When I was pregnant with my first child, I received several pregnancy and childbirth books from friends and loved ones. My favorite was The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy because, unlike the better-known What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the Girlfriend’s Guide provided me answers to my REAL questions – the ones I’d be too embarrassed to ask anyone but a trusted girlfriend who’d tell it to me straight. The author abandons the “this is the way it’s supposed to be” advice in lieu of a humorous account of what no one ever told her about the adventure of pregnancy.
Lest you think I mistitled this article, the explanation of my preferred literature is merely a frame of reference for the information to come. I recently took an extended period of time off work in order to spend quality time with my family. I rarely take more than a couple of days at Christmas because I want to save what little vacation time I have accrued for, well, vacation. However, this year I threw caution to the wind and took the lion’s share of time I had in the bank as a way to repay my family for the last several months of work stress and long hours away from them.
As I prepared for my first-ever staycation, I anticipated the time off like it was an exciting, new project. I asked friends for guidance on kid-friendly activities to fill our days. I made a list of chores I wanted to get done around the house. I fantasized about the memories we would make during our extended time together.
Now that I am back to work (sigh), I am reflecting on my expectations versus the reality of the experience. I hope I can speak for my family by saying we had a wonderful time. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t provide a somewhat more frank take on this family-bonding adventure. Much like what I appreciated in The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy, I hope you will appreciate the between-you-and-me nuggets about what this working mom learned from staying home for 12 straight days.
Lesson #1: I did not accomplish 90% of the household projects on my list. I went into my time off with visions of reorganizing drawers and cabinets, finishing craft projects, sorting through clothes in the kids’ closets, putting pictures in albums, and cleaning my house from top to bottom. We DID make several trips to Goodwill and I printed, labeled and filed about 500 pictures. While most of my list remains undone, I now have photographic evidence that we have children in the house who are out of diapers. As a frame of reference, they are now 7 and 4.
Lesson #2: Even though my kids just received an obscene number of new toys and gadgets, I did not escape hearing, “I’m bored” at least 27 times. I simply responded with, “I’m Kendy. Nice to meet you.” Of course, this response didn’t prevent reiteration of the statement, but it was more satisfying than a speech about how they can’t possibly be bored and should go play with the (insert expensive item) grandma got them. Additionally, I was more than happy to alleviate their boredom by involving them in any number of household chores that they immediately decided were far worse than being bored.
Lesson #3: I was not prepared for the consequences of our family baking day. Several of my friends suggested baking Christmas cookies as a fun activity. It’s not that we never cook together at other times, but this was the first time we did so in bulk. We very much enjoyed making and icing 56 snowmen, Christmas trees, bells, stars, and Santas. Then we enjoyed eating them. I did NOT, however, enjoy my back-to-work morning search through the closet for a pair of pants that buttoned with ease.
Lesson #4: Disconnecting from work is surprisingly simple. My only New Year’s resolution, which I implemented during my time off, is to stay off my iPhone when I’m supposed to be enjoying time with my family. Since I couldn’t go cold turkey, I committed to checking email just once a day. What I learned (that I already knew) was that my staff can and did survive without me.
Lesson #5: Laundry didn’t cease piling up in honor of my staycation. In fact, time off from school and other activities inexplicably triggers something in kids that makes them think they must embark on each new adventure wearing a new outfit. At the end of each day, mine had dirtied 2 pair of pants, 3 shirts, and 2 pair of socks…each.
Lesson #6: I remembered how much I love my kids’ little personalities. Time together helped me remember how I am hopelessly in love with my kids. Time also reminded me they can be whiny brats who are ungrateful for the sacrifices we make for them day in and day out…..oh, sorry, I got carried away. The moral of the story is that there is never a break from my parental responsibilities. I took several opportunities to affirm my pride in them for a whole host of attributes and actions. I also got the unique opportunity to explain why their delinquent behavior at McDonald’s is why we may have to frequent a different location in the future. Does anyone know of a place that doesn’t frown upon cage fighting in their play area?
Lesson #7: Staying up late and sleeping in were temporarily wonderful practices that I’m now wholeheartedly regretting. I don’t think I got up earlier than 8:30 a.m. any day, and the children slept even later. While this was a welcome departure from the “rat race” of typical daily life, the first day back to work and school was BRUTAL. Thank goodness for coffee and an ability to sleep with my eyes open.
Lesson #8: I carved out a little “me” time….and that’s okay. Yes, I took the time off for my family, but there’s something to be said about recharging the old batteries. I was able to read a book that had been on my list for a good while, albeit in the bathtub where I snuck off when my kids were otherwise engaged. I usually had a good 45 minutes before they realized I was gone.
Lesson #9: I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I will look back fondly on the week I was able to spend with my family and remember only the smiles, required daily cuddle time, and admissions that I’m kinda fun to have around (from the kids AND my husband). I will not remember what gifts I received for Christmas, but I will remember Christmas 2011 as the year I did what it took to live in the present and enjoy each precious moment with the people I love most.
Here’s to the New Year, girlfriends!