by Jennifer Sey
I don’t generally take vacations. Even before the recession friendly “stay-cation” became popular (and got a name), I took them. My husband hates to fly and I don’t like being trapped in a Corolla with two kids on long car trips. So we always settled on doing nothing.
I’d take a week off, hang out at home with my kids, doing stuff I don’t usually get to do with them. Take them to school, pick them up, get an afternoon ice cream cone. I’d clean the closets and the junk drawers. And tell myself this was just what I needed. In between maybe I’d catch a movie or get a pedicure. Throughout, I’d check my work email. And voice mail. Call in for the odd meeting here and there. In the end, this was not so relaxing.
This year I decided I’d take an actual vacation even if the hubbie didn’t want to go. He opted out which would usually be enough for me to give in to the stay-cation out of guilt (shouldn’t I spend my time off with him?) But I stayed true to my promise to myself and took the kids to Maui. Best decision I ever made.
Blue water, bluer skies. Plenty of action – snorkeling, hiking, parasailing. And plenty of rest. On the beach, by the pool, on a boat. All with afternoon cocktails, of course.
I managed to put my handheld email device down for long stretches, though I’ll cop to checking at the end of each day. I rarely responded to any despite the itch to do so (I’ll take progress over perfection). I had no conference calls. I cleaned no closets. I fell asleep easily each night, then slept for ten straight hours. I even pooped every morning (I clench when I’m stressed) upon awakening with a jaw that wasn't achy from teeth grinding. And the result was that I actually felt relaxed.
I’d been told this could happen but I had my doubts. How could I relax by not checking my email when the mere knowledge that they were backing up would be causing me anxiety? When something makes me tense I generally lean into it even harder. Go right for the sore spot. Yeah, make it bleed. Eventually it’s so sore you can’t even feel it anymore. It’s just how you are.
Lo and behold, there might be something to this “checking out” for a while. Not only did I generally become unclenched, even some of my more tenacious physical ailments were healed. I’ve had a patch of weepy eczema on my left ankle for the past few months (since I had a cast after surgery) that has been refusing to heal despite bucketfuls of medicated cream. It’s gone now. Poof. Sunshine and pina coladas apparently have a healing affect on skin disorders. I pick my cuticles pretty much constantly and it drives my husband bonkers. Not until I eased back into picking them on the shuttle ride to the Maui airport (I was warming up really, I drew no blood) did I realize that I hadn’t touched them in a week. And they were healed. No scabs, no gaping holes, no raw fingertips. Generally I don’t even realize I’m picking. But the respite brought attention to it when I started again. And I willed myself to stop. Awareness is the first step, yes?
Even my ankle – on which I had surgery  back in March – feels better than it has in years. Perhaps all the barefoot fancy freeness of the place seeped up into my leg a bit. It’s not the ankle of a fifteen year old. Or even a 41 year old that never did gymnastics. But I played catch with my youngest son on the beach and even ran for a ball now and again.
The one thing not cured during the 6 days in Maui – my spare tire. Another ailment created by the last year of personal neglect. I used to pride myself on a flat stomach. Big ass / upper leg area, maybe. Unwieldy boobs, sure. But between those two monstrosities was a flat stomach. Not no more. Between neck and ankles are a series of lumps. Unconstrained, untamed, unattractive. I don’t weigh myself so I don’t think I realized how bad it had gotten.
To keep it in perspective, I know that I am a reasonably sized woman. I wear clothes claiming single digit sizing. I fit in an economy class airplane seat. I can wear much of the clothing that I wore on my honeymoon 11 years ago, when I was at my fittest as an adult. But I have shape shifted and I kind of feel like shit. And it is due to neglect.
The last year and a half have been about proving myself in a new job, working days that have no official start or end time, just one long stretch of daylight blending into the next with a few hours of restless shut eye in between. I have worried myself sick about my youngest son – who has panic attacks and fears death. I have been in marriage counseling and a practitioner of the “Hold me Tight” guide to trying to fix what’s broken in my 16 year relationship. I have traveled relentlessly for work, tried to write these columns (not always with success) and read endless articles about children who are anxious, selectively mute, ridiculously smart and socially challenged. I have carted kids to swimming classes, art classes and basketball practice. I have started the less than healthy habit of nightly wine and post dinner snacks. I have not, however, gone to the gym. And I realize now that I feel disgusting. And kind of sad.
Or I did upon arriving in Maui. I now feel tan and rested and hopeful rather than on edge. There’s still the pesky spare tire but when surrounded by tan limbs it doesn’t look so egregious. I am armed with a renewed sense of purpose. I am going to take care of myself.
I’ll do a good job at work. I will. I can’t not. But I will schedule an hour a day for the gym. And work an hour less. I will not resort to salami sandwiches for lunch when I’m feeling anxious. I will leave the wine for weekends. I will continue to be there for my kids – fixing breakfast, helping with homework every night, dedicating weekends to swimming, biking and city hiking. I’ll re-channel the money I was spending on counseling and how-to-save-your-marriage books and maybe even splurge on a once a week trainer who can teach me how to exercise with this bum ankle since I’ve been using that as my half-assed excuse to not go to the gym. I’ll still work on the marriage but maybe if I feel a little better about myself, it will be a tad more productive.
I may be mai-tai and sun soaked, but I feel clearer than I have in a long time. I had a blast with my kids. I’ve accepted my spare tire as a temporary situation, caused by severe lack of personal regard, but utterly fixable within a relatively short amount of time. I might even stop picking my cuticles, a nasty habit that I’ve refused to consider even trying to think about stopping, since I was thirteen.
I’m definitely going on another vacation some time in the not too distant future. Perhaps there’s a bikini out there with my name on it if I can get rid of this back fat. I definitely don’t want to live my life waiting for vacations to feel human though. The real trick will be to take some of this newfound clarity, self-acceptance and peace of mind into the real world with me.
But if I slip up – which I’m sure I will – I hear there’s whale watching in Hawaii in December.