What’s a vacation for?
Depends when you take it.
And I don’t mean June, July, or August.
It depends when, as in what year, or how old you are, or what you need at any given time or stage of life.
This year’s summer vacation, for example, has just kicked in, though I’ve been working at it (working at vacation?) for more than a couple of months. It isn’t so much that I didn’t know what to expect as that I was expecting the wrong things. This has happened before. “Vacation” when we had young children used to mean two things: the beach and Daddy’s presence. While we upgraded the venues as we could afford to, we didn’t change the pattern until some years after we’d probably outgrown it. What a surprise it was to learn we also enjoyed the mountains -- in fact, fell in love with them -- and that we could actually travel as a family, taking in London one year, and Florence one Thanksgiving.
The most recent adjustment revolved around the vacation home we built in the mountains about 10 years ago just as our children all became adults. It became the attractive nuisance we wanted it to be some time before we understood how our relationships with our adult children, individually and together, would play out. And raised the question: Is it a vacation when you regress to old roles and old patterns, when you’re still the family home-maker? Is it a vacation because you choose to be all together? Is it a vacation because you’ve escaped the heat of the summer to enjoy cool breezes and broad vistas? Is it a vacation simply because you have vacated one place and its schedule and temporarily moved to another where you don’t have to wear make-up to the grocery store, though you still have to go to the grocery store? At various times, yes. But not this year.
This year, I began to realize I was “on vacation” only when I finally let go of all that I left behind, when I relaxed into being where I am and doing what I am doing simply because I can and not because I have to, and when that experience began to power a subtle, positive shift in my perspective. It’s a little like taking a lunch break when you’re working flat out under deadline and you think you should probably eat at your desk to get everything done but find that, in doing so, in lifting your head from the computer in your cubicle and talking with your friend, seeing the blue sky and other people, you are much more creative and productive at your work that afternoon. A successful vacation this year, I have decided, will return me to Ordinary Life refreshed and able, even eager, to re-engage. Already, albeit,finally, it has given me a new context for my future which, when I came out here (to the mountains) in June, looked to be terribly constrained by age and fear of aging. This vacation has opened me to more expansive ways of thinking about Life at 63, and that’s exactly what I needed, much more than the idyllic family gathering I had imagined.
Here’s one small example of what I mean: My sisters and I recently rented a so-called hospital bed for my dad who had grown increasingly uncomfortable in his regular bed as his congestive heart failure became more severe. Turns out the hospital beds one can rent these days, however, are exclusively Medicare-issue (or what Medicare will finance, anyway), and neither terribly comfortable nor very safe. He went back to sleeping in his recliner, though obviously not sleeping very much. I was stumped. I couldn‘t figure out how to make him more comfortable playing by the rules as I understood them. It wasn’t as if one could rent a more expensive bed; there is no market in quality rentals. But then one of our kids visiting us in the mountains asked, “Doesn’t Grandpa have enough money to buy a better bed?” and the challenge changed shape. Indeed, I could find a “luxury” hospital bed to buy, and my husband and I could buy it for him, unrestrained by either Medicare or my Dad’s parsimony. Simply thinking about things in a slightly different way freed up all kinds of possibilities, freed my mind, freed my spirit. In this one small way, “getting away” had worked its magic, even though, I must confess, the new, expensive bed did not. (We sent it back.)
So here I am, with about a month remaining in our time in Idaho, beginning to understand it is not about my golf game or my grandson’s language skills, or my daughter’s job application’s or my husband’s fitness, or even the hikes I have taken or the tomes I had written or read. It is about refreshing, resetting, rebooting, retooling -- hitting all the buttons, if necessary -- to re-engage with my life at 63 and all its opportunities rather than its constraints. Practically speaking, it means getting excited about my husband’s plans to study at Oxford this next year rather than being fearful and resentful of a change I didn’t sign up for; and it means being more creative about how I will use the time, both at home alone and in England with him to enrich both my life and our life together. It means no longer framing my choices in terms of staying with my dad, or going with my husband, but living intelligently and sensitively into the complexity and the (newfound, vacation-fed) freedom of my life at this particular stage.
This year, that profound shift defines a successful Vacation. And having realized it, I can now go take a hike!
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