Sunday, September 5, 2010

Past Deadline: The Fine Art of Vacationing

Since having kids (and sometimes even before then), I have approached vacations with a certain amount of dread. There is all the work-related preparation required to actually be able to go, then the fearsome amount of work awaiting one’s return, not to mention the planning and packing required to actually leave the building.

This is especially true when camping or cottaging, I find, as provisions are required that one wouldn’t necessarily need if going on, say, a cruise.

Once you arrive there is a fine art to vacationing properly and I seldom achieve it. I’ve heard it said that the ideal length for a holiday is three weeks: one week to unwind, one to enjoy and one to feel bored enough to return.

Because my holidays tend to be crammed into seven- to 10-day stretches, it tends to go more like this: During the first two or three days I stress about not being able to relax. For the next couple of days I might actually be able to forget about work, but the last few days are usually punctuated by little pesky stabs of worry about what lies in wait for me in my inbox.

Good times.

All that aside, though, having a week to reconnect with nature at a cottage really is a blessing, even if I can’t get my addled brain to rest in the moment for more than a couple of days. I am always reminded how much I truly need a few days in the outdoors to feel “right” again.

I think we all need this more than we realize.

For the better part of a year I have been involved with a children’s program at Murphys Point called Super Kids In Parks, which was designed as a way to get kids like mine off the computer once a week and teach them a thing or two about nature. A kazillion or so studies show a huge disconnect between kids and nature, which is leading to all sorts of nasty things like sleep deprivation, low self-esteem and behavioural problems.

Getting kids outside helps them to understand how the planet works and to identify with the environment. It helps them to solve problems. It’s relaxing. It can be an elixir to some modern woes. It also gets them moving and combating childhood obesity.

As much time as I have spent understanding this and helping to create this program for children so that good people can show them a few things about the outdoors, I often forget that I, too, need to unplug and enjoy the fresh air and catch frogs with the kids and take pictures of critters and even read a book while sitting on a dock.

It’s basic but essential, and so many of us are missing it.

A friend of mine who used to live in the country invited me and the kids over one time to see her new home. It featured woods and water and I breathed it all in. She looked at me and said, “I can see you relaxing even as you stand here.” And it’s true.

Why is it so hard for us to unplug? And what has happened that has made kids favour screen time over outside time? Sometimes I practically need a crowbar to wedge my short people out the door and into the backyard, where they claim there is “nothing to do.” Why don’t they build forts and ride bikes and make “soup” out of pulled-up grass in a mud puddle like we used to?

Of course these are mostly rhetorical questions. Things are different now. Parents have been conditioned to be alarmingly protective and in doing so we run the risk of nurturing a bunch of zombies who shun the outdoors and don’t understand their own environment.

So when I see the way my own kids respond and bloom when we go camping or cottaging, and how they remind me of myself at that age when they’re busy frolicking, it is good.

Now I just need to find a way to make this type of “vacationing” part of our everyday, and maybe we’d all feel more “right.”

Wish me luck.

Published in The Perth Courier, Sept. 2/10.

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