Searching for summer vacation
Social media fasts and the power of rest, joy, and ice cream
Today Brett and I will attempt to load three children, 2 bikes, 1 baseball bat, sundry articles of clothing, a nightguard, an inhaler, several bottles and tubes and sticks of sunscreen, diapers, bathing suits, books, various plastic dinosaurs, and way too many stuffies into a car and go on vacation. We will have snacks. I will try not to yell.
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We’re traveling to a house on the Cape (Cape Cod for non New Englanders) that’s been in my family since the 1970s and that my siblings, cousins, and I are all extremely lucky to share with our families throughout the summer. Because I’ve been vacationing there since I was a baby, this place is synonymous with summer to me, by which I mean, it’s synonymous with the summers of childhood, when summer vacation meant sunburnt noses, stretching ourselves flat against hot sand, avoiding cutting our feet on razor clam shells, building hermit crab hotels at low tide, gobbling ham and cheese sandwiches chased with Lay’s potato chips, begging our parents to give us money to spend at the ice cream truck for Chaco Tacos, rinsing our salty, sandy skin off in an outdoor shower, absorbing the coziness of grownup chatter and Paul Simon’s Graceland at cocktail hour, eating briny-buttery steamers, chasing fireflies at dusk, waving sparklers with abandon, eating more ice cream, and ending the night huddled on the couch in a beach-tired heap watching the summer Olympics.
For two weeks a year, I forgot about whatever was causing me internal turmoil in my real, school-mandated life. I forgot about who liked who and who was applying to which college and whether or not me not having boobs was a serious obstacle to me flourishing as a teenage girl socialized to measure her worth based on her appearance and her adherence to western beauty ideals.
I even got a vacation from my zits because something about the salt water and sunshine combo magically made them vanish in a way that Noxzema never did.
As a kid, I lived for those two weeks, and now, as an adult with children of my own, I still do. Parents like to swap adages about “vacations not being vacations” once you have kids (especially little kids). Rather, they’re periods of time spent parenting in a new or different location. And of course, this is true. Vacationing with kids often involves more hauling, more logistical challenges, and more stuff than simply parenting at home does.
I am no longer the person being handed a lit sparkler with which to paint my name into the sky. I am the person lighting the sparkler and anxiously monitoring the sparkler to ensure the sparkler-waver doesn’t light himself or his siblings or his surroundings on fire.
But maybe because the world is more hostile and scary than every before, I want vacation to feel like vacation more than ever this year. And I’m thinking about how I can give myself the best odds of vacation “success.” How can I feel the most joy, the most rest, the most presence? How can I take a real break so I can return to work (and to the urgent concerns of life in 2022) better equipped to show up for myself so that I can better show up for others?
Jenni Avins recently wrote this piece for The New York Times about trying and only partially succeeding to enjoy her vacation.
I spiraled: Here we were, finally on our Big Vacation, the one I’d been looking forward to for months, and I wasn’t even enjoying myself. And then I was beating myself up for not enjoying myself. When I made the mistake of opening Instagram, as one is wont to do when a stomach bug lands one on the toilet several times over the course of a morning, I was inundated by action shots of friends splashing happily in the sun. Scrolling through the news was worse: It was all horrific, and I felt guilty for feeling sorry for myself amid all the real suffering in the world.
A couple days in, Avins eventually deleted Instagram from her phone, gave herself some grace, and was able to enjoy her sand-covered kid on the beach and evenings watching Stranger Things.
I was the last person in my friend group to get a smart phone. I’m not entirely sure where my resistance stemmed from, but I think it had something to do with seeing my friends and family’s attention being slowly sucked into their phones and away from me when we hung out. I like lots of attention! And I smugly felt freer than them with my little Nokia flip phone. My sister ultimately got me an iPhone as a baby shower gift when I was pregnant with my first baby. “To take baby pictures!” To be fair, the Nokia flip phone would’ve been shit as a recorder of baby’s first moments.
And now, 9 years later, despite the fact that engaging with social media is an integral part of my job, I usually stop checking email, Instagram, and Twitter by 5pm. On weekends, I try not to check it at all (or at least, not as much). This has never felt particularly difficult for me, and I don’t say this to uphold myself or my phone habits as some paragon of social media virtue. I think it’s more that I look forward to putting my phone in a corner and forgetting about it. I look forward to feeling an almost visceral sense of relief that nothing outside of my immediate purview can disrupt my wellbeing.
I guess that’s the thing. Despite years of therapy and attempts to will myself into being more resilient, more emotionally sturdy, and to give fewer shits about what people on the other side of the screen are saying to me, about me, or about themselves that feels like it’s really about me, I’m easily disrupted. Jealousy comes quickly. So does envy. So does shame. So does a nagging feeling that I’m not doing enough or being enough. That I’m not enough.
And because social media immediately opens up the possibility of whatever sort of emotional and mental stability I’ve achieved throughout my day being destroyed, I genuinely look forward to my phone’s bedtime because once my phone is asleep, I feel like I’m finally safe. I can breathe. Sure, my kids can fuck my shit up. So can my husband. But that’s 4 people with the power to screw up my mood versus thousands of people, many of whom are strangers. Many of whom are powerful strangers who hate people with uteruses.
This is all a very long winded way of saying that my mission for the next two weeks it to find the freedom of summer vacation. My mission is to actively seek out little moments of joy and light. My mission is to rest. As Courtney Maum recently wrote, “exhaustion is not complacency.”
My mission is to drink an ice cold IPA on the beach and buy my kids all the Chaco Tacos their ice cream loving hearts desire.
For the next two weeks, you’ll still be getting newsletters, but they will have been written in advance, and I’ll be off social media and checking email VERY sporadically. Because despite the fact that I can’t take a vacation from the labor of domestic work and care work, I have the immense privilege to take a vacation from doom scrolling. I have the privilege to take a vacation from hot takes. I have the privilege to take a vacation from other people’s thoughts, feelings, opinions. I have the privilege to take a vacation from other people’s lives and attempt to live my own. I have the privilege to rest my brain and my heart so that, in two weeks, I can show up with my self a little more intact.
What about you? Are you team delete social media apps? Or do you find joy in sharing vaca pics on Instagram? If you’re thinking differently about vacation this year, I’d love to know.
Love this, and at the risk of sounding like a momfluencer-stan, you are a phone inspiration! I log off the social media apps on vacation with some regularity but I haven’t quite worked up to not checking email. Maybe this summer…
Enjoy the sunsets, Sara💥😘