Ski Sabbatical

At the school where I was educated, teachers were given a sabbatical every 7 years.  For a semester, with some financial support from the school, they could do something personally or professionally enriching away from the school community.  The idea was that they returned to school as better educators because of the time spent away.  Sometimes, they say, a change is as good as a rest.  I think that teaching, and homeschooling, are prone to burn out because the demands are relentless.  This year, in my 6th year of homeschooling and my 11th year as a parent, I am taking a sabbatical from suburban mom life to spend 6 weeks doing the thing that I love most in the world, alpine skiing.

I teach skiing on the weekends, so we have season passes and a place to stay, and this year we have decided that we are just not going to go home for the weekdays.  I am using the same budget that I spend on childcare at home to arrange some babysitting for my younger ones and I am hitting the slopes every morning from 9-12.  We come home to a little bit of school work (streamlined version, mostly math and reading), a nap, a cozy meal, and time for a board game and a long read aloud session.  We are reading Heidi, which fits our mountain days nicely.  While we do school, the little boys play outside in the snow.  Tonight, I brushed out and braided my daughters’ hair after their showers.

I feel present to my children in a way that I have not been since they were really little.  At home, we have a rich, full life, with friends and commitments, activities and appointments.  All of that is wonderful, and privileged, but it can be exhausting.  Our life takes us away from the dinner table and the fireside, and so here we are, recharging.

There is a lot of adrenaline and exhilaration in our weekday ski mornings – there are no lift lines, and my children are excellent skiers, so it is huge fun to just rip it up with them.  Last Friday, as we were getting on the lift with my mother, the lift-op said “the family that shreds together, stays together.”  While my mother questioned her shredding creds, she was keeping up, and it was all pretty awesome.  We also think that the family that prays together stays together, and my son has set an alarm for noon so that we pray the Angelus together on the mountain each day.

For all of my life, I have felt closest to God in the mountains.  When I look at the huge blue sky, and the sun off the snow is so bright that I can barely see, and I fly down the slope, I am totally certain that this life cannot be a vast molecular coincidence.

  • Sara

    Your sabbatical is simply brilliant! I love it and I truly hope it continues to be a wonderful time for you and your family.

  • Adele

    This is interesting, and I’m glad your homeschooling flexibility has allowed you to take an extended break like this. Though I didn’t know homeschoolers as a child, I did have friends where the mom and kids would go to a lake house for the entire summer, with the father coming up on weekends. These people were all quite wealthy, though, and I get the impression that your family has a lot of disposable income to make this happen. I would love some suggestions for achieving this with more limited means.

    • Tara Edelschick

      Adele, we homeschool as well, and spent three months in Costa Rica last year. We paid for it by renting out our house at home while we were gone. It didn’t pay for everything, but by the time we canceled classes that our kids were in, stopped driving everywhere, and stopped buying anything other than food and surf lessons, we ended up spending about the same amount of money as we would have at home.

      • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

        Tara, that is a great point. When I was growing up, my parents would rent our city home to law students doing summer internships and then rent a house on Long Island. I remember the year that I asked to go to a summer camp that some of my friends were going to, and my mother explained that the cost of that camp was about the same as what they spent for our entire family’s summer experience. My mother was a teacher, so we were lucky to have the flexibility, and my father would spend a few months commuting. It was a good, healthy change of pace for us. One of the main reasons I chose to live in the suburbs (other than space), was that we could stay there in the summer, which would free up our vacation money for winter, which is a higher priority for me.

  • Kellie “Red”

    I love the idea of a sabbatical! I felt very refreshed the one year we took a 2 week vacation to the beach. There is nothing that recharges my batteries like getting some time on the beach each day.

    We have talked about doing an extended beach vacation. And our August is so slow, we could easily take 4-6 weeks to go away at that time. Unfortunately, there is no way we could afford it. Extended family trips of that kind are very expensive ;-( But in your case, that is one more thing to be thankful for — the means to do something amazing like this! I’m curious if there are any readers who have more budget friendly sabbatical ideas, because I love the concept!

    • maryalice

      We do have some disposable income, but not as much as it seems like it would take to do this. I work at the mountain as an adaptive ski instructor, and I work enough days that my pass is free and my family’s passes are heavily discounted. I get free childcare on the weekend days that I work. We use hand-me-downs and used equipment as much as possible. In the past, we have stayed with my parents, but this year we have rented our own housing near them. The real estate costs much less than you would think, but this is a big leap for us and we feel very blessed to be able to have our own space. We don’t do a beach week or trips, rarely travel to friends weddings, all of our other vacations for the last several years are to places where we can drive and the housing and activities are inexpensive. So, we are spending disposable income to do this, but that does mean that we don’t have it to spend in other areas. Think of this as about 3 years worth of vacations piled up.

