Easing back in

IMG_1231Last week at the beach went slowly. This is neither complaint nor marveling. We filled the days, and memories, both good and bad, make time stretch in retrospect. I was also awake a lot, so in that sense, I experienced more of my 168 hours than normal. That is one way to make a vacation last longer.

I know by this point that vacations in the toddler stage are not going to be relaxing. Moments, yes. Sometimes whole hours. But not the whole thing. I also love the work I do, and I work in ways that are somewhat like vacation; my home office wardrobe is shockingly similar to my vacation wardrobe! So for me, there is not this dichotomy where vacations are great and work is not.

However, if you aren’t vacationing with a toddler, and work does involve suits and stuff scheduled every 15 minutes, re-entry can be tough. Are there ways to ease back in and stretch the bliss?

Happiness research, and common sense, suggest a few tactics.

First, research finds that the major happiness boost of a vacation comes from anticipating the fun. But there are plenty of ways to build anticipation into normal life. I love the idea of aiming to have at least small adventures daily. Plan a dinner out with friends a day or two after getting back. Plan something fun (a day trip? even an overnight?) for the next weekend, so the first week back feels like it is merely sandwiched between holidays. Even planning for lunch with a favorite colleague at a favorite spot that first day can help make the morning better.

Many people check their inboxes while on vacation, but if you haven’t, sheer math means there will be a lot in there. The average person gets about 150 emails a day. If you have been gone 5 business days, that is 750 emails, plus maybe another 250 from the two weekends. Inbox 1000! Gone two weeks? Go ahead and double that. It can feel overwhelming (to the point where people don’t even want to take longer vacations). But probably fewer than 50 emails actually matter. So just carve out time to hit delete-delete-delete. Or, better yet, if you have a trusted deputy or assistant, see if that person will go in and delete the unimportant or no-longer-relevant. You will return to a manageable number of messages. Some people keep their out-of-office email on for an extra day just to keep the incoming fire down while they are digging out.

The home front can be its own source of stress. You can schedule a grocery delivery for shortly after your scheduled arrival (with a neighbor as back-up to get things inside should your travel be delayed). Or plan to go out to eat after getting home, and have the groceries show up early the next morning. We actually did laundry during some down time at the beach so we didn’t come back to much of it. If you have a cleaning service, scheduling it for the day before you return means you come in to a calmingly clean abode.

Finally, part of what makes a vacation feel good in memory is the stories you tell about it afterward. So take some time to go through photos, make notes in a journal, or call a friend or family member and rehash what happened. The more you say “we had a great time!” the more you believe it, and keep some of that glow going.

In other news: Have you ever done a “staycation”? Was it rejuvenating? Or did you feel cheated? I am writing an article on the topic and would love to hear people’s experiences.

37 thoughts on “Easing back in

  1. ooh question! You reference The Toddler a lot in the last 2 posts 🙂 Do you think there is a seminal age when vacations become fun? 3? 4? Did you have that same high-maintenance/always-on feeling with your other kids on this trip? You are in the fairly unique position of being able to compare parenting a younger child to older kids while actually still doing both (I think a lot of ppl who say the older kids are ‘harder’ just FORGET how difficult ~12-24 month olds are!!). Thoughts on this very welcome.

    1. My kids were much worse sleeper on vacation between 0-24 months than they are now that they are older (5 and 7). So that is much easier. Also, some of the grind the basic daily grind they can do themselves (like use the bathroom). So that is easier too. However, my kids are still pretty high maintenance. I still have to watch them every second at the beach (they are crazy energetic daredevils with no sense of self preservation. That hasn’t changed). They don’t sleep in (and often wake earlier at the beach because nothing blocks the sum when you are on the beach) and still want my attention pretty much all of the time (we don’t have any cousins to offer distraction). We don’t do nice restaurants (or even family friendly ones more than once) because my kids still cause me too much stress when dining in public (will they ever learn to be still for a meal?). However, they still go to bed pretty early in the evening. So, in sum: Yes it is easier (for sure!) but not dramatically. It may be dramatically easier if your kids are less high energy than mine.

    2. @SHU- While the big kids were far from perfect, they were not high maintenance on this vacation. If I was on the beach with the big kids, I could sit and half watch them in the waves, but not have to get up every 2 seconds. They could eat in restaurants fine. They were content to play quietly with their Kindles during afternoon downtime while I worked or read or sat on the porch. The youngest of the big kids is 4, so definitely at 4. We did Disney with her at 3, and there were stressful elements of that, but I think there would be with Disney in general. I took the 3 kids to the beach for 2 weeks when they were 7, 4, and 2 and that was not particularly relaxing, so I’d say somewhere around 3/3.5? Life relaxes a lot when they reach the age when you trust them around the house without you right there.
      And yes, while I know there is drama with older kids, I do think people forget the sheer physical exhaustion of littles.

