Take a deep breath. It is finally here. There's nothing you can do about it: the Great Vacation. Mothers groan. "Who invented the summer vacation, anyway?" On the other hand, students at the end of a year's tether sigh in relief. Then there are the teachers, straddling both sides of the [Tom Sawyer] fence -- like the students, they are also panting for the long break. As they say: there are two good reasons for choosing teaching as a profession: July and August. On the other hand, they, too, are mothers of children on vacation... If they had their choice, they would take vacation during the months of Teves-Shvat, when school is going full blast.
Her Majesty, Vacation Time, has finally arrived, and now we have Time -- to realize all those dreams and plans, to refresh ourselves and recharge our inner batteries, be it by relaxing or taking a course, learning a new profession, tending to our accumulated and neglected dental work, attacking the hidden-away piles of sewing repairs, ironing, taking care of bureaucratic affairs such as Bituach Leumi, reading the books we didn't find time for, going on outings with the kids, relaxing at the pool and Whatever...
If all this sounds so great, so promising and hopeful, why does it invariably turn out so disappointing -- admit it! What happens to us all of a sudden? Why do we suddenly feel so lethargic, heavy, uninspired and even depressed?
Our late morning sleep is not as enticing as it seemed when we so wanted that extra half hour or hour. And once we do get up, we lack the initiative and drive to get going, to execute our golden plans. The hoped-for incentive and inspiration is lacking, and the days drift by, slipping through lax fingers so quickly, with no accomplishments to show for them. No mountains, no hills, just coasting along at even keel.
"All those hopes I pinned on the vacation..." one teacher laments. "I hoped to accomplish mountains of work, to whittle down a huge pile of tasks, of things-to-do just sitting and waiting for me so patiently. But the reality was so different: the days just smeared themselves into a thin spread of nothingness, zero accomplishments, sands of time just slipping away between my fingers. Here and there, I attended lectures, teachers seminars, a summer course, meetings, but the daily hassles of home life, of children on vacation, just sapped away all my strength and doused any initiative I thought I possessed."
What Happened to the Hoped-for Inspiration?
"I waited for it breathlessly. I naively thought that I would accomplish all my projects during the summer vacation," tells a seminary student. "But in practice, my plans have little relation to my accomplishments. Last summer, I had dreams of forging ahead in mathematics, of boning up on equations. I wanted to visit my married sister, who has been begging me to come and stay with her. I intended to spend time composing some songs, writing some poetry, taking a zip course in sheitel-arrangement. I wanted to go through my closets thoroughly and rid myself of all that extraneous stuff. But experience has proven otherwise. I begin my day by getting up late and by the time I finish davening and getting organized, making some phone calls etc., it's almost afternoon. Even if I do make plans to attack the disorder of my closets, the overbearing heat dampens my enthusiasm and turns me off. I sit down to write something - and find that inspiration has flown out the window. And thus do the days drift by aimlessly. Not that I don't do anything, but when I look back on the long vacation at the end of it, I have very little to show for my time. This year, I am not even making any grandiose plans... No pretenses."
Fed Up Already???
"I feel totally limp, exhausted," tells one mother of teenagers. "I told my children that I needed to go to one of the four-day sleepaway camps for mothers to refresh myself and forget my everyday cares, to get away from it all. I explained that I planned to forget everything and that I wouldn't even be calling home much. I wanted to rest, to sleep, to relax...
"I packed my bags and off I went. We arrived early afternoon, ate a good dinner and went off to rest. After a delicious, uninterrupted two hours nap, what do you think I did? Right! I felt the urge, the need to see what was doing at home. I was homesick for the children! So I called to find out how they had managed for the few hours I had been away...
"At first, I was surprised at myself. What was the matter with me? Hadn't I promised myself to forget everything, to disconnect for a few days? I hadn't realized that a few hours of rest would accomplish so much so quickly."
Man is Created to Toil
"Man is created to toil." By nature, man is not built for rest -- excepting the rest that comes after hard toil. Our lives are composed of a chain of activities and responsibilities. One of the fascinating and illuminating observations which we can learn from an infant - in the words of one of our gedolim - is that during his waking hours, he is in constant motion, incessant activity; he is always doing something.
From early childhood on, children enter the structured world of kindergarten, school, high school, marriage and/or work outside the home (in that or reverse order). Employment is not always necessarily engaged in for income, but sometimes as the structure for one's activities, for positive utility of one's time.
This race from one set of structured activities to the next in turn, with rapid consecutivity, enervates us considerably, and it is no wonder that we seek some freedom, a bit of respite, a breather.
We anticipate the coming of vacation with longing eyes and pant to relax, to let up the pressure, but soon enough, we reach the hidden saturation point. If we have forgotten that activity, accomplishment and an inner urge to do things are programmed into the human psyche, the summer vacation comes along and reminds us of it, by default, and sometimes, on a grand scale.
