We just returned from a week of camping in Salisbury. This year, for the first time, it actually resembled the sort of positive experience most people associate with vacations.
We don’t go away very often, what with my husband being self-employed and us having a large garden and various sorts of farm-type animals, most of whom have special issues (pet sitters generally aren’t willing to rub a goat’s temples to ease her migraines).
The biggest reason, however, is our own personal shortcoming. Between us, we can do a lot of things: drive a stick shift, calculate rafter angles, do calligraphy, make Hollandaise sauce, lay tile, do 20 pull-ups, knit socks. We can do almost anything, in fact, except tango and — more importantly — relax.
I’ve heard of couples who sleep late on Sundays and then spend the rest of the morning in bed drinking coffee and reading The New York Times. They call this “enjoying the weekend.” Mark and I call it “wasting valuable time.” How can people be so lazy when there’s so much to be done?
Not surprisingly, we don’t put exotic vacations on the top of our to-do list. Clean the pigpen, yes. Hang out the laundry, yes. But sit on a tropical beach somewhere and squander an entire week? Not likely.
We go camping each year only because the whole extended family goes, and they’d probably talk about us if we weren’t there. Plus, family camping — even the cushy kind we do, at a well-equipped campground with every convenience short of bidets — is hardly a break; the word “family” is a dead giveaway.
Over the past 20 years, we’ve always had small children to deal with. Kids don’t want to sit by the fire and talk about old times. They want you to watch them on the playground and blow up their floaties and extinguish their marshmallows and do all that fun stuff that is great for making memories but not so great when you just want to sit down for five minutes, for Pete’s sake.
This year, I noticed the difference: We no longer have small children.
After all this time, I assumed camping necessarily meant spending every waking moment fixing bike chains, picking wet towels up off the ground, smearing sunscreen on writhing limbs and picking gravel out of skinned knees. But those days are over. This year, our now-13-year-old rode off with her cousins on the first day, returning only for an occasional meal. That left Mark and me largely free to do that thing we’ve heard so much about: nothing.
With a capable sitter at home massaging the goat and tending to the rest of the menagerie, and with no little ones to wash, rebuke or entertain, we found ourselves sleeping in (until 5:15, anyway; the rooster has us trained), lounging, reading, socializing, napping, eating and gazing into the flames of the campfire — sometimes till as late as 10 p.m.
It was pretty crazy.
When your normal state is feeling that whatever you’re doing, you really should be doing something else, it’s tough to wrap your brain around not being obligated to do anything at all. True, one day in a moment of weakness we came home and spent several hours hilling potatoes, but old habits die hard.
We made up for it by spending the next five days accomplishing absolutely nothing, and loving it. (Some people insist you can do nothing at home as well, though Mark and I think that sounds highly suspect.)
Now that we’ve discovered this whole concept of relaxing, we’re thinking of taking it to the next level: Someday we’re going to go somewhere that doesn’t require us to pick daddy longlegs out of our coffee cups or wash dishes in a pot of water heated on a Coleman stove. I’ve heard there are fancy places (“motels”) where you don’t even have to make your own bed. It must be paradise.
Mark and I used to feel sorry for people who had to go on vacation. We just couldn’t comprehend why anyone would willingly give up time that could be spent constructively at home to go somewhere with nothing to do.
But now we get it. As unlikely as it sounds, relaxing is actually a pretty good way to spend a vacation.