Ahhh, summer vacation is finally here. No, not the three months, I’m going to write a book, organize my papers, clean my basement, and make home-made meals sort of vacation, but instead, the I’m taking 13 days off in a row so that I can be with my family, visit extended family, and see the sites sort of vacation. We 12-month-a-year working stiffs long for this sort of thing. Yes, yes, I am paid to work 12 months a year, so no pity party required or deserved. It’s just that our family has taken relatively few vacations over the last 20 years, so this is very much a special occasion for us.
It would be nice to have an annual week at the beach, or a ritualistic trek to Grandma’s, but we live on a boat so we can’t justify beach hotel expenditures and both grandmothers live just around the Beltway, so the regular vacation thing has just never worked out for us (although some would argue, and I would agree, that living on a boat is sort of a perpetual vacation … except when it is hot, or cold, or rainy, or windy, or I want to have more than two pairs of shoes at hand).
I am so excited about this break, about the chance to catch up on sleep, and about the opportunity to reconnect with my family. But I am also a little panicky tonight as I try to prepare for being away from work for what seems like forever. I didn’t take 13 days off when I had babies.
Of course, even though I will be thousands of miles away, everyone at work has my email address, cell phone number, and Blackberry number for emergencies. In reality, the email will not be reserved for emergencies, but instead will keep coming to my inbox during my vacation as it does on all other days. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have time to get through all of my emails when I work a 10-hour day, so the idea of going back to catch up on missed emails that will accumulate over 13 days is beyond ridiculous. Will I be bold enough when I write my out-of-office reply tonight to tell people that I will probably never go back to read the messages I missed while away on vacation, and that if they really need to communicate with me, they should re-send the message in a few weeks? I did that once when I went on a short vacation years ago, and my boss was not amused. But it’s true. I’ll never find the time to go back and catch up on all of that email unless I give up every weekend between now and September, which I am not going to do since September is the best month for sailing in these parts.
I will scan my emails while I am away, because despite the message my electronic (thanks, Mr. Gates) out-of-office assistant will deliver, there will be people who need an answer that can’t wait, and I will be expected to respond. People know me too well. Everyone, including my children and husband, know that while some snap photos of the Grand Canyon, I will be sneaking peaks at my Blackberry … just in case. Whatever happened to the American vacation? I think we should adopt the tradition of the Europeans and shut the whole place down for six weeks.
As I daydream about the events to come, the sleeping late, the casual coffees, the long conversations, the trashy magazines, the hikes and kayaking and horseback riding, in the back of my mind I just know that some disaster will happen at work, which I will read about on my Blackberry, and which will spoil my mood. My Blackberry is sure to disrupt the calm and quiet I crave. I hate that thing. Except that I love it because it gives me the freedom to walk away from my desk and still get the job done. When I think of the more memorable events of the last decade, the Blackberry has played a role, except on September 11th, when none of us who worked on Capitol Hill had one, and then the absence of the device was noteworthy. It is sad, but in some ways I can chronicle my adult life by way of memorable emails.
The worst email ever was probably the one that said, “sorry—I know you are at your father’s funeral, but I really need to you take a look at this and respond in the next 15 minutes.” There have been emails with job offers, and announcements of new babies, new puppies, and (thank God) new leadership on the community association board. I remember the message from my son when he got accepted to the graduate program of his choice, and the one that came later saying that he wasn’t sure that an academic career was what he wanted after all, and the one even later in which he told us that he is thinking about becoming a Catholic monk… which, of course, requires him to first become a Catholic.
Too bad my grandmothers didn’t live to see that. I remember the email from my other son—the one that said he was quitting college and hiking to Alaska. He ended up in Utah, not Alaska, but I can still remember the knot in my stomach when I received his declaration of independence email, and the sheer joy I felt when, after six months of radio silence while he lived off of the land, his name showed up in my inbox and his goofy photo appeared on my Blackberry screen. I don’t remember what the message said, only that tears ran down my cheek when I saw that he was alive and well, at least in electronic land. More recently, I remember the email that said my father-in-law was close to the end and that I had better skip a shower and just get to the hospital. We used to talk on the phone about these sorts of things, but typing is so much more efficient. After all, everyone is so very busy.
I have a box full of wrinkled, old love notes that my husband once put in my lunch bag, or inside of the test tubes on my lab bench, or in my purse or textbooks so that I would find them during the day and think of him. Now I cherish the quick emails he sends during the day—mostly while he is riding the Metro to or from work or meetings—that let me know he is thinking of me. Imagine that—23 years of marriage and he still thinks about me during the day, and in a loving and passionate way. I am a lucky woman.
Okay, so now you see the problem. I’m supposed to be thinking about my old-fashioned American vacation—did I pack enough T-shirts, do I have enough moleskin for our inevitable blisters?—but instead I am thinking about how I will handle my email in the coming days, how it will keep me from relaxing fully, and how painful it will be when I return home and have to dig out from under the pile of exclamation points and punctuation smiley faces. Email now runs my life, occupies my thoughts, and takes up most of my time. It even intrudes into my vacations!
Hopefully, by this time tomorrow I will have run out of battery, and not yet found a place to plug in. Or maybe, just maybe, the beauty of the nature, the joy of being with family, and a few extra glasses of wine will help me relax and take the worries of work away. Maybe I really will relax for the first time in a long time. Ahhh, summer vacation.
Have I mentioned how frightened I am about driving through those long and steep mountain passes?