      We do all that in order to be able to ski on the weekends, so there is no additional cost to my staying here during the week. In fact, we are probably saving money, as my gas guzzling van doesn’t have to make the drive up the mountain and back every week and the kids are not doing the homeschool classes and activities (which all have small fees) this semester. Meals are simple, clothes are simple, life is simple.

      My husband unfortunately cannot stay with us. He took one week of vacation in January and he is taking another week in February, but otherwise I am here alone with the children.

      Child care here costs about half of what is costs me at home, I am able to have more hours of help here than I have at home for the same cost.

      I do think that there are ways to get a similar experience for even less money, and I am going to keep brainstorming about this. I also think that I am learning things here that I will apply to life at home, which will make our home life more peaceful and joyful. I hope to record those a little bit at a time.

      • maryalice

        The truth is, the hardest part about taking the sabbatical, and the part that doesn’t cost anything (and may even save money), is clearing the calendar. My kids are missing tons of enriching activities, I am missing a baby shower and a baptism, book club meeting, perhaps other things that I don’t even know about. All of these things are important and enjoyable, but this once, I am giving myself permission to just check out of my obligations. I hope to do it again in another 7 years.

        I’m not sure how you could do that if you were staying home — is it possible to just politely decline invitations? Would it be harder to sell your kids on the concept of missing their favorite things if you didn’t have something awesome and extreme planned?

        Here’s Sabbatical Lesson #1: Prioritize the Good Stuff.

        Every time I take a day trip to the beach, I think “this is great, I should do this more often, at least once a week.” And then I don’t. I live about 45 minutes from a beautiful public beach town and I probably only go twice a year. So, one way to get a mini-sabbatical would be to just declare, in the summer, we are missing swim practices on Mondays and going to the beach, every Monday. The cost? Gas, a picnic, sunscreen and the $8 for the adult beach badge.

        I should keep going to the beach into September, when it is still beautiful and even better without the crowds. I should keep going until it is so cold that it stops being fun.

        Because one thing I am learning is that my 11 year old is really big, and when my baby is 11, my current 11 year old will be 22! I have this sweet spot of a large group of children of manageable ages who still want to be together, I need to take advantage.

        What about a picnic in the park? A long bike ride? My first year in New Jersey I went to the apple farm once a week. I could still do that. The older kids could bring their books there, and the little ones could play on the tractors. I don’t do this anymore because I thought that other things were more important. I’m pretty sure that I was wrong about that.

      • Kellie “Red”

        I think the beach days or pool days are a good idea. Putting a small amount of money toward child care for my youngest would make those things much more doable. We could do the pool with just the bigger kids several days a week and really feel more relaxed. I think just stepping back, saying no (firmly), and planning some fun day trips with my kids is a great idea.

        As for the money, I think one of the things that has enabled you to be in this position is your generous parents. I don’t want to keep bringing this up, because I do think what you are doing is GREAT and not as expensive for this year as some would think (probably not as expensive as my dream of spending a summer at the beach), but the way you were able to get trained and dip your feet into this for the past few years is because your parents have a place and you were able to stay with them. I don’t know many Catholic friends who have parents that are able to generous like this, so, for most of our readers, this sort of a extended sabbatical really isn’t possible. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t great that you are doing it, or that the rest of us shouldn’t look for more ways to give ourselves a break every few years and do something special!

  • Kellie “Red”

    Oh, and that photo is super cute! Is that Leo?

    • maryalice

      Yes! That was right after his first time skiing down the main slope. Today was a breakthrough day for Jimmy, he learned to make turns around the cones in the beginner area. You make much more progress at that age if you are able to do something very often. It is also a help to the little boys that we can pick the good days — I am not going to make them ski when it is freezing, so today, in the sunshine, Jimmy just had to learn to ski, not contend with the discomfort of being cold, wind in his face, etc.

  • Kathleen

    You guys are so lucky to be able to have this time! (And the babysitting to help with the little ones!) I sometimes wish we could do some sort of extended family vacation, but my husband can’t take more than a week off in the summer. What a gift!

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

    Mary Alice, this is great, I’m so happy to hear that the trip is working out for your family! I can tell that you really thought through all of the details involved in this prolonged time away from home – this pre-planning can make all of the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful family trip! I hope that you stay healthy and injury-free – enjoy every minute, and soak in some sun and that fresh mountain air for us :)

  • JMB

    What a joy to be able to do what you love! I just took my youngest two for a day of skiing in upstate NY over the Christmas break and although it was a bit too cold for my liking, the girls had a blast. Unfortunately, my oldest daughter broke her femur when she was 7, so skiing was not an option for a family activity. I love being outdoors too even in the winter.

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

    I also know a homeschooling family who took a cross country road trip, staying mostly with friends from college along the way. One of my husband’s dreams is to drive across country, but that much time in the car does not sound like a great thing to me :)


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