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Calling all working moms: What are your rose-smelling secrets?

People keep asking me if I had a nice birthday. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want to be that person—you know—the one who answers a positive question in an unexpectedly negative way and then causes an unnecessary, awkward silence. In my opinion, if I do that enough, I will lose friends…or at least acquaintances, who will do what they can to steer clear of the pessimism and uncomfortable situations I create. After all, who wants to talk to a big complainer anyway?

So, back to my 32nd birthday. It was okay, I guess. I spent the majority of the day at work planning an interesting project, then took my son to a pediatrics appointment that lasted way longer than it should have (hours), and afterward de-stressed at a kickboxing class in the evening. My husband bought me pink roses (my favorite) and a pint of the best hot fudge in the whole world (disgustingly enough, yes, I eat the hot fudge by itself—to me, that is a much better treat than a sundae…although I definitely enjoy a good sundae every once in a while too. And, no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t eat the whole pint at once…that would be disgusting.)

All in all, it was a fair day. And, I was accepting of its mediocrity at the day’s end, because I had taken off from work the next day (Friday, the day after my birthday) to celebrate with a three-day weekend and plans to spend some much needed quality time with my son, stepson, and husband…who I feel like I hardly ever see anymore between working every day, going to the gym, and just taking care of life’s miscellaneous, like grocery shopping and paying bills and keeping the house livable.

My first day off (Friday) ended up being pretty much like every other weekend or vacation day I take- somewhat stressful and less than fulfilling.  I spent too much of the day thinking about what I should be doing with my time (like the stuff I mentioned above, plus laundry, dishes, dusting, mopping, packing up clothes that don’t fit the boys anymore, etc). Although I did take care of some of those tasks, I didn’t achieve as much as I could have…because all I could think was, “this is my special day off, and I should be spending time on things I really want to do (like beading, drawing, blogging, shopping, or reading).” I didn’t do any of those things because I felt guilty that I should be doing housework.

Amid over-thinking what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my time and then disappointing myself with not accomplishing much of anything useful or fun, I spent a good amount of the day chasing a toddler around the house as he tried to climb the oven and all the safety gates in our home, pull our air conditioning units out of the windows, jump off the couch, and dive into the toilet.

Sidenote: as much as I’m bitching that I got nothing done, I did do the laundry, the dishes, and some organizing in my bedroom. I took my little guy on two walks in the beautiful weather, and I taught an aerobics class in the afternoon. I cooked two meals from scratch (which I never do), and I relaxed with a glass of pinot noir and an hour of Netflix with my husband before I hit the sack. Looking back on that, on top of the roses and hot fudge, I can’t say it was a bad day. Yet, I was far from satisfied with it. It felt like a busy, but mostly unproductive day, in both the ways of housework and of relaxation. Maybe my standards are too high?

Day 2 (Saturday) was much better. I stopped thinking so much and just got to doing, both necessary things—like paying bills and cleaning—and fun stuff—like going to the park and shopping (as a family). By today (Sunday, day 3 of my three-day birthday weekend), I finally feel satisfied. I can say honestly that the weekend was everything it should have been—productive and relaxing. I accomplished a good part of my to-do list, and I got plenty of playtime with my stepson and son, snuggle-time with my son and husband, and even a little me-time to exercise and blog.  I truly feel ready to start the workweek.

But…why do I do this to myself—why are days off such a stressful mix of worrying about the best ways to spend my time and of feeling guilty and unsatisfied about how I end up spending it? Two-day weekends just don’t seem to cut it for me anymore. They’re simply not long enough to prepare me mentally for the week to come. Unfortunately, I don’t see myself having anything more than those two days weekly away from work anytime soon. So, what’s the solution? Any suggestions from anyone out there? I think I asked a similar question the last time I took a vacation (and felt like I needed a vacation even more when I returned.) I got some good suggestions then about putting a little vacation into everyday life. Maybe I’ll compile and post a list about the working-moms juggle if I get some more ideas…how do other working moms make the most of the time when they’re not at work?

In the meantime, for the first time since I got them, days ago, I just noticed the amazing scent of my birthday roses, sitting on the table next to me. If that’s not a reminder of the importance of answering such questions as the one above, then nothing is. However, instead of spending the last couple hours of my precious weekend searching for an answer, I’m going to enjoy some chardonnay and a little cuddle time with my hubby before the cycle re-consumes me, starting tomorrow when I go back to work. Cheers.

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?