I traded in a paycheque for a summer of memories - here's what I learned

The days may be long, but the years are certainly short. Each passing year seems to somehow be shorter than the last, and my kids are growing up way too fast. So I decided to take a summer off from work and stay home with them while they still genuinely want to spend time with me.  


I knew that the summer would be fun, but I didn't expect it to be so educational. Here are a few of the most important things I learned:


1) You're not as important as you think you are

As I was leaving my job, I worked hard to ensure that there was a good hand-off to my successor and that everyone on my team felt supported. Yet, I still worried that they would have a difficult time adjusting to my absence. But the reality is that while my colleagues missed me, they quickly adapted new routines and settled into a new normal. Projects went ahead as planned, and the world continued to turn.  


2) Money matters less than you might expect

My grandfather was a brick layer, and back in those days they only worked when the weather was good. So whatever he made in the warm months had to carry his family of 5 through the winter. Sometimes money was really tight, but he was always philosophical about it. He was famous for saying "Money comes, money goes, somehow it always works out." And somehow it always did.

Of course, things tend to work out better when you plan ahead. So in the months leading up to the summer, I put money aside every week to get us through two months without a paycheque. I wasn't able to save quite as much as I would have made had I been working, so I was bit concerned that the money would run out....but it didn't. Perhaps it was because I wasn't buying lunches and coffee most days; or maybe it's because we spent our time enjoying lots of inexpensive activities like visiting parks, beaches and pools. Either way, I decided not to worry too much about it and I didn't track our every penny, but we managed to stay afloat.


3) Taking a break from routine is cathartic

I have very fond memories from my own childhood of lazy summer days and long nights staying up way past my bedtime. I wanted my kids to have this experience too; and more importantly I wanted them to have a snippet of childhood where they are not constantly being told to hurry up so we can all get to work/school/daycare on time.

We were so accustomed to having a routine, that at first we weren't sure what to do with ourselves.  But after about a week we found our groove.  We generally spent the morning relaxing and playing at home and the afternoon doing an activity. But we never made plans more than a few hours ahead of time and often our activities were a fairly low-key like painting or visiting a market. Some nights we'd go to bed early, and others we'd stay up really late, but since we had nowhere to be the next day it really didn't matter.  


As the weeks passed, I could feel myself becoming more calm, which was not surprising. But what was surprising, is that I noticed that the kids were also mellowing out. They were kinder to one another, they laughed more and fought less. We don't often think about kids being stressed out, but their lives are just as busy as ours. When my husband and I both work, our kids have a longer day than we do as we drop them off at out-of-school care before work and pick them up after.  So taking a time-out from the breakneck speed of our normal life, was rejuvenating to say the least.


4) You'll never regret spending time with your kids

At no point in time during the summer did I regret being at home with the kids. And don't get me wrong, they drove me bananas at least once a day. But those moments were short lived, and then we moved on and had lots of fun together. We had a lot of idle time, which gave us an opportunity to talk more than we usually do.  They told me stories from the school year that I had never heard before, and the more questions I asked, the more they wanted to share.


By taking the summer off, did I miss out on some interesting work opportunities? Probably.  Does that matter in the grand scheme of things? Nope - not one little bit. There will always be another project, another client, another opportunity. But my kids will never be this little again, and I will always be grateful for the time we spent together this summer.


5) It's pretty great to live in the moment

As September rolled around, I felt calm and ready to face the back-to-school routine; and  I was pleased to find that I was genuinely looking forward to getting back to work. 

In an age where it is increasingly difficult to disconnect from the sources of stress in my life, it was a welcome break to put down the phone, forget about deadlines, politics and obligations, and just focus on the here and now.  

And that was the most important lesson of all - when you take the time truly enjoy the present, you stop worrying about the future.

My crystal ball isn't particularly well calibrated, so I don't know what the future holds. But I do know that I had one of the best summers of my life this past year, and for now, that's more than enough.