The Separation of Labor and Leisure
September 4th, 2012

SSP takes in the view at Sprague Lake

As a rule we are on-the-go vacationers.  We pick destinations that offer a wide variety of things to do and see.  And, accordingly, we make the most of our time on each vacation getting an early jump on the day and making each day a full one.  With kids in tow we carve out time for naps, but other than that we schedule very little down time.  By and large this kind of vacation really suits us – we love feeling productive and stimulated at the end of a day whether home or away.  There are times, though, when I long for something slower and quieter.

Last month we spent six days in Colorado escaping the Midwestern heat and busying ourselves with museums, baseball games, picnics, and hikes.  On Day Two of the trip, as we drove from Denver to Boulder I reminisced to GAP about the Colorado vacations of my childhood; full weeks spent in mountain cabins and filled with little more than hiking, fishing, and many games of cards.  I pined for that magnitude of escape – allowing myself to deeply disengage from the details of daily life and fully surrender to an existence that is wholly leisure.  GAP couldn’t understand why.

“But why can’t you do that at home? GAP asked.  “If you want to take a step back and enjoy some deep relaxation more often, there’s no reason you can’t do it at home.”

I responded, “At home I’m too aware of all the things I could be doing – laundry, cleaning the house, bathing the dogs, making baby food.  You name it.  There’s something about being away from home and removed from that to-do list that allows me to relax more completely.”

“But you like being busy.  If you wanted to relax more, you would.  You could take it easier on the weekends if you really wanted to.”

IEP and GAP stop to look for fish.

I told him that it is precisely because I keep myself busy under regular circumstances that I find the idea of a snail-paced vacation appealing.  I explained that the mere presence of potential productivity often overpowers potential relaxation and that is why I sometimes want to escape to a destination of forced down time

“That just doesn’t sound like the kind of vacation you’d enjoy,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re not that kind of person.  You keep yourself busy all the time.  I think you’d get bored after a couple of days.”

I offered up an analogy.  “That’s like you saying, ‘Gale, you’re a healthy eater.  You are the kind of person who pays close attention to diet and nutrition.  It just doesn’t make sense that you’d ever want to eat a cheeseburger.’  Of course I want to eat a cheeseburger.  It’s precisely because I’m so healthy most of the time that occasionally I really want to let myself enjoy the indulgence of a cheeseburger.”

Then he made me laugh at myself.  “No, that’s like saying, ‘I’m a healthy eater most of the time, but sometimes I have to go on vacation so that I can eat a cheeseburger.”  The boys were asleep in the back seat and I silently cracked up.  He had a point.

That conversation coursed through my mind several times over this past weekend.  We made the long weekend longer and headed to my in-laws’ house on Thursday for about four and a half days of utter and abject relaxation.   I did more sleeping and reading than I could ever manage at home.  Much of that was due the vast reduction in parenting responsibilities that comes with having two grandparents and multiple aunts and uncles on hand to help out with my kids.  But much of it was also due to the fact that I couldn’t have swept my baseboards even if I’d wanted to.  I was 200 miles away.

Does this little mini-break prove my point?  Is true relaxation is best done away from home.  And what role does willpower play?  Could I really disengage as much at home as I do when I’m gone?  Perhaps with some prep work.  If it’s the To-Do list that gets in the way then there a couple of ways to dispense with that.  Either I have to go far away from my To-Do list, or cross everything off of it.  These seem like extreme and impractical choices, but the other option – blowing off the To-Do list either in part or entirely – likely wouldn’t work for me.

I would like to be able to dial it down without leaving town.  It would probably be good for me.  And the fact that it rarely happens is nothing to be proud of.  I think I’d like to set a goal for myself of doing more relaxing at home.  I’d like to spend more time doing things that I find refreshing, rejuvenating, and not at all obligatory.  If this means that I do a better job of keeping the To-Do list short then all the better.

4 Responses to “The Separation of Labor and Leisure”

  1. anne Says:

    Okay, not to jump into gender stereotypes, but this sentence is just SO MALE:

    “But why can’t you do that at home? GAP asked. “If you want to take a step back and enjoy some deep relaxation more often, there’s no reason you can’t do it at home.”

    I’ll tell you why, GAP. Because there is LAUNDRY TO DO. And TOILETS TO CLEAN. And at least with my husband, he’s much better able to ignore those things if he needs a little relaxation time, whereas it’s hard for me to relax when I just KNOW the bathroom floor is filthy. I’ll say, “Isn’t it driving you crazy how the living room floor needs swiffering?” No, it’s not driving him nuts. So sorry…I love dear GAP, but dude. He’s being a dude.

    Okay, moving on. I agree that a full-fledged relaxation-fest is easier done away from home. It just is. BUT, I guess to support GAP’s point and your conclusion, I also believe you can carve out itty bits of relaxation time for yourself, and it does a world of good. I’m a really productive, list-oriented person too, and I enjoy crossing things off at home, and vegging on vacation. But lately I’ve been getting up earlier JUST so I can have some downtime. Usually I write, but lately I’ve been absorbed in a totally fun book, and I’ve been getting up early (before the baby wakes) so I can curl up in a chair with my coffee and just read….for the love of reading and relaxation. And it puts me in a better mood, and probably ultimately boosts my productivity the rest of the day. And now that I’m used to it, I miss it when I don’t have it.

    One final note. Next time you’re on vacation, why not split the difference? Spend 75-80% of the time doing your usual tourist thing, and then give yourself a day or two to just chill. I think you’ll like it:) A girlfriend forced me to do that once, and it changed my vacation-ing perspective.

  2. Anna Says:

    I am this way too! Tommy even has a term for it, which I will not share because it’s not that flattering:) He has the ability to look right past a sinkful of dirty dishes or overflowing laundry baskets, if he wants to watch football. Me? Not so much.
    I am looking for a way out, because between work, the kiddo, the house, the extended family, the dog…it NEVER ends. I love being productive, but now for me, even being productive isn’t enough to keep up.
    I too want to spend more time doing things I find refreshing and rejuvenating. So, I’m going to find a way to keep my list shorter too. It’s a worthy goal.
    Thanks for posting this, I loved it!

  3. Gale Says:

    Anna – My sister told me over the phone how she will comment to her husband on a weekend that X, Y, and Z need to get done and could he please help her. He will apparently respond, “Yes, but right now I’m relaxing.” She and I (and likely you too) find this mindset astounding. I just don’t think I’d enjoy any relaxation as much knowing that work is waiting just around the corner.

    I’ve been hard at work shortening the To Do list this week, hoping to make this weekend more restful and less frenzied. We’ll see if it works out.

  4. Cathy Says:

    “I just don’t think I’d enjoy any relaxation as much knowing that work is waiting just around the corner.” – EXACTLY!

    Why are men so able to ignore? I am, however, learning. It’s weird. I actually went and watched TV and then went to bed without cleaning up my kitchen after dinner. Unheard of in previous times. I think part of it might be that my kids are older and I find myself with more time now. They are self-sufficient and I really have plenty of time once home from work to address whatever needs to get done – aside from making dinner, there’s not much to do. The older two do the kitchen (one on dishes, one on counters) and all of them can shower themselves.

    I reached some point of criticality a few years ago when I was so stressed out trying to get EVERYTHING done and I broke. I realized I just could not and resigned myself to letting go. The world would not crumble if the boys missed a soccer practice here or a page of math homework was saved to the next day or a load of laundry or two were saved for the week. Since then I’ve been in a so decline (LOL) of letting things go. I have this marvelous knack for prioritizing and figuring out what truly needs to get done and what can wait and I’m taking advantage of it.