“Do you think I really need it?” I asked my husband Pat. We were packing for our first vacation in three years—not just the first trip since the pandemic, but the first trip since our daughter Lucy was born in May 2020. Our packing list for a week at the beach was huge. Stickers, snacks, toys, clothes and other toddler-related goodies were quickly filling up the car.
“I think you’ll be fine. You know you don’t want to bring it,” he said. While space was tight, there was one thing I could’ve packed, but made the conscientious decision to leave at home: my work laptop. We shut the trunk—no work on this trip.
Even though I always put up an out of office message during time off, indicating my lack of availability, I usually try to keep up with email so as to eliminate the hundreds of messages waiting for me when I return. “I’m just maintaining my inbox,” I’d tell myself.
But two years of remote work, including a year while raising my newborn daughter, had burned me out on the idea of instant accessibility. For so long, I remained glued to my inbox, eager to assure my colleagues that despite the fact that I had recently had a baby, I could still keep up with the influx of emails. It was exhausting. It always felt like a race to be the first to respond to group messages or jump into the group chats. I had to show that I was available and accessible.
It was summer, and I knew that my inbox traffic would be lighter and likely low-stakes that week. I decided I’d keep my work email on my phone, but by leaving the laptop at home, I knew I’d be less inclined to respond to any messages.
And so, for a week, I sat at the beach with my daughter and did no work. None. Yes, I scanned a few emails on my phone when they came in, but I did not respond to any. And I felt zero guilt.
Instead, I was able to watch my daughter happily play with a dump truck, go on family walks, play with Magni-tiles, read stories and walk on the beach—all without thinking about work.
Other than maternity leave, I can’t remember the last time I went an entire week without doing any work. Even during the holidays, there are a lot of emails from students who are freaking out that they failed a class, or professors trying to suss out whether to accept late work from a student trying to pull a last-minute Hail Mary.
But our week at Dewey Beach was a workless week—full stop. The combination of parenting and the pandemic had been (and remains) incredibly stressful, and this was the most relaxed I had felt in years.
On the last night of vacation, we took a trolley into Rehoboth to take Lucy to the boardwalk, ride the carousel and go to the amusement park. To Lucy’s delight, we went out for pizza. Even though we had to wait for our food, she was so excited. She kept saying “pizza” while smiling and toasting us with her sippy cup. “Cheers!” We toasted again and again, all so happy to be together. A calm settled into the evening as dinner arrived.
After stuffing ourselves with pizza, we boarded the trolley to go back to the hotel. Aside from the three of us, it was completely empty. We made our way to the back of the trolley and watched the sunset as we headed back to Dewey Beach. With Lucy sitting between us, I put my head on Pat’s shoulder, and he instinctively started rubbing my arm. A few tears streamed down my face, not out of sadness that the vacation was coming to an end, but out of genuine happiness.
It was a workless week.
My office survived—and more importantly, I thrived.
I’m not packing the computer again.