Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 14, 2023

No place like home

A few weeks ago, our "adopted" German son Tim, wife Meike, and sons Mats and Timo arrived in Kansas for a two-week visit. Their time with us came near the end of an extensive travel period for their family. Their experience was something most Americans can only dream about. Our work culture isn't organized to allow much in the way of vacation time when we're young. The typical pattern is to labor hard during our early years and hope our health and finances are such that, when we retire, traveling is still an option. Going to distant places frequently involves careful planning so a fast-paced holiday can be jammed into the limited vacation time most employers offer.

A sabbatical - a time when a person steps away from a regular work routine - is comparatively rare in the U.S., except in the domain of higher education. The origin of sabbatical and Sabbath can be traced to the Greek word "sabbaton" - which in turn - can be traced to the Hebrew word "shabbath" - meaning rest. The Bible refers to God's "day of rest" most famously in Genesis, but Leviticus 25:3-5 mentions Sabbath also refers to an entire year of rest. It's clear that last part never caught on the way the first part did.

While it's generally agreed a sabbatical is a time to recharge one's batteries, it's never been clear how that is accomplished. I've known colleagues at the university who, while relieved of their regular duties, doubled down on their research. Others treated their sabbaticals as extended vacations.

But in Germany, sabbaticals are not limited to academia. Tim and Meike applied for and were granted a three-month period during which they could do whatever they wanted while still receiving three-quarters of their salary. They decided once their boys started school - German children do not have the three-month summer break most U.S. kids have - travel would be difficult. So they planned a multi-week trip to Southeast Asia for the first part. Then they went home for two weeks - a vacation-from-their-vacation. They finished with four weeks in the United States - one in New York City, two with us, and one in Florida.

German "daughter" Nadja, her hubby Matze, and their two children are planning something similar next year.

But life is rarely as simple as we hope. Tim and Meike had taken trips with the boys before, but this one was much longer, and included 15 flights, 19 accommodations, 10 ferries and many taxi rides. Including a "break" at home in the middle demonstrated insight on their part, but so many people visited them to learn about their experiences that there was little recharging. Of the two-week "down" time they had planned, Tim said only five of their waking hours were truly free. So when they headed off to New York City, their batteries were still running low. It was no surprise when we asked what they wanted to do in Manhattan, Tim replied, "Sit on your couch and talk."

Having had the good fortune to travel ourselves, husband Art and I knew exactly what he meant. When we take trips now, we normally plunk down in one place and use it as a "hub" from which to explore. This eliminates the need for constant packing and unpacking.

To give them their own space, we moved to the old house I lived in when Art and I met. He now uses it for his work, and it still has a bed and refrigerator. They could operate on their own schedule and I gave them my car so they could come and go as they pleased. Several days, one or more of them slept until 10 a.m., and most days involved afternoon naps, although there were also early-morning breakfasts on our deck.

Whenever we "visited" them, I had to smile. The boys' Legos were everywhere and the kitchen counters and refrigerator were stuffed with food. It brought back memories of when our girls were small.

The night before Meike's birthday, Art and I played "Opa" (Grandpa) and "Oma" (Grandma), watching Mats and Timo while their parents went dancing with our daughter Mariya and wife Miriam.

The only one who didn't care for this arrangement was Minnie, our cat. She spent most of the two weeks under the couch, venturing out only occasionally.

Then the family was off to Florida. Meike had always wanted to swim with the manatees and she got her wish. They spent other days at the beach. But several times, Tim remarked they were ready to be home. While the boys had been wonderfully chipper travelers, Mats, in particular, was starting to have grumpy periods.

Art once told me about a professor he taught with who planned an around-the-world trip for the start of retirement. When he and his wife returned, Art asked how it was. Ralph said it was wonderful, but after a month, they were so tired it was hard to enjoy it.

Since Tim and Meike are in their mid-30s, they have a lot more energy than we, yet it too is limited. While travel is exciting and rewarding, it can simultaneously be draining. Add two full-of-energy youngsters who need supervision, and even the strongest among us wears down.

But, overall, I think they did a pretty good job. They had a wide range of experiences, saw new places - Meike had only been in the U.S. for one day previous to this visit - and ate foods they don't see at home. They went home not longing to extend their time away, but looking forward to enjoying their own beds, seeing friends, and - who knows - maybe even enjoying work more than when they left.

Home-away-from-home time! Left: Mats and Timo play with Legos on our living room floor (top) and try their hand at chalking. Middle: Art and Tim "shoot the breeze" before supper (upper), look at some genealogical records while Mats lies on Tim's leg (middle) and happy to have partaken of a barbeque-tasting contest. Right: Tim ready to toss a bag as our daughter Mariya, her wife Miriam and Meike await their turns in the game (top) and Tim, Mats, Timo and Meike watch a Flint Hills Discovery Center presentation about the Kansas prairie.

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