We have been back from vacation for almost a week now and usually after being away I am eager to jump back into our routines and the day to day rhythm of life here. I want to call people, post pictures and connect with the life we left. But I have been slowly inching my way back this time, reluctantly answering emails and making my way though unfinished work projects. I have found myself wanting to hibernate just a bit. I haven’t planned any play dates or connected with friends. I didn’t go to the grocery store until Thursday afternoon. I signed off instagram and facebook while we were away and wasn’t sure I wanted to sign back on.
I have been trying to put my finger on why this vacation felt different. Why coming back has been a bit harder.
Last year we did a whirlwind of a trip...driving and stopping in different cities along the way, which also meant unloading and re-loading the car over 65 billion times. At least that’s what it felt like. This year we knew we had one destination: San Juan Del Sur. The warm air and seaside beach town are the perfect place to settle in for vacation. Our days were simple. We rented a friend’s condo so we would have access to a kitchen. Those of you with little ones know eating at home is sometimes so much easier and less hectic for everyone. And we set aside 10 days in our schedule to just be together.
I read somewhere that the key when traveling with kids is to accommodate to your lowest common denominator. In our case, that is Elena. We usually did breakfasts at home, would venture out to the pool or beach by mid morning, grab lunch somewhere and come home for her nap time. We’d head back to the beach later in afternoon when the hottest part of the day had passed and wait to watch the sun dip behind the ocean, usually with gelato or a smoothie in hand.
It hadn’t occurred to me that Elena had never really seen the sunset or at least if she has she wasn’t old enough to understand what was happening. We live in a valley, where if you’re lucky on a clear night you can see the colors of the sunset peeking out from behind the volcanoes at dusk, but then before you know it the light fades and it’s dark. Not to mention most evenings at 6 or 6:30pm, we rarely just sit and wait for the sunset. We’re in end of the day chaos of dinner-bath-and-bedtime.
On our first evening sitting on the steps, facing the bay Elena asked, “Mama, where’s da sun going?” I explained, “It’s going to sleep. That every night the sun gets tired and has to rest and then it comes up again the next morning.” I know my science may be a bit off, but for now that answer seemed to suffice. So each evening we watched the sun go to sleep. We sat and licking our gelato before it melted, mesmerized by the colors painted in the sky. Elena would point out the “pink and wellow” and “oh-anj” (orange). The whole town kind of pauses at sunset, as people gather on the sand, beach go-ers get out their cameras and restaurant waiters find a corner to watch their table and the dipping sun. It’s like it never gets old.
After we finished our gelato we would walk along the beach, trading off holding Elena because a little someone still couldn’t get over the sand making her feet dirty. We laughed and splashed in the warm water, but she still wouldn’t dip her toes in. One evening I got down and showed her how we could make a sand castle. She liked that idea, until she realized the sand also made her hands “dooty.” She would only walk toward the water when it was presented as the only way to clean off her hands and feet. Gerber would then every so kindly carry her on top of his shoulders for the rest of the walk so her feet wouldn’t get sandy again. We’d continue walking until the last light faded over the horizon.
And we did this each and every evening.
There is something incredibly calming about your entire day revolving around the setting sun. We ate, and played and rested and then watched the sun set. Every day. And I think physically it re-set not only the pattern of my day, but the order of my heart. I understand now how they say we can re-set our cardiac rhythms after just 5 days without electricity. Granted we still had electricity, but our days weren’t ordered by clocks and schedules, but more so by a natural rhythm. And it was lovely. It made me appreciate the liturgical practice of Praying by the Hours, the pattern of praying at morning, midday, evening and bedtime. Somehow our vacation and perhaps, Elena’s schedule, warranted those natural pauses in the morning when we woke up and at midday when she napped and during the evening as the sun was setting and right before we crawled into bed.
I didn’t feel as distracted, as can be expected when there aren’t errands to do or things to get or computers to open. I didn’t bring up scheduling questions and work related emails to Gerber at 10:30pm in the bedroom. (which is probably a habit that I should stop) In fact we didn’t talk about work or ministry much at all. I snuck away for a yoga class one morning, Gerber rented a surf board and we each took a 1/2 hour lesson. We went out for dinner twice, bringing our babysitter “Daniel the Tiger” with us. 🙂 We found this delightful place where the owners/chefs are a Argentinian/Guatemalan couple and the food is divine. We know we’ll have other years where we can go do paddle boarding together or take a motorcycle tour and stay out later than 8pm. But this year we adapted to more or less to Elena’s schedule. And you know what, it was really, pretty nice.
