Vacationing To Versus Vacationing From

Some time back, I posted a blog piece discussing the concept of vacationing after retirement.  You can review it at http://www.terrilabonte.com/tag/vacations/.  I asked whether you can still call it a vacation when you no longer have a job from which to vacate.  After considering the routine of my post-employment life and the activities I enjoyed on a couple of trips Max and I took after retirement, I concluded that the word “vacation” is still appropriate.

Recently, we visited Williamsburg, Virginia. There is something about the whole vibe of Williamsburg that relaxes me, reduces my physical and mental pace, and delights me.  Max and I have been there together three times now. Each time, we have highlighted different sights and experiences.  We repeat some activities, but, for the most part, each visit has been different. This time, we experienced a rather impressive number of new adventures.

If I had to put a label on the theme of this trip that made it different from prior visits, I’d probably say that this trip focused on “immersive” experiences.

We went to a reenactment of an actual colonial trial.  We’ve done that in the past. This time, though, I volunteered to play the part of the plaintiff. As wild and madcap and uncharacteristic as it was for me to willingly put myself at the center of attention, I actually enjoyed myself.  And I did a really good job.  Just ask my new agent.

In the colonial city, we also participated in three “nation-builder” talks.  Three fantastically smart and incredibly brave historic interpreters channeled George Washington, George Mason, and Thomas Jefferson.  These gentlemen spent some time “introducing themselves” to explain who they were and into which specific time period we present day tourists had stumbled. Then, unbelievably, they took questions- any random questions from anyone in the audience (I know because I raised my hand and asked one).  It was mindboggling how much these guys knew.  What was even more incredible was how deftly they molded the massive quantities of data that must be filed away in their brains into coherent, conversational, and seamless answers to questions they didn’t know the audience would ask.  I was in awe.

Not only were these presentations impressive exhibitions of historical prowess, they were damned entertaining.  It was more than a mite chizzly in Williamsburg when we were there. The temperatures were in the upper 40s during the nation-building presentations and there was a less-than-gentle “brrrrr…eeze.” We sat in the cold and wind for 45 minutes for each of the talks. We were so mesmerized, we barely felt the blood freeze in our veins.

We ate dinner in one of the colonial taverns for the first time on this trip. We went to Christina Campbell’s, which is a restoration of George Washington’s favorite restaurant in Williamsburg.  I say that I have the eating habits of your typical four-year-old.  If a four-year-old won’t eat it, I probably won’t either.  At Christina Campbell’s, I even pushed the boundaries of my non-adventurous eating.  I tried the spoonbread.  I didn’t like it, but I got into the spirit of the thing and tried it.

Our “immersive experiences” did not stop at the colonial city.  We also visited Busch Gardens.  Our main objective for this excursion was to go on two special animal tours. During those tours, we interacted with Clydesdales, border collies, sheep, and wolves. What made the tours even more special was the fact that Max and I were apparently the only two people in the park more interested in animals than roller coasters.  On both tours, we were the only two participants.  We had private Clydesdale, collie, sheep, and wolf training lessons.  I got to pet a Clydesdale, shake hands with a border collie, feed a sheep, and play tetherball with a wolf.  It was all pretty terrific, but I have to admit that asking a wolf to jump for her ball and throwing her hot dogs when she did so was over-the-top cool.

This trip really was very different from our other trips.  When I think about it, I realize it wasn’t different only because of the activities we enjoyed.  The concept of “immersion” went deeper than that. I felt more engaged and connected with the entire experience.

I think my “immersion” experience had to do with the whole work versus retirement thing.  When I was working, I looked forward to vacations with almost the same intensity of a dialysis patient waiting for a kidney. The fun of a vacation generated at least as much from what I was escaping as it did from the trip itself. I had to spend a sizeable portion of the vacation bailing work-related stress out of my saturated brain before I could notice the delights of what was actually going on around me during the vacation.  Then, there was the period at the end of the vacation when I was reigniting to go back to work.  Those periods at the beginning and end of the vacation were not unpleasant.  They were helpful and regenerating.  It was a personal and professional advantage to take that time to reset my brain.  The thing is, though, that it didn’t really matter where I was or what I was doing when engaged in those “decompress and regenerate” cycles.  My focus was on the process of resetting my brain, not on the process of experiencing new places, people, and activities.  Those new places, people, and activities were really just a backdrop to my own attempts to renew my brain.

