Sabbatical

I just spent the last three months on sabbatical. It’s an amazing benefit, and I honestly still can’t believe it’s something I got to do. If you want to catch up on how I spent my sabbatical, you can use the menu above – just click on Sabbatical and see all the sabbatical posts! It’s desperately boring, but don’t let that stop you.

I came into the office today, even though I don’t start back until Monday, because I just spent three months out of the office, and I have to reacclimate. Some of it is hooking up my computer again (I took my laptop home with me and set up a non-work user profile, so I never saw email and work Slack), and some of it is sitting in my chair in the middle of the room and just sort of slowly twirling around. I had a folder set up to catch all incoming email during my time away, and I just deleted all 2,267 emails I got. I cleared out Slack, replying back to a few people and dipping my toe back into the firehose.

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don’t you smile at me you devil

I had some plans for my sabbatical. After speaking to a lot of people who had already taken theirs, and hearing a lot of different advice, I wanted to shoot for things that I actually wanted to do, and would be reasonably able to do — as a parent, I take kids to school and I pick kids up from school. I make dinners and help pack lunches — being absent would be untenable. So, my plans therefore needed to be something I could do during the school day, and be the type of thing I like. I settled on a plan of reading, painting, and learning to ski. We didn’t get much snow yet (although the local ski place does have snow), so I haven’t skiied yet (spoiler alert). I may still work on that on my flex days. I did, however, read and paint. I read 34 books on my Kindle, and the same 6 books to Grant at bedtime every night. I painted two small paintings and the kitchen, which were vastly different undertakings.

Here’s one painting (first in progress, then finished):

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Here’s part of the painted kitchen:

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It’s lavender and white; very soothing.

The highlights of the sabbatical were trips — we went to Lake Placid, Hawaii, and Hamilton (the show, not Ontario (sob)). Again, check out the sabbatical menu item to dig into those things more.

I learned some things about myself on this sabbatical. Here goes:

Sleep. I don’t sleep enough. Not even close. I could sleep 40 hours a day and still get a solid 8 hours that night. I don’t fall asleep very easily, and I typically can’t go back to sleep once I’ve gotten up. I’m fine on 6 hours, but more is nicer.

Anxiety. I already knew that I have it, because I’ve been getting medicated for it for awhile, but stepping away from work didn’t change my anxiety one bit. There’s something almost calming knowing that work isn’t adding to your anxiety! Unfortunately, that means that something else is. Something that actually added my anxiety (and I realize this is the worst first world problem) is disappointing people with my sabbatical plans. Sitting around reading is a let down for a lot of people, even if it’s my perfect day. I ended up not telling most people that I was on sabbatical.

Children. I love my kids, but I remembered that I fundamentally and irrevocably changed when I had them. I will never be who I was at 29, beyond emotional and intelligent growth; my baseline stress level will never be lower than it is on a “good enough” day. The person who I am now doesn’t have it all together all the time, and isn’t comfortable without being in control. Messes make me anxious and general disorder makes me antsy. Not being able to hold my kids’ hands at school when they’re having a bad day makes me irritable.

Motivation. I need clear projects to tackle and accomplish. Without something to plan, start, work through, and complete, I feel depressed. It could be reading a book, or watching all the Harry Potters, or painting the kitchen. I unpacked a lot of our house during my sabbatical, and I made friends with the people at the dump. None of that was on my list to do over my sabbatical, but I also couldn’t sit still with those things hovering, waiting for someone to take them on.

Inspiration. I thought I’d paint more; I really love it. One of the (many) reasons I’m not a professional artist is that I don’t do it if I’m not in that mindset. On the other hand, I found myself doing things that surprised me, like breaking down all the cardboard boxes and taking them to be recycled. That isn’t me. Or, that isn’t part of who I thought I was. I didn’t expect to campaign for someone running for Congress. I didn’t expect to leave Bob and the kids at home and go out to a bar to watch the midterm results. I didn’t expect to do crafts with the kids (I even bought a glue gun!). And yet. With extra time, I found myself feeling inspired.

Children (reprise). I was able to spend more quality time with my kids. The time we spent together was gratifying, a lot of the time (they were ingrate wretches part of the time too, but that’s normal). Henry and Eleanor are interesting and complex, and they only get more so each day. Henry struggles with his emotions, but has started making firm friends. Eleanor is a smart ass who can’t always focus. We celebrated their birthday and they tried new things at school. Grant was hospitalized for surgery and got hand foot mouth during my sabbatical (bookending it, as it so happens). He is our little beastie boy who will smother you with a hug or possibly smash you with a table leg — it depends what’s on hand. He wants to shoot hoops constantly and his giggle is the most infectious thing about him (which, if you’ve been around HFM, is really saying something).

Self. As I said, I learned a lot about myself. I forgot for a long time who I have inside. When I became a mother, that became my dominant personality trait, even though it’s not one that’s easy or natural for me. It’s a struggle to be eternally patient and to know what to do even a quarter of the time. You figure it out, and it gets easier, but it is a difficult personality to assume when you mostly want to sit quietly and be introspective. For a long time, I was either a mother, a wife, or an Automattician. I think we caught glimmers of more, from time to time, but I found it hard or impossible to nurture other interests when I invested so wholly in parenting. I’m not saying I wish I weren’t a parent (I don’t wish that; I’d never wish them away), but I am saying I wish I had known better how to balance it. Mothering is still my dominant personality (it’s probably at around 80%), but now I know that I can grow my other selves. I can be less single-dimensional. This is basically exactly like the end of The Breakfast Club.

“But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain … and an athlete … and a basket case … a princess … and a criminal.”

I found that I’m someone who hauls stuff to the dump. I move heavy stuff around the house. I do laundry. I cook. I clean. I go to rallies. I read 30 books. I paint. I adopt kittens. I day trip. I dye my hair pink. I give myself permission to try more things, and to be more.