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The Vacations of Our Lives

There's a beauty and a freedom that being "both parents" allows me: I get to make all the decisions. When I figured out, years ago, that I couldn't give Indie vacations, I decided to build different kinds of breaks into our days.
07/16/2015 11:19am ET | Updated July 16, 2016
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I can't remember the last time I went on a vacation, but I know it was before my daughter, Indie, was born thirteen years ago. It's summer, so my Facebook feed is full of photographs of backpacked hikers on mountains, wind-swept smiles on sandy beaches, and landmark selfies. I do not scroll past them with envy or even click over to Travelocity to see how much it would take to get me and Indie to that canyon in Utah or the museum in Boston or those waves off the coast of California. Vacations just aren't a part of our world. They're an extravagance that never enters our minds--the way some people never know or care why some Chardonnays are thick with butterscotch while others linger with apple-pear-like tang. They just drink whatever's on the white tablecloth at the reception. We just live our lives--the one that has us up for school at 6:45 and Indie practicing for concerts and volleyball games and me writing and teaching and the two of us reading on the couch and walking the dog every night at seven and Indie's bedtime at ten, followed by a Grey's Anatomy or Scandal showing for me in the living room. Then we do it all over again.

When first used in the 14th century, the word "vacation" meant "freedom from obligation." That's not a possibility for me as a single parent--all obligations are on me, every day, every hour. There is no vacation from parenting when you're the only one around to do it, and there's no vacation, period, because there's one salary. Every two weeks this past year, $1,189 was deposited into my checking account. After paying half the rent (which my landlord was gracious enough to let me do), bills, a grocery trip I cap at $160, and whatever Indie needs for school or band or volleyball I've told her I have to wait until payday to get, I'm usually down to less than half that, and we have two weeks to go. The night before my paycheck is deposited, my balance usually teeters between seven and seventeen bucks. No savings.

In the twenty-first century, dictionaries define "vacation" as an "extended period of recreation" or "the action of leaving something one previous occupied." Vacations include road trips to Vegas, respites from the school year, and rendevous with margaritas on patios (as Jurassic World has shown us). Indie and I have never had an "extended period of recreation," not in thirteen years, but this summer, we will be "leaving something" for the ninth time in as many years.

As a writer, I'm up against all the other writers each year in academia who seek to land that elusive tenure-track job. This past year, there were only twenty such positions in my field of creative nonfiction. Twenty. Imagine if there were only twenty barista positions, twenty high school English teacher openings, or twenty electrician jobs in the whole country. I've been on the job market for ten years, moving from visiting position to visiting position with one Writer-in-Residence stint along the way, and I'm not alone, and this year is no different--with the visiting year up at my university, Indie and I are moving again for yet another visiting position, which I'm grateful and excited (and relieved) to have.

We haven't even started packing, and I'm thinking of the job listings for 2016-2017 that will be published in less than three months. It's been a long decade, and it's going to be another long year of applications and interviews. Some friends tell me to get out of academia, to go wait tables, that the universe is trying to send me in a different direction, but as a single mother, it's too scary. I need the steady income, the health insurance, the autonomy to leave a creative writing workshop a few minutes early to make the choir concert that starts at 6:00 o'clock because I'm the only one to sit in that audience and wave before the show starts, the only one to clap longer than anyone else because I always feel like I need to clap loud enough and long enough for two. I think of Charlie Wales in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited, who realizes "he must be both parents to her." And so it goes for me.

But there's a beauty and a freedom that being "both parents" allows me: I get to make all the decisions. When I figured out, years ago, that I couldn't give Indie vacations, I decided to build different kinds of breaks into our days. When she was about three and woke up in the night, I didn't work to get her back to sleep. Instead, we turned on the kitchen light and sat on the linoleum eating cherry sours. She says it's still one of her favorite memories of us. When we lived in Chicago, every day during the summer, she rode her scooter to the beach while I ran behind her. In New York, when the world seemed a little heavier for whatever reason, we'd walk to a bank overlooking the Grasse River and toss in rocks we measured as big and bulky as the worries we had, heaving our problems into the current and wishing them to float away. When we lived in Oklahoma, we'd drive from Stillwater to Oklahoma City and turn around. We do that quite a bit--get in the car and drive until we feel like we've gone far enough to return. Living in New Mexico we've done it more than ever--winding south on I-25 while Indie snaps pictures of the mountains on the way to Sante Fe, the two of us having the kinds of conversations you only have once you've set the cruise control at eight-two, or we sing loudly to the 70s station. Periodically, maybe once a month, I let her skip school--both of us sleep in and we splurge and go out to lunch, and often, I let her stay up past her bedtime so we can finish a movie or a long talk. She has enough limitations in her life because of my employment and financial situations--the least I can do is show her how much room there can be inside such restriction.

According to Fodor's Travel, "2015 is destined to be the summer of the road trip." For me and Indie, most summers have been the summer of the road trip--the miles we travel to leave one home for another. We've talked many times--usually when we're on the road--about how much we love the in-betweenness, the way we live nowhere in particular during those day-long drives and the nights in Super 8s and La Quintas, and the way we live our lives, the two AM cherry hours, the call I make on a Thursday to the school office to say she's sick, the out-and-back drives, and especially the moves. These are the vacations of our lives.