vacation [vey-key-shuh n, vuh-]
1. a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday: Schoolchildren are on vacation now.
2. a part of the year, regularly set aside, when normal activities of law courts, legislatures, etc., are suspended.
3. freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.
4. an act or instance of vacating.
I like number 4 – “an act or instance of vacating”. I once heard the word vacation defined as vacating one’s life. Not sure where that came from, but when I thought of what it really meant to vacation, it fit really well. I also realized just how hard it is to truly vacate life. To completely walk away from all the daily responsibilities and daily grind, especially now that the internet and email and social media are so accessible, everywhere.
Typically when we go on our annual holiday in the summer, there is some vacationing, but a lot of it is about visiting and there’s even a certain amount of work thrown in there because of the opportunities to do face to face meetings with people. There are restful times, but we don’t get to fully step away from life. We still have to answer emails, we still have to parent, we still have to do a lot of day to day stuff, we just do it in a different place. In fact, often it feels kind of stressful because we’re staying with friends and family and aren’t able to maintain our regular routines, have a harder time doing regular discipline, and our kids might get a bit out of hand from being in so many different environments. We love our holiday time because it’s a break from Haiti, but it also feels good to come home and sleep in our own beds and get back into our regular routines.
I got back on Friday from my week in the Dominican Republic with two friends. I realized halfway through the week that it was the first time in a long time where I’d truly “vacated” life. I talked to Chris and the kids a couple times while I was away, and checked email each morning, but aside from that I had none of my regular responsibilities. There were no meals for me to cook. No school drives to do. No dishes to wash. No bedtime stories to read. No disciplining to do.
Instead, I got to sleep in a bed by myself with the only thing waking me up being my bladder. I slept hard and good and actually woke up feeling refreshed after the coffee kicked in each morning. I only ate meals prepared for me by others. Meals made up of all my favourite things. I didn’t have to serve anyone else’s plate or cut their food. I drank adult drinks, multiple times per day. I finished a cup of coffee before it got cold. Lots of times. I sauntered and shopped and learned history and talked about life stuff with two sweet friends. We laughed. We had siesta each day that involved a lot of napping and a lot of reading. I read 3 books while I was gone. I wore make-up and cute clothes. I bought a fedora and wore it regularly.
I had the time and space to think about things and muddle them over in my head and heart. I thought a lot about Haiti and the vast contrast between it and the DR even thought they exist on the same land mass. One has 6 lane highways and overpasses and what not, and the other is struggling to make sense of road rules. In one place street vendors will ask if you want to buy their wares, then graciously let you go on your way, while the other results in feelings of anger from being harassed so badly. One place tries so hard to be further ahead than it is, and the other just is. It’s very literally like comparing apples to oranges.
In the midst of all this thinking and reasoning and heart stuff one of my friends asked, “Who wants to take bets on how long it’ll be after we get back before I’m ready to punch someone in the face?” I said 48 hours. She said that might be very generous. We got to the border.
That might sound harsh, but Haiti is hard. As a foreigner here there is never a time when you’re able to just turn “off” completely. Every relationship is hard. Every activity is hard. Every exchange with another person has the potential to be really hard. Your guard is always up, you’re always in defence mode. It’s not a choice, it just is. Everything is work here. And not getting a break from that can and does lead to heavy feelings. Feelings of frustration, anger and a lot of other things. It’s hard to do that thing that we all feel is our number one calling in being here, that loving thing, when you’re feeling tapped out.
I realized this week that’s why vacating our lives for a short time is so needed. True vacating, a chance to step away from life as we know it, is what can lead to restfulness and rejuvenation. Halfway might only get you, well, halfway. A year or so ago we decided that we would spend most Christmases in Haiti, eliminating one of our annual holidays. Not that we don’t want to be with friends and family during that time, but because of the travel and all the things necessary to get ourselves there and all that the holidays hold. It was just too much of certain things. If we could just blink and be there, we would, but it doesn’t work that way.
Making that decision left us in a place of having to make some other changes. Last year, because of some expiring Advantage points I was able to fly to Peru for free and spend a week with one of my best friends from college. It was a great time away. We did a ton and had a lot of fun, so it wasn’t the most restful trip, but a good way to get away. In October last fall Chris took 10 days and did a motorcycle trip with his brother in California. He needed that time away. He needed to vacate life for a bit. He came back rested and ready to go again. We had a serious talk about the value of us each getting time away for about a week each year. Time away from each other (we sit two feet apart all day long most days), from the kids, and from all our day to day responsibilities. From Haiti, too. We know that one of the best ways to stay healthy in every way over the long term here is to take regular breaks. Or, we might end up reacting rather than being able to step back when the pressure builds.
This decision, to give each other the gift of space, has been life giving. It’s a way of caring for each other. It’s a way of giving something that is most needed. We love each other enough to know that sometimes the best thing we can do is take a break from each other. To remember all the reasons why we’ve chosen to do life together. To remember all the reasons we wanted to have kids. To have time to actually miss each other. We don’t get to do that very often. It’s easy to fall into that place of taking each other for granted, of taking things out on each other because we’re so close, all the time. We love each other so much that we want to give each other the gift of no responsibilities for a week once a year. Time to just be and rest and laugh and have fun and not worry about all the things.
It’s meant to be a restorative time, not more stress. I’m so thankful that I got that rest this past week. I feel ready to go again. To keep pushing through until summer. I came home wanting to snuggle my kids more, and able to handle the dozod (in Creole it literally means “to make chaos”) that is our life on any given day. Some days it’s work. Some days it’s Alex destroying everything in his wake. I came home feeling like I had what it takes to love my husband better. I came home feeling more connected to friends, and remembering who I am – that part of me that sometimes gets lost in the rest of life.