Is summer vacation all about ‘families’?

Ah, summer. Here on the Oregon coast, it’s sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, sometimes wet, but warmer than the rest of the year. The wildflowers are blooming, the blackberries are beginning to fruit, and the local bear is raiding garbage cans. Streets, restaurants, and beaches are loaded with tourists, many of them toting children. That’s what happens when you live in a vacation destination.

Meanwhile, the people who live here are doing the family thing. This is the time of year when half of my church choir runs off to babysit the grandkids, go camping with the older kids, or attend family reunions. The calendar in the music room is loaded with the names of people who are taking time off while the offspring are out of school. Which leaves a few of us to pick up the slack.

Wherever you work, I suspect something similar is going on. It’s time for family vacations and entertaining the kids. While our mother-father co-workers are running off to the water park or Disneyland, guess who’s staying behind to do the work? The childless ones. It’s a good thing we’re around, but it’s hard not to feel resentful sometimes. Right?

When my husband was alive, we used to travel in the spring, usually around our May 18 anniversary. In addition to his regular work running community centers in San Jose, he was a licensed tax preparer. From January through April, he rarely looked up from his tax forms, but come May, it was time to spend some of that money on a great vacation before the kiddos were set loose. Over the years we went to Hawaii, Portugal, Costa Rica, and British Columbia. We cruised the Mississippi on the Delta Queen from Nashville to St. Louis, visited Tucson and Las Vegas, and explored many places closer to home.

Because our lives weren’t centered on the school calendar, we sometimes found ourselves unwittingly surrounded by families, like the time we visited the Grand Canyon during spring break. Don’t do it! Too crowded. A two-hour wait for a table at any of the restaurants. And those tables were full of kids.

Ours were adult-focused trips. We liked touring historical sites, wine-tasting, nature hikes, local theater performances, visiting galleries and museums, and meals at posh restaurants, stuff that doesn’t go well with children. We were spared amusement parks, Happy Meals, and kids who’d rather play with their electronic devices than see the wonders of the real world. Mostly. There were a couple fun trips with my stepson. We had good times fishing, splashing in the waves at the beach, and playing games. He was a good traveler, still is, but mostly it was just the two of us.

Now it’s just me, but that’s another story.

As I have traveled back and forth to San Jose this summer to be with my father, I have often found myself surrounded by parents and children. They’re at the airport, the rest stops, and the restaurants. It’s their time. God bless the parents trying to wrangle several kids and all their paraphernalia through airport security!

No matter how frustrating it might be, the parents are lucky to have this chance to show the world to their children. I’m sure there were times when my own parents would have loved to dump us somewhere and travel by themselves, but they always took us along. To make it affordable, we camped, mostly in California. My brother and I both grew to love nature and its simple pleasures, the lapping of a lake against the shore, a Stellar’s Jay squawking above the picnic table, the feel of soft dirt under our tennis shoes, and sitting around the campfire under the stars.

I’m getting lost in nostalgia. It’s July. People with children and grandchildren are busy spending time together. Where does that leave those of us without children? Are you doing double duty at work? Are you traveling now or waiting until the kids go back to school? Are you sad or glad about “summer vacation?” Please share in the comments.

 

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Do childless deserve ‘meternity’ leave?

Here’s an idea from author Meghann Foye that has been causing some uproar online. Weary of seeing her co-workers take a nice chunk of time off for maternity leave, she decided we childless folks deserve something she’s calling “meternity” leave. She wrote about it in the New York Post in this article titled “I want all the perks of maternity leave–without having any kids.”

Foye also wrote a novel titled Meternity. In that novel, the main character pretends to be pregnant, so she can have all the perks that the pregnant women around her are having, along with the freedom of not having kids.

All of this has irritated some people. Check the counterpoint piece by Kyle Smith in the New York Post, “Parents should be worshipped by their childless co-workers.” That’s just one of many angry responses.

Should we demand our own “meternity” leave or should we worship the mommies? Doesn’t that description of childbirth make you at least a tiny bit glad you’ve never had to do it? Be honest. It’s something to think about as we slog through another Mother’s Day this weekend.

Okay, so parents in the right work situations get paid leave for childbirth. I think we can all agree they need the time off to deal with everything that has happened to their bodies and their lives and to give the baby a good start.

Do we childless deserve a similar break to get away from work and reboot our lives? Why? I could use a reboot about every two weeks, but no. I have to earn my vacations. If I were in academia, I could earn a sabbatical every so many years, but that has nothing to do with having babies.

For all the time I have studied childlessness, I have heard accusations that moms and dads slack off at work, leaving their childless co-workers to pick up the slack. Has that been your experience? Do parents seem to get extra privileges? Do non-parents deserve the same privileges? Have you found yourself staying late and resenting your co-worker who had to run home to take care of her kids?

Most of my jobs were at newspapers, which are quite different from other workplaces. Everybody works ridiculous hours and deals with overwhelming stress. I never saw the parents get any more privileges than the rest of us. They just shut up and did the best they could. Kids? What kids? But I can see how it would happen. Who cares about a deadline when your 6-year-old is waiting to be picked up after soccer practice?

Personally, I think everyone should be able to work their 40 hours and go home, that there’s nothing wrong with taking a real lunch break and going home at 5 or 6 to have dinner with the family—or the dog, if that’s what you have. When my time was up, I was ready to punch out. Bosses and co-workers didn’t like that. That’s one of many reasons I prefer to be self-employed.

I freelanced during most of the years when we had a live-in adolescent. He seemed to be proud to bring his friends through the house and point to me—“That’s my mom (or step-mom; it varied). She’s a writer.” And yes, there I was, writing.

But not everybody can work from home. Not everybody has a working spouse to help pay the bills. Not everybody has a kid who make his own mac and cheese.

I’m a writer and a musician. I never wanted a full-time job in the first place. I’ve had them, lots of them, but I always felt like my real career was elsewhere, outside the job. You might say my own writing was my baby, the child I needed to take care of, had to get home to tend. It still is.

But I have had regular jobs in retail stores, doing secretarial work in Silicon Valley offices, setting type in a print shop, teaching, and many newspaper jobs where I was an editor, reporter, and/or photographer. People depended on me to be there as scheduled and to get my work done. What Foye is talking about is an extended paid vacation because she wants to go do something else for a while. Don’t we all? But it’s not the same thing as maternity leave. Is it?

Foye’s novel does sound like fun though.

We haven’t talked much here about childlessness in the workplace. Let’s get a discussion going. I really want to know what it’s like for you.

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Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I’m tickled because I just got myself this Sunday off from my church job. Instead of listening to the priest drone on about the glories of motherhood, I can stay home and pretend it’s just another day. If you need to duck and cover, do it. Stay away from situations that are going to make you crazy, and stay away from Facebook. It will only make you feel bad. Do something fun for yourself. Take a meternity day.