      1. While each kid is different, etc… I definitely think 4 was a turning point for us as well. My kids are INTENSE, so there are still tantrums and annoyances and constant bickering/fighting, and they can’t swim and have no self-preservation instincts so at the beach I had to be constantly vigilant, but there was definitely more opportunity for me to feel relaxed. The physical/mental strain of being CONSTANTLY on is starting to fade.

        1. that is awesome, ana!!

          can’t tell whether mine will be intense yet. A is moody but not rambunctious. C is rambunctious but not moody. So far 🙂

    3. We decided this year that I would take our 6.5yo on a Big Vacation to Europe while hubby took Ms 3.5 to Arizona to visit grandparents, and that was because the 3.5yo is not a good traveler (yet). For us, the point at which it becomes easier seems to be when they are a little more flexible on the sleep routine – ie when you put them to bed a little later, they will sleep in, rather than waking up even earlier and then being sleep deprived and cranky as heck all day. The 3.5yo hasn’t yet mastered this and I’m hoping that happens soon 🙂 I recall it happening around late 4/early 5 for my now 6.5yo.

  2. We did a Staycation this spring with our (then) 13-month-old. It was a nice break from the daily routine, and it was fun to go to places like the zoo when they weren’t super crowded, but it was not particularly relaxing. Partly that was because we (I) still felt like I needed to do dishes and laundry. That was kind of a bummer. We did manage to watch a few fun movies after baby’s bedtime, though, so that was a nice change of pace!

    1. @Pamela – I agree on the dishes/laundry problem. If your house is a source of work then still being in it won’t change that. Though we often rent houses on vacation so we’re still doing dishes there too.

      1. For me, though, doing dishes or laundry at a rental vacation house is no where near the level of chores/errands that I feel obligated to do at home…I realize this is more a personal issue, but I simply can’t be at home for several days and NOT feel the need to “get things done” especially since “We’re home on a weekday…we should call the contractor/pick up this thing from the store/take the dog to the vet”

        1. @Ana – true. At a vacation rental you’re not looking at the washing machine and deciding it’s time to get it replaced and the porch power washed or what have you. And there are a lot of home tasks that are easier to get done on weekdays that it would be tempting to do when not at work.

  3. While I have less experience than you (just two boys, ages 3.5 and 5.5), that experience is 100% aligned with yours.

    My husband and I have been marveling at how much easier things have become in the last 6-12 months, as the youngest has become more independent and trustworthy, and as the two can entertain each other better. Entering a golden age of parenting, we say!

    1. @Kathleen – I do think the primary grades are the golden age. Big enough to feed themselves, go to the bathroom by themselves, entertain themselves, but not old enough to crash your car.

  4. Sorry for second comment, but on the staycation point: they’re always ruined with office work. Maybe it’s industry-specific, but in mine (BigLaw) there’s generally an expectation that unless you’re really, truly away – as in, traveling – you’re basically available. Sometimes you’re expected to be available even while traveling on vacation!

    1. @Kathleen – I do think this is something one would have to be careful about with a staycation – being called into the office for a last minute “emergency.” While you can be reachable while traveling it’s harder to get into the office if you’re in, say, Prague.

    2. (sorry laura I am blowing up your comment!)

      THIS absolutely impacts us, specifically my husband. i really think we need to occasionally just go completely off the grid. impossible at home.

    3. I did once take a staycation where I’d told people I was leaving and then didn’t (I forget why, but plans fell through — it wasn’t planned duplicity). That was great. But probably ethically dicey if done on purpose.

      1. @Alexicographer — maybe. Though perhaps it’s also ethically dicey to force people to work when they’re on their days off…I think if you’re planning on doing a staycation it might be smart not to tell co-workers your specific plans. I mean, you usually don’t have to tell people exactly where you’re going unless you want to… right?

  5. We take staycations all the time. We have two young kids and live in an expensive city, so we don’t have much in the budget for vacations. We’re super lucky to have a set of grandparents that will take our kids for an extended weekend and we get 48 hours to enjoy the city we live in. My husband loves to research new bars and restaurants and we let ourselves splurge on what we do since we’re saving money on not flying or getting a hotel. We usually get the house cleaned at the beginning of the weekend, so we really enjoy being in our own house. At first it annoyed me that we never got to drive anywhere for a even a weekend away, but now I love our staycations. We live in a fantastic city and it’s awesome to have opportunity to enjoy it as adults, without kids.

    1. @Noemi- Thanks for your comment (and sorry it was in the approval queue for a bit). This is a great way to do it – and yes, if you’re not spending $$ on plane tickets and hotels (and babysitting for that matter), it leaves a big chunk of change for experiences.

