Five years ago or so I read a study conducted by Expedia.com that showed roughly a third of employed Americans usually do not take all the vacation days they’re entitled to, leaving an average of three days on the table. Three days. That’s 24 working hours (or more for those of us who find it hard to cap the day just because we left the office).
The study itself didn’t surprise me, mainly because it was—and still is—rare that I got to the end of the calendar year myself without having extra vacation time to spare. I mean, how could I use it? I was 25, driven, and working to become something. What that something was going to be I still wasn’t quite sure, but I knew I had to work hard to get there. But was/am I actually hurting myself more than helping?
Yes. Everyone knows the U.S. is a mess. Both gas prices and the economy as a whole are on a constant teeter-totter, making it hard to justify a vacation when most of us are happy just to be employed. But now more than ever we need to take a break—a real break, not just a long weekend—from our stressed-out lives.
Even though the above is true, nothing about going on vacation two weeks ago seemed convenient beforehand. In fact if you asked my husband, the thought alone seemed to add just another level of stress to our lives. We were both excited about why we were going to Florida, but the thought that we were going to put our already too busy everyday lives on hold for nine consecutive days created a spike in both of our blood pressures.
From the moment we landed in the sunshine state a weight was lifted off our shoulders. We stepped out into the thick, palm tree infested air and with each breath in we became a little more relaxed. By the time we drove over the 9.9-mile long causeway connecting Tampa Bay to Clearwater we were in vacation mode. We were refreshed.
The truth of the matter is it wasn’t until we were on vacation that I realized how long it had been since Husby and I had laughed. Like really laughed. Like XM 90s on 9, Sarah McLaughlin, singing at the top of our lungs with the ocean air blowing through our hair on our honeymoon laughed. We were on vacation.
It’s not that we don’t live happy lives at home because we do. It’s just that this last year held so many dynamic changes that sometimes I think we focused so much energy on rolling with the punches that we failed to actually roll and instead just embraced all of them with a firm, locked-knee stance.
We got married September 2012 and knew we wanted to try to start a family right away, so the nervousness and excitement of how long that would take (which ended up being not long at all) hung over us. Punch.
Then we found out I was pregnant and with that happiness came the warnings not to tell anyone because of how uncertain those first 12 weeks actually are. Punch. Punch.
Suddenly we were in the clear and as life seemed to be ready to lighten a little there was the pressure to eat healthy, exercise daily, gain enough weight but not too much weight, sleep only on my side to prevent complications, never lay flat on my back even during workouts, get all my work done in the office plus projects that needed to be done when I would be on maternity leave all while limiting the stress work caused me and so on. The punches, light as some of them were, kept on coming…
The happy day came and we were presented with a truly flawless daughter. I could actually feel my heart grow the same way the Grinch’s does on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I thought it was going to pop out of my chest. Then came the advice. Everywhere we turned we were thrown new advice. We were being told what we should or shouldn’t be doing. Each piece of advice somehow seemed to conflict with a different piece we received. There were opinions on breastfeeding, pressure to build a milk supply and rumors about what avenue was best for our daughter…on every topic imaginable. I put pressure on myself to lose the baby weight in record time, see all of my friends again on a regular basis, and send thank you notes to anyone who sent us a card of congrats (which I sadly failed at). Punches.
Starting back at work I felt the need to prove I was still needed there so I worked and worked and worked. I started answering emails all evening and night again, logging onto our system from home for tasks that could have really waited until the next morning, and beat myself up inside for any night I ended up skipping the gym. Punches. Punches. Punches.
It’s not that any of these “punches” were the kind that takes you out on impact. In fact some of them even seemed like they were disguised as happiness at first hit. After all, I didn’t realize the stress those first 12 weeks of pregnancy put on me until they were over and I felt the weight lift. That’s how most of them went.
Vacations are necessary. Not just because studies show one annual vacation reduces your risk of heart attack by 32 percent (although that’s a pretty compelling case!). Somewhere along that Florida coast Husby and I found us again. Somewhere along that sunset walk on the shoreline of Clearwater Beach, Adelyn in arms, it clicked that we were still us…plus one.
It’s hard as a parent not to constantly feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. I think we all want to shield our children from the crookedness in the world. And at times that desire runs so deep, and those concerns run so rigidly through our veins, that we forget the importance of showing them how to be carefree kids. On vacation we were carefree. Adelyn, in return, was so calm, so well behaved, and slept so well. I have to believe that in some way our temperament and her temperament went hand in hand.
So…take a vacation. Just like there’s no convenient time to have a baby, there’s no convenient time to take a vacation. But one thing’s for sure: when you take it, it will be worth it. It was for us.
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