This was a vacation filled with the gift of quantity of time. Sure we had plenty of quality moments, but the gift of being away together with very little on our agenda or list of expectations was the real reason I think this vacation felt different. I read this article the other day from the NY times and found myself nodding along the whole time. The thing about life and relationships is you can’t plan and fit the most meaningful moments of someone’s live in into 1-hour coffee dates. I am guilty of this. In my value of being efficient and practical, sometimes giving time can be the hardest thing for me.
I’d like to think I have quality time down. I know how to have a quality evening, which questions to ask to have meaningful discussions, what topics are significant and worth while to bring up, etc. I naturally like quality time. But quantity of time is different. Quantity of time means giving the gift of being present for longer than a meal. It’s not planning, nor controlling, but just being. And here’s the thing about quantity of time it’s also not filled with super meaningful moments the whole time. It’s made up of little every day events and conversations that bubble up out of the laughter of being together. It involves being in the kitchen together or siting on the same sofa at night instead of in opposite rooms of the house.
Quantity of time happened while we drove in the car together for hourrrrrs and listened each time Elena spotted the letter “E” on a billboard and pointed, “Look, look. “eee” for Eh-nena.” (for some reason she still can’t pronounce the l in her own name). We spent time hanging out in the kitchen, eating, washing dishes, filtering water with nowhere to run off to. When Elena napped we hung out on the front porch or on the couch. I read (and would most definitely recommend this book and this one) while Gerber flipped through channels trying to get updates on the Guatemalan political situation. We played in the pool and took turns catching Elena as she jumped. We were both there when she swam underwater for the first time by herself and proudly wiped the water from her face without any tears! We walked on the beach and held hands if we both had a free one. And sometimes if Elena was on Gerber’s shoulder she would push our faces together in a funny game where she “made us kiss.” She is just learning how to be silly and the whole thing was quite comical and also kind of romantic.
At home we usually spend a lot of time juggling and trading off, I make dinner, he plays with Elena. He does dishes, while I give Elena a bath. I sleep in, and he makes breakfast. I think this is how most parents of young kids do it. Tossing life’s responsibilities back and forth from one to the other, juggling chores and work and rest and hopefully, maybe even gracefully, moving forward day by day. This works for us for the most part when we’re both home. It is still probably the most efficient way to navigate both of us working and figuring out our calling and parenting and caring for one another, but it does not naturally lend itself to quantity of time together. Because when your moments feel divided, separated and fragmented and it’s hard to feel together.
Quantity of time allows room for the surprising comments and points of connection that happen in the moment, the same moments that are easy to miss when it feels like a lot of your past few months have been snippets of quality time here and there, but no large chunk of quantity of time together. If you would have asked me a month ago to name what’s been tough about the past few months, I probably would have described being apart for 42 days; Gerber working away from home and managing Healthy Communities, while I work from home and take care of Elena and our home. But framing it in this idea of quality vs quantity of time has helped me understand it a bit better. I know marriages and family need both, but I am aware that we have been missing the quantity piece for quite some time now.
Is quantity of time something that you can only really have when you step away from the rest of real life and go let’s say, on a vacation? Or are there ways to have quantity of time together in the midst of the day-to-day demands of life? Maybe that’s a rhetorical question. But if you know the answer be sure to let me know.
For now I am making a few small changes, more to help me maintain that natural rhythm that I so loved about vacation. I want to be more connected to the people I am with, than I am to the people on my phone. So I have been charging my phone downstairs at night, instead of bringing it to our bedroom. I should have done that eons ago, but it has been a simple but significant change. I am making a point to watch the sunset, even when it means dinner may not be ready or bedtime gets pushed back. That pause in the afternoon is like a breath of fresh air for my soul.
And can I be honest, you wanna know what else I am doing? I am already looking forward to next year’s vacation by the beach. Because everyone need a small corner of the world to pause, unplug and rest. And for us that place has been this small, Nicaraguan beachside town where the air is warm, the sand is soft and the sunsets are spectacular. We always leave in a frenzy of packing and preparing, worn out from long days apart working and parenting, but we come home refreshed, reconnected and reminded of what’s really important.
And I can’t think of anything better. Except that maybe that one day our little girl won’t hate the sand.