  6. Vacations become insanely easier as your children get older. We had a week beach trip in June with 8 kids. I have 3. Ages 13, 11, and 8. My relatives have 2 year old triplets, and then 2 children 10 and 11. I, by far, had the most relaxing trip even with helping out with the littles part time. Trips became much easier at around 4. However, teenagers bring their own issues. As in the knock down drag out fight I had with my oldest tonight. The first of many I am sure. I am exhausted and I am not sure who won! I am amazed at how much more freedom I have as they have gotten older though. When they are little it can seem a lifetime, but then they are 6 feet tall and opinionated you can’t believe how fast it has gone by.

  7. I don’t live in a place where groceries get delivered, but my mom and I provide a small version of this service (basically, essentials, whatever meals are needed for the meals of the arrival day and enough for a next morning back’s breakfast) for each other, and it is wonderful. And my kid’s energies are often the most exhausting part of vacation, so some planned away-from-me (or me away-from-him, including going to work) pretty much immediately on return, is very helpful.

    1. @Alexicographer – I know what you mean about that first day back at work being a nice break 🙂 And this is awesome that you and your mom do this for each other. I suppose if you had someone coming to feed a pet or water plants, this is also a task that said person might take on.

  8. I think like anything else, staycations may be a lot more fun/relaxing when kids or older (or like Noemi, without the kids!). Don’t they say that vacations with young kids are “same s&*t, difference place”? In that case, staycations would be “same S^&t, same place”

    1. this is so true. I was so disappointed by the first few vacations with babies/toddlers until I realized this fact and lowered my expectations 😉

      1. Yes! And add to it the fact that you have to *take* most of your s&^t with you to a different place when you have babies/toddlers, and it can be exhausting and make you wonder why you did it. I always enjoyed the longer trips more than the short weekend ones because I could let go of expectations and a bad day if there were lots of days in the vacation.

  9. We do a vacation and a staycation each year. Both are rejuvenationg. While staycationing, we feel like we’re really living in our home. We see it différently, We live slowly in it and it changes our perspectives about our home and our family. It always gives us new idea on how to live more peacefully all together.

    On an other topic, i can give you a really simple time management strategy, and it’s ”synergy” of actions, we use it a lot while vacationing or staycationing

    have nice day.

  10. For staycationing, my spouse and I very occasionally do this. What we do is go to a nice hotel/B&B in the area while our 4 year old spends the night at his grandma’s or at his aunt & uncle’s house (with his cousin.) My spouse and I will have a leisurely dinner and enjoy the lovely hotel experience. Then, we pick up our son the next morning feeling rejuvenated.

  11. I also agree that vacations get easier when the kids reach 3.5 or 4 — my youngest is 3.5 and was the youngest of the 4 kids on our recent beach weekend (oldest was 7), and it was mostly very easy. And I’m such a homebody that I end up equal parts refreshed and exhausted by vacations, so am eager to get home and back into a normal routine. I’m always glad I left, but I miss my own space and schedule. However, because I work from home and have had no childcare this summer, I have zero interest in a staycation. It just sounds like my regular life, except maybe without a work deadline! Maybe I’m a bit worn out as I’m on month 2 of several months of solo parenting, but I can’t wait for school to start again (tomorrow!). Staycation? Only if I could send the kids away for a week and have the house to myself!

    1. @Meghan – humorously, one of my most relaxing weeks in the last 10 years was when my husband took our then-3 kids to the beach with his extended family in the summer of 2014, and I had the house to myself. I worked 60 hours and I was 3 months pregnant, but it was just blissfully relaxing. I worked when I wanted, ate when I wanted, went to bed and woke up when I wanted…

  12. I’ve been trying to convince my husband to take the kids somewhere…I’m doing it for him this summer (taking the kids to visit my family for a week, and he has a major work deadline). I’m hoping it’ll inspire him to reciprocate soon. It sounds like exactly the kind of real break I need.

  13. We just got back from a week away with kids and other family last week. We actually took a helper with us for the first time. It wasn’t as cost prohibitive as we once thought, and it allowed for us to have more time to ourselves on vacation. She helped with household chores, mealtime for kids, baths and bedtime, and allowed for the rest of us to have dinner together instead of someone staying back or hiring a local sitter, which we have done in the past for many nights. We used airline miles to book her flight and meals/extra groceries were nominal. I also recommend scheduling your cleaning person/nanny to come the day or day after you get back to help put away kid clothes/unpack. I hope this comment isn’t snotty, we just thought it was a much better way for everyone to enjoy the vacation.

  14. My most relaxing staycation mimicked the most relaxing parts of a real vacation, plus spending time with friends and taking advantage of smaller weekday crowds. So I planned one thing for the morning that was annoying to schedule during a regular week (like an annual physical) or that let me avoid the normal weekend crowds (like car maintenance or an Ikea run). Followed that with a long lunch and relaxing afternoon reading or visiting tourist attractions (I’m terrible at taking advantage of living in DC). I arranged dinner with friends for several of the evenings or other fun activities that would have been harder to fit in during a normal workweek. But it’s very easy to let a staycation, like a weekend, get swallowed up by your to do list or laziness.

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