I started out as a lawyer working in the City and life was very busy. I once worked on a deal with a senior lawyer who lived in London but who moved to Italy for the summer and worked from there. For years I wished I could do that too but I could never face having the conversation with any of my (very nice) line managers. It just felt so, well, difficult.
Fast forward 12 years and I am still working full time (no longer in the City – now doing a senior role in the public sector where it is possible to have a better work/life balance), happily married, mum to two boys aged 10 and in an organisation going through a major structural upheaval. It feels like the time to have the conversation. I ask. My line manger says yes! We’re on! 5 weeks in Italy with the kiddos.
I took this as annual leave as I had a lot to use up. I could also have asked to take it as unpaid parental leave (you can find out more about parental leave here).
We stayed at a lovely place we knew well and had stayed at before in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. It’s an agriturismo about an hour from Florence – an olive farm and vineyard with a collection of converted outbuildings and a communal swimming pool. So other children for my two to play with but space to relax on our own too.
My husband wasn’t able to take five weeks off work so he travelled out with us at the beginning, stayed for the weekend and then flew back to London. He came back to spend the last two weeks with us. If he’d been able to stay out for the full five weeks we could perhaps have put our house on Airbnb. Financially that would have been nice. As I was dropping him off to Florence airport after that first weekend, trying to get used to driving in Italy and contemplating three weeks without him, I did feel a bit anxious. “How do I get back to Barberino?”, I asked him. “No idea”, he said. I had visions of the kids and me in the car, driving round Florence’s ring road for three weeks, unable to find the road back to the agriturismo. In the end we needn’t have worried and we found our way back easily enough.
I had arranged for the three of us to have Italian lessons a few times each week with an Italian girl in the local village square. The boys weren’t overly impressed with this plan (“Mum, we’ve come on holiday to escape learning!”). We made learning fun and practical, like how to order the ice cream we wanted from the gelateria properly in Italian, how to buy food at the local market, how to tell people where we were from. The Italians are so lovely and encouraging – they gave the boys free food for making an effort which was so motivating!
There was a bit of adjustment at the beginning as we all slowed down and adapted to our new routine. It wasn’t hard to find our groove though – in the mornings I would work out while the boys watched a DVD, then breakfast outside, swimming and larking about or Italian lessons or a visit to a food market until lunchtime. After lunch we’d go somewhere together, like a nearby farm, or local village to see the sights and of course to eat ice cream. Then dinner. In the evenings I’d sit outside and read with the sound of the crickets chirping in the background. The boys would play hide and seek in the olive groves with the other children until it got dark when they’d go on the hunt for glow worms. On Friday nights for a treat we’d go out for pizza in the local village. No rushing around, very little organised fun, just relaxing together. It was wonderful. And it was lovely when my husband came out to join us.
If this is something you’d like to do, just go for it! I had realised that no-one was going to ask me if I wanted to do it and organise it for me! So you have to decide if a little bit of time out is something you’d like to do and if it is, make it happen. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. This year I’m just taking two weeks off but I hope I will have a longer break with the boys again soon.
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Catherine started her career as a lawyer in the City of London. For several years she really enjoyed it but after a while she felt she was losing myself in the relentless busyness of it. Aiming for a better work life balance she moved into the public sector where she’s held a number of executive positions. She runs mentoring programs for busy working mums that inspire them to feel empowered, confident and positive. She’s married with twin boys. She’s a keen speaker, Huffington Post blogger and photographer and loves riding her horse. You can find her brilliant website here