesn’t even require a boarding pass.