I could be entertained for a lifetime in my parents’ backyard. It’s not as big as the yard attached to the house where I grew up – sometimes, charged with mowing that lawn, I would stop halfway through and claim that I “forgot” about the precipitous slope on the east side. But it’s surrounded by the biggest, oldest trees, lilac bushes and perennials; it’s visited occasionally by bunnies and deer and after-school kids pushing their bikes through on a shortcut. I spend full days back there, doing nothing much, running inside when I see my mom or dad come out with garden tools, so I don’t have to help. It really is my favourite place to go when I need an escape.
Where this gets a little weird is that I’m not a dreamy 16-year-old with limited options for fun, but an adult in my early thirties, with large networks of friends and acquaintances, and a full-time-plus career of my own design, which involves watching a lot of movies and interviewing their stars, getting my nails done for free and having opinions about everything. Other people with similarly loose, strange, lucky-but-stressful jobs in journalism, advertising, publicity and entertainment typically use their vacations as enrichment, an extension of work or for bragging rights, flying to Miami for Art Basel or Palm Springs for Coachella. Friends with traditional office jobs and schedules take their week or two off in the south of France, Whistler or some tropical all-inclusive, maximizing their limited vacation time as well as opportunities for entries on Facebook timelines and Instagram pics.
I do none of those things. When I have some time away from work, I leave friends and boyfriends at home and go visit my family – my parents, my sisters and my sisters’ kids – in regular, suburban places: London, Ont. and Morris County, New Jersey. I am happiest living in a city (I still get excited driving into Toronto at night on the Gardiner Expressway), but I find myself missing my family and even the suburb where I grew up (and was crazy-thrilled to leave, at age 19). When I think about a holiday, I think more about going home than about seeing some new, wild thing. So far in my life, my ultimate vacation destination has been my sister’s couch. Escape takes on many different forms; mine is just the least exciting.
Forgoing real vacations has never been about saving money – I don’t have a mortgage, a car, kids – or family pressure to come home. I know what regular holidays offer: I spent a few months backpacking through Central America; I’m a good flyer; I’ve saved up and gone on long, perfectly boring vacations to Los Angeles and New York, where I mostly walk around museums, read and drink coffee instead of sprinting from sight to sight. A while ago, before decamping to London for a week, I called a friend at midnight, panicking. “Why do I do this?” I asked her. “Why don’t I want to go somewhere good?”
For most people with relatively predictable lives, vacations are the sunny or snowy reward. (This is why I don’t understand “staycations”: you don’t get that essential vacation “shift” in the same place where you get dressed for work.) As a self-employed person whose career feels like shooting down a two-storey water slide every day, I don’t have the residual time, focus or energy for any of it. At home, I’m reminded of who I was before I left: a dreamy kid reading magazines. While some seek an electrical charge from a vacation; others, calm and relaxation, I need the specific familiarity of where I came from, to be grounded by the values and interests and people that I had before I created my own (often weird, sometimes alienating) adult life. Even on a good day, it’s very different from the suburban tranquil where everyone else in my family still is.
Even though I’m never coerced into going home and spending so much more time with my family than my friends do with theirs, I might be motivated, in addition to reading on the lawn, by some kind of secret guilt. Or, it might be that I’m making a useless apology for wanting such different things than what my parents and my sisters do. I assume that with time, and probably a family of my own, I’ll find the familiarity I’m after in my own life. But, for where I am in the world, the stability and comfort of what I already know is where I find all the relaxation I’m going to.