People in the United Kingdom would often ask me how on earth Americans survive with so little vacation time each year.
“You are supposed to work to live, not live to work,” my friend said to me one day while we hunkered down in her cozy cottage with steaming mugs of tea. I really had no answer and no defense.
But after a decade of enjoying four to six weeks of holiday a year, the yearning to be back on U.S. soil was too strong to bear. So we moved back to Chicago—back to the daily grind.
Life back home has been a good fit for our family for the most part. But getting used to the decrease in down time each year is a challenge. I’m not sure anyone knows how to have as much fun as the people of the great city of Chicago. We work hard and we play hard. But are we getting burned out?
According to a CNN Money story last month, Americans get less vacation time than workers in other industrialized countries, and they also opt to take fewer days off. France gets 37 vacation days a year and the U.K. gets 28. Most people I know get a meager 14 days off and use far fewer due to an unspoken pressure to keep things running smoothly.
Anyone who has experienced a European postal or airline strike knows national lengthy leisure time comes with a price tag. But could we find more balance between leisure and work? God knows we need it here.
The biggest change to get used to when we moved home was the frenetic pace of life. Though we craved the bountiful offering of sports available to American kids, that came at a cost. My head spun on its axis for a full two years as I adjusted to kids’ sporting schedules. “I rush, therefore I am” seemed to be the national tagline running through our lives.
With the technological advances we have made, I am surprised we have not figured out a way to bank more time to put our feet up and relax in peace. It is a constant struggle to remind myself to pull the plug and be by myself or with family.
Occasionally, red flags serve as reminders.
Driving down York Road on the last day before school finished, I looked at the driver of the minivan next to me. Don’t ask me how she managed this. She was eating her lunch with a fork out of a ceramic bowl, wolfing her pasta down at a stop light, dribbling sauce on the seat belt that cut across her chest. My heart went out to this poor gal. I imagined her trying to juggle work and kids' schedules and gym time. Are we so run down that we are using our china and cutlery in the driver’s seat?
I took that glance in the minivan as a sign and cleared a square on my calendar.
On our deck the next evening with nothing but a candle and a back-lit Nook, I hunkered down with my dog for a good story to channel a slower way of life.
I do miss the longer vacation times we surrendered when we moved back to the country we love so much. I especially miss the extra time spent puttering around at home with no schedule or lists of things to do. But I love drive-through restaurants, and I have a passion for sports and a mail system that works.
One thing I know for sure is that there is no such thing as the perfect place to live. And, there is no place like home. Until we figure out a way to add more vacation time to our calendar as a nation, I’ll have to take this great country as it is. We’ll make it work.
In the meantime, I will have to make the most of the hours we steal from the calendar to find treasured down time.
Whether it is a “staycation” or a vacation, periods of rest do not pay the bills. But they do pay dividends. And those ceramic bowls we worked so hard to pay for will always look better on the kitchen table at home.