Martorella: Time off
It’s Sunday after Thanksgiving and the snow has started falling. We are in the last half of the last day of a long weekend, and I am feeling my anxiety level start to rise as I consider what I did, or should I say, didn’t do, over this extended vacation. It’s the usual Sunday regret with an added dose of “YOU HAD FIVE DAYS!” playing in my head.
And I did. We spent Thanksgiving at a family member’s home an hour’s drive away, so there was no traveling, no cooking, no hosting of any kind. I took Wednesday and Friday off work because I had extra vacation time available, so I truly had a five-day weekend. I can’t remember the last time I said that.
Actually, I don’t recall ever discussing a surplus of time in this column. Normally, if I could have just one wish, I’d wish for time. If Aladdin’s lamp fell at my feet and I had three wishes, I’d still ask for time, time, and more time.
This weekend, my wish came true. I had time. And I squandered it.
But I’m not sorry. Tomorrow, I’ll be worried about deadlines, interrupted plans, and lost time again, but this weekend, I enjoyed turning off the clock.
The activities I did participate in, I did without time constraints hanging over my head. I had an early meeting Wednesday, but for once I wasn’t worried about it stretching longer than planned, and was able to use the extra time to take another task off someone else’s list. Thursday, well, it turns out Thanksgiving without the hosting, or cooking, or traveling results in a pretty nice shift in family interactions, especially between an unstressed mom and her children.
By Friday, my practical, efficient time-manager-self tried to take back control, telling me maybe I should go into the office after all, and catch up on a few things. But then I recalled a
recent survey done in Britain in which 63% of firms reported that their employees were taking days off from work just so they can catch up on their workload. A similar 2017 US survey found that over half of US employees didn’t take all of their vacation time, and 66% of those who did still spent some time working while on vacation. Taking vacation time from work to catch up on work just doesn’t sound right. I’ll probably regret it next week, but this weekend, I gave myself permission to stay on vacation.
That included vacation from the tasks at home as well. It’s no secret that we’ve now kicked off the busiest time of year. My husband would put the Christmas tree up after Halloween if given the chance. I delay because I know the bulk of the decorating work is up to me. But I compromised on Thanksgiving weekend, and he agreed to wait for the full ornamentation.
So the tree is up, yet bare, with full boxes of decorations surrounding it. They’ll be put up some time, but not now. The holiday cards have been ordered, and they sit on the table to be addressed at some point, but not now. There’s laundry and dishes and picking up to be done, but not now. They’ll be done and redone and redone again another time.
Instead, I read two books. I made brownies. I laughed with my kids. I fueled my recent 80’s kick watching documentaries about the making of Home Alone and Ghostbusters and Die Hard and Dirty Dancing. I breathed. Deeply.
Our bodies and mind require downtime to recharge, but our current culture looks down on downtime, and provides little of it. The holidays in particular can be overloaded with tasks, commitments, and expectations. It’s important to recognize when you need to put things on pause. To stop “doing” and reflect, take a breath, catch up, reconnect.
Those who struggle to secure or even endure downtime may find scheduling it is the best solution, actually building in a period of stillness during the day or week. Some may have to set
boundaries on things that can hijack their downtime, perhaps avoiding computers & phones so they aren’t tempted to handle emails or check texts. Some may need to limit or plan places to go, maybe hiding the car keys so they don’t get sidetracked doing errands, or heading to a park so they don’t get stuck doing chores.
Think about it: Relaxing, de-stressing, zoning out, binge-watching - those are still action words, that’s not doing nothing. Taking time from caring for everyone else to take care of yourself, that’s truly doing something.