My children used to love the book, Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. In the book, a bunny plays with an ordinary box and uses its imagination to transform it into many things so it’s “not a box.” In my most desperate and exhausting moments when the kids were little, I would remember this book and give the kids a box to play this game which would last hours or days and sometimes give me enough time to fold a load of laundry or lie down on the couch with a pillow over my face trying not to completely fall asleep. If we didn’t have a box, the kids would play “not a laundry basket,” “not a pillow,” “not a blanket,” etc. (I had to intervene when one tried to play “not a baby” with their baby brother. “Yes, he actually IS a baby and not a horse.”)
Little did I know that would be the beginning of a lifelong exercise in questioning the conventional definition of the function of different things, and also systems, words, and concepts. I challenged what “school” and “education” meant. I redefined “success” and “home.” I recreated a concept of “marriage” that fit my husband and I four years ago after twenty years of the original idea failing both of us.
This brings me to the latest word and concept that I have decided I can’t use anymore.
Today I am in San Jose having returned from California. My family of seven travelled the coast for ten days.
Before we left, I was telling people we were going on a family vacation for the first time in a couple of years. Our last family vacation was to Barcelona two years ago. Even as I said the word, it felt weird to use it. I hadn’t used it for a very long time. Looking back I didn’t even call our Barcelona trip a vacation, it was what we call in our Filipino culture (and in Spanish) a despedida party – a farewell party.
Years ago, I used this word to describe our stays at all-inclusive resorts when my husband and I had 9-5 jobs that where we needed to “book” our vacation.
I looked up the etymology of the word “vacation” and its root “vacate” in one of my favourite and overused websites etymology.com:
1640s, “to make void, to annul,” from Latin vacatus, past participle of vacare “be empty, be void,” from PIE *wak-, extended form of root *eue- “to leave, abandon, give out.” Meaning “to leave, give up, quit” (a place) is attested from 1791. Related: Vacated; vacating.
late 14c., “freedom from obligations, leisure, release” (from some activity or occupation), from Old French vacacion “vacancy, vacant position” (14c.) and directly from Latin vacationem (nominative vacatio) “leisure, freedom, exemption, a being free from duty, immunity earned by service,” noun of state from past participle stem of vacare “be empty, free, or at leisure,” from PIE *wak-, extended form of root *eue- “to leave, abandon, give out.”
Using the word decades ago made sense. We were abandoning work obligations to have leisure time. We were free for those two weeks per year, empty for a moment of having to go to a job. We could take those two weeks and go away to a place where we didn’t need to cook, to clean, or move from lying on the beach and numb out a little. By the second last day of those vacations, I would start to feel anxiety and dread at having to go back to our life – daycare for AJ, work for us.
This term doesn’t really apply to us anymore.
We never feel the need to vacate our life and even worse, to make it void. Our time in California was an extension of our life where work and leisure blend like the Pacific Ocean blends into the sky on the horizon, the consistent vista on our drive.
We did what our family normally does – enjoy each other, be in nature, and honor the needs of each member. We didn’t have a plan only an intention – to be open, to surrender, and to be present, to be together, and to watch and observe to see how it all would unfold.
Our family took this “vacation” and imagined it so differently than the most convenient definition of it. Taking “not a vacation” exercise to its extreme but shifting the experience over and over again to fit the moment. We took this time together and figured out many ways to reinforce our connection as a family, getting to know each other as seven very different components that have changed individually and as a collective over the last two years.
We were fully “us” and never left any part of who we are behind. It’s been a long time since we were all together an “us.” We weren’t that much different together, but we explored it in a different place. We appreciated every moment of being together. This adventuring in a new place helped us focus on being present with each other.
Each one of us reflected how easy and relaxed this experience was although this was the first time in awhile that the seven of us had an extended period of time together without break. Yes there was some bickering about who sits where in the car, the music being played in the car, and the level of tidiness of our hotel rooms, but in the end, there wasn’t intense conflict or frustration.
This is a “part one” because this experience together in California was so much more than us tagging along with Chris to satisfy his work need. It was so much more than visiting a new place. It really changed the way I see travel with my family and being tourists. It changed the way I saw how I have
Next up…how we planned (or “not planned”) this “not a vacation”which kind of reflects the way we have been living life lately…
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