This process overtakes us during this summer break, precisely because of the length of this period in time. True, we seek freedom from obligations, to relax the pressure of the year- round hassled routine, but we forget that the battery recharging can be done in a relatively short span of time, sometimes in a mere few days. The rest of the vacation should, however, be planned out in advance, and organized in such a way that we don't begin to get frustrated. When vacation stretches out too long, we squirm; it doesn't sit well with us. Even students secretly admit that they are already `fed up' with the inaction. This -- even from those wrung-out students who ceremoniously declared that they would not enroll in any day camps or look for structured occupation because they `needed to rest up.' They change their tune quickly enough and after only a few days of inaction, beg to join something structured.
Someone already said that vacation time is just like all other worldly pleasures: a small taste is alright. In large quantities, it becomes unbearable and loathesome...
A Daily Schedule -- Even During Vacation
Many people, better and wiser than us, have spoken out about the need to shorten vacation time, perhaps to split it into two periods, with the second one reserved for a time when the need is greater. But so long as we must receive our orders from higher up, we have no choice but to make peace with the decree, and to try to sweeten the bitter pill through proper activity and time management, taking into account, of course, the limitations of weather, which take a natural toll upon our energies and contribute to the lethargy we cannot help feeling.
One of the central problems during this period is the lack of inner discipline and daily regimen. During the school year, we all know that we must get up early and proceed in a deliberate, organized fashion. Even a mother who does not go out to work knows that she must send the kids off on time, prepare a cooked meal and get the chores done. Comes bein hazmanim, we get confused with our priorities, and very soon find ourselves all mixed up. Shall we take care of technical matters, such as bureaucratic affairs that we have been pushing off? Write those important letters we have postponed till now? Do a thorough housecleaning? Or go off to the beach and call it a day?
True, there are days when we make our decisions and feel gratified with the results. But what about the next day, and the one after? Vacation is so-o-o long! The same question will surface again with rapid succession, and we will not always find a satisfactory solution. Sometimes, until we finally decide, the morning has vanished and plans must be remade. Thus does the sand of vacation time sift through limp fingers, day by day, week by week.
Know Your Enemy
Pressure seems to us somewhat stressful, but we know and admit that man needs a certain amount of normal pressure to propel and motivate him to function. During the year, the pressure already exists and forces us to accomplish. But when it lets up, it is not necessarily to our benefit. Laxity robs us of our discipline, strips us of initiative, motivation and inspiration, and drastically lowers our level of accomplishment.
Anyone who dreams of vacation as a time to write letters/ do creative projects/ complete unfinished work and do all those things which we tend to push off, will come to the sad realization of an inner emptiness, laxness and lack of ambition.
This setting is the perfect hothouse for the development of unwanted `bacteria.' The above frustrations lead to a lowered self esteem. When a person who was born to toil, to accomplish, finds himself unemployed, he cannot help but relate to himself as a failure, and comes to resent his own shortcomings.
One must also remember that ongoing activity year-round has an added aspect: besides the husbanding of time and a salary earned, we are constantly dealing with and overcoming difficulties, frustrations, physical aches and pains. The activity makes us forget them. A woman sometimes leaves the house burdened with her domestic problems, including educational difficulties or health matters, but when she arrives at work, she necessarily sets them aside and temporarily forgets about them.
Comes the long vacation, with all of its related unpleasant ramifications: anger, disorder in the home, quarreling among the children, hot weather inconducive to getting things done and so on, which loom up so much bigger than when other matters preoccupy us, we suddenly find that our minor aches -- headaches, vascular veins, blood pressure, allergies -- bother us much more. Sensititivies suddenly rush to the fore. Sometimes we look back to pre-vacation and cannot help asking: how is it that these problems didn't bother us as much before, and only cropped up now in this magnitude to ruin our vacation? We don't stop to think that the inaction of this time plays a large role in their surfacing or intensification.
Find the Delicate Balance
Vacation, like most things and perhaps more, needs the right balance. One needs to let up the pressure, but to maintain enough healthy tension to keep us moving along. Do cut down on your responsibilities, but incorporate enough to keep you on your toes. A short free-time period leaves one with a good feeling, but a long period of relative inaction can do more harm than none!
Each family must learn to know itself and its particular needs, and the individual pace of each child. One must measure and mete out the right ration of laxity while monitoring the time wisely and capably.
Perhaps we should alter our attitude towards vacation, and explain to ourself that its so-called pleasures are only illusory, and that it resembles the Midrashic `fat portion with a thorn imbedded,' with the thorn rather large, in fact, almost equal to the illusion itself.