Even after I retired, I think I still had the “vacationing from” mentality rather than the “vacationing to” mentality.  Taking care of my mother, even before she suffered the stroke, replaced my “regular” job.  I didn’t work as many hours at this “new job,” but I invested all my love and energy to create as beautiful an experience as I could for her.  In creating that beautiful experience for my mother, I also created one for myself, but doing so required energy and focus.  When I went on vacation during the time I was caring for my mother, I had as much need to concentrate on renewing myself as I did when I had a paying job.

I think this trip to Williamsburg might have been my first vacation that was really about the vacation itself.  It is kind of ironic that, after grappling with whether a pleasure trip is still a vacation after you retire, I should come to the conclusion that post-work vacations may be more pure vacation than those trips during career life.

Now that I no longer have to focus on renewing my worn-out brain during vacations, I find myself much more able to throw myself into the experience of the vacation itself. A vacation is now an event instead of a respite from events.   I can immerse myself in the novelty of the experience.  I can participate more fully in the “only on vacation” moments- the activities, the sightseeing, the food, the environment, etc.  Everything about the vacation seems somehow more “in focus” than when I took a vacation while I was working.  It feels like I was experiencing vacations in 2D when I was still working and now I can perceive the vacation third dimension because the part of my brain that shut down to destress while I vacationed from work is now available to process a richer, more complete experience.

I don’t know whether I would say that vacationing after retirement is “better” or “more fun” than vacationing while one is still working, but it certainly feels different to me.

What do you think?  Are vacations different after you retire?  What has your experience been?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.  Please also email me if you would like to join the launch party for my book,  Changing My Mind: Reinventing Myself In RetirementThere are still lines available for the conference call.  

Also, if you would like to get an early copy of the book, you can go to https://secure.mybookorders.com/Orderpage/2076  to order.  If you use the promo code terri, you will receive a 15% discount.  Those of you who are attending the launch party, either virtually or in real life, may want to wait as I will be offering a larger discount for party participants.

Finally, Happy Mothers’ Day! I’ve been working on a Mothers’ Day post, but it just wasn’t coming together as quickly as I had hoped.  I decided I would rather do it just-ice rather than just-in time, so terrilabonte.com will be celebrating Mothers’ Day at some future date.  For those of you living in the real world, though…. have a warm, wonderful celebration of motherhood whether your mom is in this world with you or not.

Phew!!!!! Hope I haven’t exhausted any of you.  Please try to get some rest today, after reading this marathon!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

 

Loosening My Grip

Right before my mother had her stroke on August 17th, I made reservations to take a solo trip to California to visit my friends and recharge my batteries. I scheduled the trip for mid-September. Max was going to hold down the fort so I could go to California without worrying about my mother. I ended up cancelling the trip at the last minute because I could not see myself leaving my mother at that time.  She was out of the hospital and in the rehab facility, but it just seemed too soon to leave.  We were both confused and unsure of what was happening.  I was too raw and my brain was too flooded with emotion to consider stepping away for a week. 

We started forgoing vacations even before my mother’s stroke because it was difficult to leave her on her own for more than a couple of days.  Even though she was living reasonably independently in her mobile home, she had no safety network in Florida and she often needed help with routine issues that come up in daily life.  For instance, she would sometimes have difficulties getting the air conditioning or heating to turn on and stay on to the temperature that felt good to her.   When I was home, it wasn’t a big deal to run over to her house and help her when there was a challenge.  I could try to anticipate and take care of as much as possible before leaving, but she still often experienced unexpected problems when I was on a trip. It became more anxiety-fraught than it was worth to leave on a vacation.  

