What is Vacation?
For me, vacation is when I have time. Time away from daily routines. Time to listen to the people I love. Time to speak to the people I love. Time to do something different and new. Time to do something familiar and comforting, but with a fresh approach.
With limited time and money for vacations, we have worked hard to make vacations a priority, planning meaningful family vacations that are an opportunity to nurture and connect, a time to take a break from our overscheduled daily lives and have fun together, and a source of memories, especially for our children’s memories of their years with us. Our vacations fall into a few categories. The visit to family and friends. The annual ski trip. And lately, our sailing trips, with my children and I learning to sail to find out if we share my husband’s passion.
For Spring Break, we traveled to the British Virgin Islands, chartering a 35’ sailboat for a week. (We’re pretty sure it was the smallest boat in the Caribbean that week.) We lived on the boat and crewed it ourselves for the week in what I expect will be the last official family vacation before our daughter goes away to college. My husband planned the trip. I was calm and cool (or pretended to be). After all, it was the third time we’d done this trip. But let’s face it, I have to work hard at being calm and cool and having fun is not something that comes easily to me.
What am I Going To Wear?!
Two days before vacation, I spied the cutest pair of white shorts in the store window of a local boutique. I had to have them! They were perfect. I suddenly realized that the vacation wardrobe I had decided would be fine was completely lacking in the perfect pair of white shorts and that I could not possibly have a good vacation without these shorts, not to mention the elegant gray tunic that would look perfect with my white pants. I should probably get that too. This panic over what to wear was vestigial anxiety, left over from old patterns that I’ve outgrown, but which rears up when I am under stress. For every special occasion of my life, I have dealt with my anxiety by shopping for the perfect outfit. If I had the perfect outfit, then I would: fit in; be liked; be admired; be confident; hide my flaws; mask my anxiety. I would impulsively buy whatever specific item was going to solve all my problems this time, only to regret the purchase later and still feel anxious and dissatisfied. Recognizing the old familiar anxious pattern, I did not buy the white shorts nor the elegant tunic.
What If We Die?
One day before vacation, my daughter whispered that she had a sore throat. I groaned. A cold. But then I panicked. What if it’s not just a cold? What if it’s strep and we can’t get to a doctor for antibiotics? Should we run around like lunatics the day before vacation and get a prescription? What if she dies? (I had a childhood friend who died of strep while on a family vacation when she was the age of my daughter. It Could Happen.) Recognizing the old familiar anxious pattern, I breathed, and told myself to STOP. I was overreacting and being illogical. (I did watch the safety video on the airplane, identifying the exits and locating the flotation devices.)
After my overt anxiety dissipated, I transitioned to a mixture of envy and judgment of my fellow tourists, who I deemed either fabulously wealthy, which made me jealous and feel inferior, or crass, loud and obnoxious drunks who didn’t respect the local culture nor the natural beauty, which made me scornful and feel superior. Neither feeling of inferiority or superiority, of measuring and comparison, allows for much social connection. Either way, on this third trip to the BVI, I was more acutely aware of how the tourists and the locals rubbed up against each other. Paradise?
After the long travel day with 15 hours of taxis, planes, a ferry and customs; after our first day adjusting to cooking, sleeping, bathing and peeing on the boat (I try to poop only on land), oh and not to mention sailing; after our first quiet morning with coffee on the boat and our first evening watching the moon rise and looking for shooting stars, I began to settle. It usually takes me until Tuesday. To get out of my head. To focus on someone other than me, myself, and I. That is the antidote to anxiety. Focus on other people. Finally, with time to observe and listen to the people I love, I saw what was really going on.
My daughter was grappling with where to go to college. Not just where, but what kind of curriculum she should undertake. If she pragmatically decides to take the path of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – underrepresented with women – what happens to her love of popular music, fashion, and pop culture? Can she be both a girly girl and a wicked smart engineer? Excited to leave home, scared to leave home, how does our relationship shift and evolve as she becomes an adult child?
My son was grappling with the hormones of puberty. Exhausted, he wanted to sleep all the time. Eager to please but afraid of making a mistake and inciting a scolding, he withdrew a bit. What does it mean to not be a little boy any more? How does he separate from us and become more independent, his own self, while still living with us, a teen child?
My husband was grappling with the responsibility of captaining the boat with us as crew, a not-very-skilled crew at that. Does he do everything himself? Does he delegate, with less than ideal results? When does he have fun? Perhaps the best day was when I said, “I am the Captain now!” I made him take a break and forced my son to take more responsibility as my first mate. Or perhaps the best day was our day off from sailing. We just sat on the beach reading our books and taking walks and staring at the amazing clear turquoise water.
We were all grappling with the impending shift in our family. How will it be when my daughter is at college and my son is not so far behind? How will my husband and I connect when we have time for the two of us instead of pouring our energy into our children? When and what will our next family vacation be?
Jason Mraz sings “You don’t need a vacation if there is nothing to escape from.” I disagree, dear Jason. Everyone needs time and space away to reflect and reconnect. To experience the shift.
It happened, the shift. My daughter has made her decision and is behaving with a new maturity. My son is considering some options for the summer that will require some separation and independence, with awareness of his mixed feelings about this awkward, in-between state transitioning from childhood to manhood. My husband and I are talking about what our hopes and fears are as we get older and prepare for our next phase together.
Our week in the BVI was not always perfect, but it was paradise – a special and momentous vacation, with many memories.