Rushing home from work last Thursday – his last day in the office – D was still too wired, too caught up in wrapping up last-minute projects, to actually relax. The red-eye flight from Kigali to Amsterdam, with its obligatory refueling stop in Entebbe, did little to help. It was only when D reached his friend’s office in Paris around midday on Friday, dropped his bags, and settled into a cute Parisian bistro for a luxuriously slow-paced lunch with two former college classmates that he felt the stress of the previous months begin to ebb away.
The onset of relaxation felt intensely physical. D literally felt his shoulders droop and his body expel the work tension that had been stored up over the previous months at the office. The last time he felt something similar was when we departed Nairobi after completing our first Foreign Service tour of duty. As with Kigali, the work had been fast-paced, interesting, rewarding, exciting – so much so that it was only upon leaving that D realized how acutely stressed he had grown.
With S and Munchkin returning stateside in late May, D had enjoyed a couple of weeks of geographic bachelorhood. He welcomed the ability to sleep through the night unmolested and the freedom from dealing with Munchkin’s daily tantrums. However, he also took advantage of his temporary relief from parental responsibilities, burning the candle at both ends. That D’s beloved Penguins were in the final stages of their run to their second consecutive Stanley Cup did not help the relaxation cause – D stayed up several nights each week to watch the games.
Rubbing shoulders with people from other countries and cultures, as one inevitably does living and working abroad, it’s hard not to take a critical look at the customs of one’s own nation every once in a while. In many respects, our country stands up quite well to scrutiny; in others, demonstrably less so. The American work ethic cuts both ways, embodying some of our most defining cultural values while underselling the physiological value of taking time off.
The first thing D noticed after a three-week absence is how much taller Munchkin seemed to have grown. The second realization, which came on the heels of the first, is that his tantrums, which have bedeviled us for the last 3-4 months, appear to be on the decline. It seems that spending all day at home with family has decreased the little man’s stress level as much as it has our own – as pertinent a sign as any that we should make the most of these next weeks and months off from work.