When my mother started on the hospice program and I was losing myself in her illness, Max thought it would be good for both of us to have a vacation on the horizon.  Being the maniacal planners that we are, we have always believed that anticipating a vacation is almost as big a pleasure as actually going on one.  Even though I felt a bit stressed and pressured at the idea of planning to leave my mom, it did help to fantasize about a vacation.  When Max pushed to actually schedule a trip to California, I felt a bit panicky because I was concerned that we would commit the money for the plane tickets and then have to cancel at the last minute again because of my mom’s condition.  On the other hand, we were scheduling the trip four months ahead of time.  Truthfully, I don’t think anyone, including my mom, thought she would still be alive by the time our airplane went wheels up.   

As time passed, my mother stabilized.  She adapted a little more to her condition.  She settled into the nursing home and seemed comfortable there.  Although one of my favorite hobbies is anticipating vacations, I could not wrap my head around thinking ahead to the trip.  I worried about leaving her.  I didn’t want her to feel abandoned or sad.  I didn’t want her to think I didn’t love her or that I wasn’t going to come back to her.  I worried that she would stop eating altogether if I wasn’t there to make her ice cream sodas and bring her McDonald’s milkshakes.  I tried hiring a neighbor to visit her and bring milkshakes while I was gone, but it turned out she had a trip planned at the same time as ours.  I wanted to go and I had a sneaky suspicion that I was getting to the point where a vacation was becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity, if I wanted to keep getting out of bed each morning.  Still, I was hesitant. 

I wasn’t worried about the care the nursing facility was giving my mom.  The staff has been wonderful with her.  They make her laugh, which is officially my favorite thing in the world right now.  They treat her respectfully and affectionately.  They provide what she needs.  The sweet hospice nurses volunteered to bring daily milkshakes so my mother would not get out of the habit of consuming some form of nutrition.   I don’t think I was even really worried that she would die while I was gone.  She seemed pretty stable and, honestly, I think my mother would almost prefer it if she were to die without me being there. It is kind of a mom thing.  I think, at this point, she would rather die gracefully alone and protect me from the grief of watching her die.   

Still, there was some huge something that was preventing me from anticipating the trip with pleasure.  In short, I think it was some deeply buried belief on my part that my presence is some sort of talisman against my mother’s physical and emotional pain.  Something in me thinks that, as long as I am there, I am some sort of shield against her hurting physically or emotionally. It feels like, if I can control the amount of time I spend with her, I must be able to control how much she hurts.  That is clearly not true, given what she has been going through the past several months- even with my regular presence.  The truth is hard to take.  No matter what I do and no matter how much time I spend with her, I cannot change what I want to change- the reality that her condition is life limiting in every sense. 

After much mental percolation and urging by everyone in my life, I decided to take the vacation.  My mother gave me a wonderful and unexpected gift in the last week or so before we left.  She was able to tell me that she was glad I was getting to go.  Max and I ended up having a great time.  Max and I had fun and enjoyed just being with each other, surrounded by the activities of our old life.  I realized that the sneaky suspicion I had that the vacation was becoming necessary was more than a suspicion.  I came back lighter and more refreshed.  I was more able to perform my daughter-caretaker role.  You always hear that you have to take care of yourself so you can care for others better.  I understand that, but, like most caretakers, I tend to really believe that, with enough effort and will, I should be able to provide the best care even without taking time out. 

My mother did great.  She also seemed better than she was before I left. We have enjoyed clearer conversations and more laughter.  I sent pictures from my phone to the hospice nurse while I was gone, so my mom already had some idea of what I had been doing in California and was well-prepared to hear about my adventures.  In fact, it was kind of nice to have something new to discuss.  Going to the nursing facility nearly every day, there isn’t much that comes up between visits to be fodder for new conversations. 

I’m very glad I loosened my grip on my mother’s care enough to take my week away. I had to loosen my grip on her care to grasp my own.

What have you done to take care of yourself when you were in a caretaking role?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment.  In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Take care!

Terri 🙂