Print Story Vacations
Diary
By toxicfur (Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 02:34:34 PM EST) (all tags)
Currently, I'm on vacation. Tomorrow, I'm leaving for North Caroline to visit friends and family -- some of the people I love most in the world. My brothers, their children, my friends S and B (who was in my wedding now more than 5 years ago). I'm looking forward to the trip, though I fear that I will go through withdrawal after being away from work voluntarily for two weeks. It will, I think, be the first time I've voluntarily taken two solid weeks off. Most vacations, I bring my laptop and continue to work on whatever deadlines are looming. This time, I orchestrated things so that there are no looming deadlines, or at least no imminently looming deadlines.

I'm not good at vacations is what I'm trying to say. Or, rather, I'm fine when once I'm actually on the road most of the time, but the planning and getting ready for vacation is a nightmare. It feels almost easier to not go, to keep working and going on about my regular life.



This interruption, as much fun as it will be, is kind of exhausting already, and all I've done is work like a banshee to finish everything at the office before I leave, make a few plans for when I get there, and get the yard in order.

"This problem seems to be uniquely American," said my therapist on Thursday. "I hear it all the time -- people work like mad to get ready for vacation, and then they work like mad when they get back. Europeans manage it, what, six or seven times a year!"

"Yeah," I said. "Why do they do that to themselves?"

Vacation, when I was growing up, was an Event, like Christmas. it was something we longed for all year, and when it was finally here, it was almost an anti-climax. We didn't do vacations much when I was very young -- I have vague memories of going to the North Carolina mountains when I was seven. All I really remember is the hotel pool. And there were the trips to my grandparents' beach house, but those were hardly vacations -- it was just like being at home, only with an ocean out our front door.

Vacations were meant to be exotic. We were supposed to do things that we'd never do when we were at home, lolling about on our summer breaks and complaining of the heat and boredom and chores and working in Granddaddy's garden. Vacations meant a week away from our grandparents, and a week away from Days of Our Lives, and a week away from the cat. It was also a week of forced togetherness.

We began taking vacations when my parents both began working at JP Stevens, later Stevcoknit, a textile factory that had shut-down maintenance scheduled for the week of the 4th of July. All employees -- with the exception of the maintenance crew -- were required to take that week off. The first year, we went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, saw Kitty Hawk, visited Ocracoke, watched the Lost Colony "outdoor drama," and went to the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. What I remember most from that vacation was watching bowling on TV (we didn't have cable, and who knew there were so many channels?), and our car breaking down in the middle of absolute nowhere on a deserted stretch of road on one of the barrier islands. We saw rabbits standing at alert beside the road, and other than that, there was nothing but us and the ocean and the road stretching in front of us.

We blew a radiator hose, and my dad tried to stretch the hose far enough to reconnect, but no such luck. Eventually, he hitched a ride with a trucker who drove him the 20-odd miles to the nearest town, where he bought a new hose and filled up a container with water. We were terrified of axe murderers and people with no teeth and our father never returning.

The following year, in a different car, we went to the North Carolina mountains. We'd invested in a tent, and Mama made reservations at three different campgrounds -- one near Cherokee, one near Grandfather Mountain, and one near Carowinds to break up the return trip. And that set the stage for our vacations for as long as my mom lived, even after my dad left, even after she began nursing school, even after most of us had moved away, after we had our own jobs and lives and families. Each year, she tried to take a trip to the mountains with whoever wanted to go.

After that first year of moving around from place to place, Mama decided it was best just to stay close to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Mostly, we did things that didn't cost much. We'd get up in the morning and pick a hike from the guidebook. Preferably one that talked about waterfalls. Once during the week, we'd go whitewater rafting or tubing. We'd spend the inevitable day at the laundromat drying out our soaked and mildew-scented sleeping bags. We cooked at the campground each night but one, and the last night, we'd roast hotdogs and marshmallows over a fire.

I don't remember the last time I went on a mountains vacation with my family. Was it the summer after my sophomore year of college? Was it later than that? Did we even go that year, after my grandmother's death and in the midst of my grandfather's extended grief? Somewhere, Vacation became a ritual with few distinguishing characteristics -- the patterns of the first couple of years (we have to go into Cherokee to get the gigantic jawbreakers!) settled in.The vacations, all of them, bleed together into a single week of fond memories and half-remembered snapshots. I read Walden in that week and Anna Karenina and The Grapes of Wrath, and remembering those stories always brings with it the smell of pine forests and mountain streams. I got a Sony Walkman for my birthday, and a George Michael tape to go with it. I walked a trail that went under a waterfall. I sat with my brothers on a rock and had my picture taken. The cars shifted and changed, but the overpacked trunk and the faint aura of carsickness and the plastic brown-and-tan box that rode on the roof remained the same.

