What is vacation?

I’m not very good at relaxing on vacation. In fact, I’m not very good at relaxing period. In spite of several concentrated efforts over the years to mellow out, I’ve always been high strung. I’m not always stressed; in fact, I’m often in high spirits and energetic. It’s just that I’m hardly ever calm—I sort of swing back and forth between feeling absolutely fabulous and feeling fully frazzled. The only times I’m really relaxed are after a glass or two of red wine or maybe during those last few minutes before I dose off to sleep at night. Vacation isn’t much different for me.

Heading to Ohio to visit my family and friends is the way I’ve spent nearly all the time I’ve had off from work since I moved to Connecticut in 2002. Living thousands of miles from the relatives I love and the irreplaceable friends I’ve made through the years is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And, it’s especially difficult since having children—there’s a large part of me that wants them to have everything I had as a kid. I want my Jacob to grow up camping and boating with all his cousins and celebrating holidays and birthday parties with kids screaming and running around and breaking things, and adults laughing and cooking and complaining in the background. To say the least, I jump on any opportunity to go back to my Ohio, and I end up making the trip by car at least two or three times each year.

However, when I return from a “vacation” to my hometown, I have mixed feelings. I’m thankful that I get to see a few of my good friends and family. It’s especially nice to visit with my grandma, who probably doesn’t have a lot of years left in her, and my dad, who is one of my favorite people in the whole world (and who is so proud to be a grandpa). It’s also nice to reminisce and catch up with my aunts and uncles and my old friends who have kids now too. But, the trips don’t feel very vacation-like—because they’re so jam-packed! It’s breakfast with X, lunch with Y, coffee at the Zs’, and dinner and drinks somewhere else. It’s hardly a vacation in the typical sense of the word. Sure, it’s wonderful in its own way. I just hate how it leaves me after the vacation longing for downtime and a break in the same way I was longing for it before I left. These go-go-go getaways tend to stress me out even more than my day-to-day life. When I return from vacation, I often find myself saying “all I need is a vacation.”

So, what’s the solution? What do others—who live miles away from their family and who actually enjoy spending time with them—do for their vacations? I’m looking for some help here, so please send me a note if you have suggestions. I have three main thoughts about the whole thing: (1) more of my friends and family members need to come visit me (I mean it, if you’re reading this) (2) I need to plan my vacations a little differently, and (3) maybe I need to squeeze a little more of the relaxation part of vacation into my everyday life.

Although I have little control over who visits me (did I already say that you are all welcome to stay at my home and eat my food and enjoy Connecticut without a care in the world if you come out this way?), I have control over #2 and #3 above. Here are some thoughts:

How to get the most out of vacations

1)      Carve out time for rest and relaxation. Schedule a day or two without visits, between days that are crazy busy. Or maybe only schedule one activity per day and plan to relax for the remainder of each day.

2)      Clean before leaving. Although I could spend several whole vacations cleaning my house and still not be satisfied, I think it’s good practice to at least straighten the surface of things so it isn’t overwhelming to return home. Although I did the laundry (mommy’s job) and my husband did the dishes and took out the trash (his jobs) before we left, we were greeted post-vacation with floors begging to be mopped, toys everywhere trying to trip us, and the whole place needing some major work. That is not a good place to be after vacation. Even if I had felt refreshed (which unfortunately, I didn’t), the mess alone would have ruined that.

3)      Pay the bills, and catch up on mail beforehand. Again, this one came crashing down on me as soon as I stepped inside my home. A huge stack of bills and mail needed my attention before I went back to work. I spent at least 2 hours sorting through envelopes and on the phone with automated billing to utility companies the day I returned.

4)      Spend some time outdoors. This is a biggie for me. And, I should know better than to spend the majority of my vacation inside air-conditioned hotel rooms, houses, restaurants, and fitness centers. I grew up fishing, hiking, swimming, biking, etc. Outside in the open air is what I love and where I’m happiest. I lose sight of that all too well.

Better yet: How to squeeze a little vacation into day-to-day life

1)      Read a book or magazine for fun. Did I mention I read my first magazine in several months last week while on vacation? (And, it was while I was on the elliptical machine, and I only got about half of the way through.)

2)      Connect more with family and friends by phone, email, and Skype. That way, maybe I won’t miss them so much and run to Ohio whenever I have a day off….maybe.

3)      Go to the beach or the park after work or on the weekends. The outdoors just feel vacation-ish, no? Maybe it’s just me.

4)      Have a special dessert or a drink more often. I need to stop saving hot fudge sundaes and red wine for vacations and my birthday. I think there are a few good non-vacation days here and there that deserve them.

5)      Have friends with children over to the house. I’m all about healthy background noise… that sure beats the television (which we don’t have).

6)      Eat a home-cooked meal. Slowly. I’m always eating Luna bars or microwaved frozen meals or canned soup or something else quick and easy. My aunt made an amazing meal for us last week—pulled pork, homemade coleslaw, and old-fashioned macaroni and cheese (not Kraft from a box). Not only was it delicious, but we took our time eating it. We actually had a conversation over dinner. I hardly ever do that.

7)      Exercise outdoors. I almost always go to a gym to get any sort of exercise. Why not spend that time taking a walk or jog outside?

8)      Watch a child play and explore. This one goes along with the last a little..because being at ease when a child is playing is much easier if outside. At home (in our hotel room, at others’ homes, in public, etc.), I spend so much time blocking my little guy from making messes or having accidents that I’m hardly relaxing and just letting him explore. The other day at the beach, we found a shaded area in the grass, and I took him out of the stroller. He picked up a shell and pulled up a few blades of grass and did all sorts of creative things with them. It was so interesting and relaxing to watch him examine the shell and the grass from all angles and then to combine them into miscellaneous games. (He put the grass on the shell and walked with it, stuck the shell in various holes in a nearby park bench, dug into the mud and sand with the shell, and of course, as he does with everything now, brought the shell toward his mouth while shaking his head “no”—mimicking me when he tries to put objects in his mouth. It’s adorable actually.)

Any other ideas? Please. I need them…in a serious way…especially for sneaking a bit of vacation into my every day. Like I said, it takes a lot for me to find inner calm before, during, and after vacations. I’m always wondering where I can find me my mellow. Maybe it’s time to stop saving up for the couple of weeks each year labeled vacation and instead start doing the things now that soothe the soul?

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Posted on July 7, 2011, in The Balancing Act and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I completely understand not relaxing while on “vacation”. I haven’t been on a real vacation in over 2 years but somehow I still don’t have much vacation leave at work. I end up taking random days off and then cleaning or catching up on TV instead of going to a park with Owen or just sitting outside and enjoying nature. Just recently, I’ve decided that I was going to try to take a walk with Owen every couple of days…he loves it and I love it AND it good exercise/stress relief so why wasn’t I doing it before!!! Also instead of sitting in the living room all weekend long playing with him (which is fun), it would be better to plan something like going to the park or a friends/family member’s house. Just to get a little variety every once in a while. Based on our wonderful and enjoyable discussions while you were in Ohio, I’ve also decided that sometimes I need to put myself first and relax with a drink and a book sometimes and let other people handle the babying, cooking, cleaning, etc.
    So back to the topic…another suggestion for your vacations, would be to schedule a couple of days to jam in visits with family and friends but then follow that with a few days where you can go to a lake/park get a cabin and just relax before heading back home.

  2. Sandy Katulak

    It was so nice to see you last week. And Jacob is a little doll! I thoroughly understand your dilemma. You want to see everyone but you also need some time for yourself. Maybe one idea is to have a semi-reunion (I’m always happy to host if I have advanced notice) so that you can see all of your family in one afternoon. I realize you wouldn’t get lots of one-on-one time with any one person, but it would be a way to see all the family at one time. And, to your point, family members should also visit you! Another idea is to leave Jacob with the family for a night or two so that you and your husband can have some real R&R. There is enough of us (family) around that we can share the responsibility plus we would love having a little one around!

    You could do the same with friends – – arrange a happy hour for all those that can make it. Again, maybe you give up a little one-on-one time but at least you get to see everyone and aren’t so stressed running all around.

    A great way to have vacation time throughout the year is to schedule mini-trips on weekends. And when I say “trip” I mean locally. Joe and I used to take the kids to parks, airports (to watch planes take off and land), fishing, the zoo, going out for ice cream, the library (many times libraries have programs geared toward young children), or just throw a blanket under a tree with snacks and lots of books. Being outside is always a great way for all to relax. But even on rainy or cold days we always tried to do something a little special (even as corny as moving the furniture out of the family room, piling up the pillows and popping popcorn and watching a movie). We would try to do our housework in one morning (or one day if needed) and allow time for the kids in the afternoon or on Sunday. I realize Jacob is a little young for some activities but you’ll be surprised at the changes he will go through in this next year which will free you up to do lots more!

    And speaking of housework, decide what is absolutely essential and try to relax up on other things that aren’t as important. For example, I have to have a clean kitchen but a little dust on my furniture isn’t hurting a thing! As your kids get a little older, they can help with some of the basic chores as a pre-requisite for a weekend outing. That seemed to work well for us – – they were always energized doing chores as they knew a fun outing was ahead. I know some people will limit the number of toys they allow their children to play with at one time (keeping others hidden so that they can rotate them in and out). This also would work to eliminate so much “toy” clutter. I never actually did this but it always sounded like a good idea.

    And the best thing is to surround your kids with other kids (again you’ll do more and more of this as Jacob gets a little older). They will then entertain themselves and will allow you time to visit with other moms or just relax a little. But I realize you’re not quite there yet with Jacob.

    Last – – your friend’s idea of shortening the family visit by a day or two and relaxing on the way home is a good one. Joe and I used to always do that (e.g. when visiting my brother we’d stay for a few days and leave lots of time for trips like stopping at Niagara Falls on the way home). There is nothing that says you need to spend your entire week with family!

    Anyway, hope some of these ideas helped. I think you will find that this next year with Jacob will be much easier than your first (in terms of finding some time for you and your husband). Good luck!

  3. Thanks, Jes and Aunt Sandy for your thoughtful comments!

    It was soooo great to see you both and spend time together! I love your suggestions– I need to plan things a little differently next time we’re in town AND incorporate some of these relaxing and fun things in my life now. I’m actually planning some outdoor stuff for this weekend–hoping the weather holds.

    Thanks again for your responses– will let you know if my life gets a little more balanced over time. 🙂

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