Things I learned over a long weekend at the beach with my five children and six granddaughters:
The 4-year-old loves monster trucks as much as she loves Queen Elsa. The taller they stand, the fatter the tires, the better.
The 2-year-old can say boogers in two languages. “Mocos, ‘buela! Mocos, mocos, mocos!’’
One of the 7-year-old twins has counted the number of days between my visits. The other believes she turns into a mermaid when she dives into the ocean.
The 5-year-old likes to stand where the waves foam white, moving her arms like an orchestra conductor to direct them to shore.
And the baby — oh, the baby! When the 1-year-old settles her head on my shoulder for a nap, wispy hair tickling my nose, my heart grows and grows and grows. It fills to bursting.
Like many families, we’ve been talking about a reunion vacation, one in which we could all get together to hang out and shoot the breeze. No obligatory sightseeing. No mandatory visit to an old aunt. No dress code, no fixed meal times, no wake-up calls. The one requisite: a beach.
Simple enough idea, right? Ha. Nothing is simple or straightforward when it comes to families. Like anything involving differing opinions and assorted sensibilities, the execution turned out to be a challenge. Getting everybody to agree on a date was like planning for D-Day. It required countless emails and more than a few cajoling calls before everyone agreed on three precious days that didn’t interfere with varied obligations.
Only three days? I ranted. Three miserly days? That’s how long it takes me before I begin to unwind. Before I re-learn the art of relaxing. Before I manage to forget my mental To-Do list. But alas, as a mother of adult children, I long ago learned to grab as grab can their leftover minutes. I settled for 72 hours.
Still, it irked me that this was the best we could do. Beyond the idea of family bonding and sibling reconnection, didn’t we, as a group, recognize the salutary effects of stepping off the hamster wheel of work?
Surely you’ve read about America’s endangered tradition of vacation. As a society, we pay tribute to time off. We post photos of beachscapes and European ruins on Facebook to show how we spend our hard-earned leisure. Reality, however, is different.
Almost half of employees in service industries do not have access to paid vacation days. But even when we get paid time off, it’s significant how little we actually take. Americans have been whittling away at their vacations for decades. In the 1980s, Americans took up to 21 days of paid vacation each year. By 2013, that number had shriveled to 16, an all-time low.
Halfway through the year, I’m not even close to taking those 16, but the three I’ve managed did loosen the ropes that bind me to my desk. I had three days to wake when I pleased, to eat what I wanted, to ignore office deadlines when they came knocking. Three days to breakfast at dawn with the early rising grandchildren. Three days to walk the beach in search of the perfect shell. Three days to watch my children play pool in the garage of a rented house in Hutchinson Island.
But in the bubble world that is vacation, those 4,320 minutes of cherished pleasure were simply not enough.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.