This year, for the first time, I took the week between Christmas and New Year's off. It's a good week to take off in the corporate world - there is little going on, and most people take at least some vacation.
We didn't go anywhere - we've been on the road a lot this year, between weekends to visit family, our 1200-mile road trip this summer, a few trips up to Moosehead Lake, where my husband and his parents have cabins, and some other random trips, so some time home was a good idea.
Still it was busy - a good chunk of time was spent on the perpetual tidying-up wheel as a steady stream of visitors came through last week, starting on Christmas day and running up until New Year's Eve. Okay, one of those visitors was my mother, who came over for a few hours so that we could have a date - we even achieved the holy grail of parents with a toddler, seeing a movie...in the theater. Yes, folks, it can happen (it only took us 22 months) Alert the media.
But we spent a lot of time relaxing and doing stuff as a family, which was great. I think the greatness was augmented by the fact that with a few sanctioned exceptions, when I needed to remote in to work, I totally disconnected. I read the news online in the mornings, but that was about it. Whole days went by when I didn't even check email on my blackberry.
The end of November and all December was a bit like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride for me, and as a result, for my husband and daughter. I had a fair amount of work and non-work commitments, and to top it off, I ended up stepping in at the last minute for a major transition in my - not my client - company unexpectedly in early December, when the person who owned the work I took over had a double family emergency. By the time I came up for air from that, the holidays were in full swing, and we were not ready. So we headed in to Christmas at a dead run, which wound down oh...about 9:15 am Christmas morning when I got the turkey stuffed and in the oven. While a room full of people was waiting for me so that they could open presents.
So I owed my family some time, after long workdays followed by weeknights and weekends of 'I just need a few hours to...' . Disconnecting meant some requests didn't get answered in a timely manner, and that I punted on a few things I probably should have stepped up for. But it was worth it, because I managed for the first time in a while to put my family first, above all the other stuff going on. And wow, did they need it. So did I.
My life - and many others around me - have become about 24/7 contact. Texts are expected to be answered in minutes, not hours. IM is the norm at work, which is a mixed blessing. It saves me from endless conference calls, but it is a pain in the butt, and has interrupted more work than I prefer to think about. I used to go days without answering email, but now I answer it daily. Our new normal is to be available...always.
And I think it's a really mixed bag. Sure, instant information is handy. But the constant flow of texts, emails, IMs and alerts means that few things happen uninterrupted these days. There's always something external that needs paying attention to, and opportunities pass by those who don't stay on top of the stream of data that flies our way. But relationships are the best thing in my life.
Because I disconnected, I got to fully enjoy introducing my daughter to real, live penguins at the aquarium without distraction. I got to spend a full hour talking to my 90 year old great aunt about her experiences as a nurse in the Phillipenes during World War II when I visited her in the hospital while she recuperates from a fall. I spent long hours talking to my husband about everything and anything. I played blocks, dinosaurs and chase with my daughter, minus the almost ever-present feeling that I should be doing something else. I slept in, took naps, and read.
My life doesn't often afford me the opportunity to sign off for a few days. But I think I'm going to make it an annual goal to do so every year at the holidays. It's far too easy to overlook the really important stuff when the texts are flying.