Too Much of a Good Thing

Relief at the end of summer vacation

A laptop sits open on a rustic wooden table next to a coffee and an evocative travel photograph

This week in Paris marks the start of what the French refer to as la rentrée, the moment when the entire country returns to work and school after a prolonged holiday season that began in late July. My wife and I are both self-employed writers, so we don’t get paid for the four- and sometimes five-week vacations some of our friends with office jobs enjoy. But with a five-year-old and a 13-month-old out of school for six weeks, we made what was in retrospect the somewhat rose-tinted decision to pocket whatever we’d spend on babysitters or camp and do all the childcare ourselves while traveling. We spent most of July and August between the Atlantic coast in Brittany and southern Italy, with a few scorching and highly challenging days in Paris and Rome.

I don’t want to pretend that it was all work and no play. Caring for our children and visiting with family and friends were rewardingly intense. Of course, we swam and ate and drank, and found time to tan. But there never seemed to be enough time to sit alone and think or read. This week, when we dropped our daughter off at her new school and passed by the corner café where all the bronzed parents buzzed around each other comparing travel notes, I appreciated the genius of the rentrée in a new and deeper way. Perhaps this is why the French are more productive hour for hour than their American counterparts. The truth is, once you’ve been on family holiday long enough, you will inevitably crave the comparative peace and quiet of the workday.


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Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.


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