Faith in Vermont: Five Misconceptions About Sabbatical

And just like that, Thanksgiving’s over. Before we had a chance to toss out the dried-out autumnal gourd decorations and boil the turkey bones for broth, there were wreaths around town, Christmas carols playing in the stores, and – could it be? – Christmas trees blinking in our neighbors’ windows. With a mere two days between Thanksgiving and the start of Advent, the holiday season seems to be upon us in an even more breathless rush than usual.

But that’s okay: I can keep breathing. It’s not like I’m also preparing to move our family across the country for five months, during which major renovations will be happening on the house we’ll move into after we return, while at the same time our current house goes on the market.

Oh, wait a minute! That’s exactly what’s happening!

In one month, right after the New Year begins, our family will begin a 5-month stay in Berkeley, California, as part of my husband’s sabbatical year at Middlebury College. While we’re away, we will be putting our current house on the market, while readying the house we’ll move into upon our return.

So, this holiday season, I have a few more things on my plate besides gingerbread.

I’ve been fielding a number of comments about our family’s plans. Here are a few of the most common:

1.    “Your husband must be feeling so relaxed this year.”

This comes from people who are not married to professors: people who assume that, because my husband’s job operates on an academic schedule, whenever college isn’t in session he must be puttering around the house and offering unlimited babysitting.

It is true that when he doesn’t have to teach, my husband’s schedule is slightly more flexible. With enough notice, he’s sometimes available to watch the kids. He has a bit more time to pursue things he enjoys, one of which – to my great gratitude – is cooking.

However, in the academic world, not having to teach means more time to do research. Research involves sitting for hours in front of a computer screen filled with unintelligible numbers and Greek letters. Somehow, the researcher has to make these unintelligible figures intelligible and package them in a research paper, which is sent out to academic journals. Almost invariably, the paper is rejected; in the best-case scenario, the researcher gets a “revise and resubmit,” which means that he has to spend more hours at the computer reworking the paper. And at every step of this process he thinks: I am no good. This idea is no good. I’ll never have any good ideas again. I’ll never get tenure.

THAT is how my husband is spending his sabbatical, and we’re going to Berkeley so that he can do more of it on the West Coast.

2.    “You must have to pack SO MUCH to travel with four children for five months!”

It’s California: The temperature will be in the 70s during the day and the 50s at night, from January through May. No need for Vermont winter gear: a few pairs of jeans and t-shirts, and done. We’re flying out, because the only thing worse than 6 hours in a plane with four kids would be two weeks in a car with four kids. We’d like to avoid checking bags, so we’re limiting ourselves to one suitcase and one backpack per person.

If we need anything, there is one set of grandparents and plenty of big box chain stores on the other end.

3.    “You’re taking the dog with you, right?”

Sadly, no.

As you may have heard, California is not exactly a renters’ paradise. Rental costs are nauseatingly steep, because there is high demand. It was an ordeal finding a place to live with four young children: Several landlords backed out of agreements or made flimsy excuses when they learned about our kids. A dog would’ve been a deal-breaker.

So our dog will be staying in Vermont with the wonderful house sitter who’s been living with us this year. We will miss them both terribly.

4.    “It’s great that you’re getting all the work on your new house done while you’re away.”

Of course, it’s always nice when you don’t have to live in a house that’s under renovation.

However, this is our first experience renovating a house, and I’m learning that it requires endless decisions about things that I find pretty dull: kitchen cabinets, bath fixtures, floor stains. But since we’ll be gone from January through May, and our renovations will be happening from mid-January through April, I need to make all of these decisions NOW. By the end of most days, I’ve reached decision fatigue: the very act of choosing pajamas is too much for me.

And did I mention that it’s also the holidays?

5.    “You must be happy to skip the snow this winter.”

This is the most common comment I get, and the biggest misconception: NOBODY in our family is happy to skip the snow. In fact, we’re bemoaning this unusually mild fall and hoping to see some snow before we leave.

We love the beauty of snow. We love the sledding, skiing, and snowshoeing. We love cozying up by the wood stove.

We wouldn’t love living in Vermont as much if we didn’t love snow. But we do love living in Vermont, and oh, boy, are we going to miss it for those five months.


Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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