July 25, 2021

Reclaiming What Really Matters on a Family Vacation.

 

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I spent last week on vacation with my family in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.

We stayed in a small community right outside of Lake George, called Lake Luzerne. We arrived on an overcast and rainy late Sunday afternoon and settled in.

The rented cottage was simple but just perfect for me, my husband, two teenage boys (12 and 13) and two dogs (a 70 pound yellow Labrador mix who doesn’t know he’s that big, and a 40 pound eight-month-old black Labrador mix puppy). The cottage was located within walking distance of either of the two beaches on Luzerne Lake, and more humble summer cottages dotted the streets surrounding us.

Instead of grass, there were sandy front yards with a blanket of pine needles, surrounded by the trees they fell from. The air was crisp and cool, a stark, refreshing contrast from the smoggy hot place we call home. 

On our first of many walks to come with the dogs, we discovered that most of the lakeside cottages were empty—save a few full-time or summertime residents. Presumably, most of the weekend community visitors had gone back home for the workweek.

Just a short walk to the first beach, the pine trees were like earthly umbrellas sheltering us from the rain.

It happened to rain a good part of the week but despite this, we made the best of it. Rain and shine, the kids braved the rain and swam. The lake was clear and smooth, the water warm—even if the air was chilly. 

We ventured into Lake George proper for a few hours to visit the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, to walk the old lakeside streets, and to shop a little. The town was lush and green with a powerful mountain backdrop. Midweek, the weather was breaking, and we were able to visit the Dog Beach with the dogs and do more swimming and kayaking in the lake. We had ice cream and played mini-golf; the cloudy skies cleared up, and sunshine warmed our faces.

We took a tubing float down the Hudson River. The Hudson I am used to is the one that separates New Jersey and New York City. The grey, murky water is full of boats and ferries and lined with buildings on either side. Some days it smells awful and sulfury. I’m certain one would not want to swim there. 

By contrast, in the Adirondacks, the Hudson is wide and clear, lined with trees and wildlife—literally not a building in sight. As we floated, we saw others doing the same, families camping, happy dogs greeting us with wagging tails as we drifted by.

Everyone was happy.

We went rail biking on an old decommissioned railroad track (which could be a whole article on its own). We pedaled in awe over a 90-foot-high bridge—the confluence of the Hudson and Sacandaga rivers. Literally, in the tops of the trees, we traveled down a track filled with rich early American history. 

Evenings were spent by the fire pit listening to the loons quarrel on the lake at sunset. We watched the evolving night sky through the treetops as the moon replaced the sun, and we saw constellations that are not visible in the smoggy metropolitan area. The almost nonexistent cellular service was much appreciated. 

It was relaxing, to say the least—I was falling in love with the mountains and the lake.

We ended the week on Saturday as it began—with rain. We started packing for our early Sunday morning departure, and the sadness crept in like the cold and damp rain. It was heavy, and despite having really enjoyed myself, it felt like the “Sunday Scaries.” 

That was when it occurred to me what was actually weighing me down.

My previous vacation was in July of 2018, three years ago. Before that was 2008, my oldest son was two-and-a-half, and I was pregnant with my youngest. That’s not to say I haven’t taken time off since then, but it’s always been a day to tend to an ill family member or myself, or a staycation at the end of the year. I just mean somewhere other than “home-bonding-time-with-the-family.”

That is only three family vacations in the span of 13 years. What I was really feeling on Saturday was a sense of loss and the not-knowing if and when the next one might be. 

I happen to be in a single-income family in one of the most expensive areas of the United States. For me, vacations like this are a challenge. I have also felt the pressure to be focused and driven, trying to drive my career forward and grow in a challenging environment. 

I think about the lost time, how I cannot be the only person in this country (or the world) who struggles only to provide these kinds of extras for her family. How many of us literally work simply to live, or are just so focused on our careers that we have forgotten what we are working for in the first place? I am often frustrated with the American mindset.

As hard and challenging as COVID-19 has been, I hope it brings with it sweeping positive changes. I hope we’ve all learned the importance of spending time with our families (and ourselves) and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Instead, I am feeling like “Big Corporate” wants to get back to “normal” without truly re-evaluating, or caring about, what matters to the collective majority. 

Of course, there are some companies who are slowly coming along to a better work-life balance, but I wonder how many actually are. Why are so many people still limited to only a single week (or two) a year of vacation time?

It’s time for us all to reclaim our time, our priorities, and our lives. It’s time for employers to embrace the importance of family for everyone equally and to make allowances for working smarter over working harder.

Let’s stop burning ourselves out at work, or else we’ll miss the moments that truly matter.

 

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