I don't know what Mama did to get ready for the vacations. I don't know if she went through the same agonies of trying to finish everything possible before we left. I don't remember anything of the fights my brothers and I surely had, or the surliness of my adolescence, or what it was like for everyone else that first relief-filled trip without my dad, when my mom tried so hard to impose fun on us. I just have vague memories of pleasure.

And now, even with all that practice of ritualized vacation, I don't know what to do, or even what I want. So I return to my remaining family. I remember those who are gone in hydrangea blooms and the whiff of star jasmine and the okra plants in my yard. Tomorrow, I'll get in my car and drive the 15 or so hours south, and I'll try to let go of work and my real life. I'll find the ocean and I'll remember too much of what I was like when I grew up in North Carolina. And I'll return with a tan, and a lot of pictures to post to flickr and facebook, and I'll slide back into my life, working madly to catch back up.

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Vacations | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
I know what you mean by lm (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 02:54:39 PM EST
The single phrase my wife utters most frequently while we're on vacation is "I need a vacation."

I think that about sums up the typical US vacation experience.

I think Europeans are more relaxed because they get more paid time off. The average US worker with more than 15 years of service gets 27 paid days off of work. That includes holidays. I think that's close to the minimum for most of Europe. They get more days away from the grindstone so there isn't so much pressure to make it into THE VACATION.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
I think you're right. by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 03:02:48 PM EST
Though right now, I have about 160 hours of comp time, in addition to nearly 200 hours of vacation time (it's going to stop accruing if I don't take it soon...), 10.5 hours of personal time, and over 600 hours of sick leave (it's going to stop accruing soon, too). We get a lot of vacation time, and with my job the way it is, I end up with a lot of comp time (especially since iGrrrl left). I just don't see how I could legitimately take all the time I'm owed and still actually do my job well. It's a conundrum, and one that I hope works itself out at least when my job officially goes to full time.
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The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin
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It's probably worth finding out by garlic (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon Jun 28, 2010 at 08:30:07 AM EST
take the time off and find out how well it works. A month of comp time means they need someone you can delegate to better, or some other sort of employee.


[ Parent ]
they call checkin email while on vacation by dev trash (4.00 / 1) #3 Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 03:32:50 PM EST
work.  My boss goes on vacation and two days in, he's sending us emails on a project to do.  Even though he delegated authority and it was handled.  There are few career choices that demand that kind of involvement.

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Click
you mean by gzt (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 03:40:16 PM EST
that TRULY demand that kind of involvement. it seems to be expected in a lot of jobs these days that all exempt personnel can never be truly apart from their job whether it's necessary or not.

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I took Friday off to take a day long exam by lm (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 05:22:49 PM EST
But after the exam, I found myself logging into email and pointing out where the rest of my team at work was going wrong.

And I'm not even in management. I didn't even get the day off with pay.


There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Yes, that's exactly how I felt. by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #7 Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 09:40:10 PM EST
I feel like I have a bit more freedom now, but I still feel like I need to stay on top of things. Of course, I'm management now, and so I am supposed to stay on top of things, and I don't much mind staying logged into my email. When I was hourly and never felt like I was genuinely off the clock, though, I came very close to quitting my job. I just couldn't take the feeling of never having my own time, without the potential for interruption. I feel like I've got a much more healthy approach to work now, and that's in part to my just refusing to accept that it had to be that way.
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The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin
[ Parent ]
Now that I'm management (and exempt) by toxicfur (4.00 / 1) #6 Sun Jun 27, 2010 at 09:37:42 PM EST
I actually feel more freedom than I did when I was hourly and not in charge. I feel like I have a better grasp of what the workload is like and what's coming up, and I definitely have more control over what tasks I take on (and what I can delegate to someone else). Before I was director of the office, I felt like the only excuses for saying no to a project were a) severe illness; and b) too much other work. Now, I trust the people who work for me to pick up the slack when I'm not around (just as I do for them when they're on vacation or sick or overworked). I've delegated my responsibilities to the most experienced person on my team, and I know she'll be fine, and if something comes up that they can't collectively handle, then they'll either figure out the answer themselves through other senior people in our division or they'll get in touch with me. It's a pretty good feeling, actually.
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The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin
[ Parent ]
Yep. by iGrrrl (4.00 / 2) #9 Mon Jun 28, 2010 at 11:50:45 AM EST
It's a pretty good feeling, actually.

Good. I hope you enjoy your time, snuggle and play with babies and kids, and just generally have a chance to unwind.

"Beautiful wine, talking of scattered everythings"
(and thanks to Scrymarch)

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Vacations | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback