When you are a massage therapist, you are bestowed with a lot of contemplative time (unfortunately accompanied by a pan flute soundtrack). Most often I have five to six hours of uninterrupted reflection a day as my hands navigate chronically irritated muscles, scar tissue, non-turning necks and stubborn low backs. In between hypertonic hamstrings and quads (and pan flute solos), my mental auto-pilot finds comfortable cruising altitude in rehashing bits of the books I’m reading. Currently, I’m jumping between chapters of Ewan McGregor’s Long Way Round and the Frommer’s Iceland guide.
Long Way Round is the bromance McGregor wrote with fellow actor and road trip enthusiast, Charley Boorman. The motorbike fanciers took a dude trip on the backs of souped up BMW bikes from London to New York (part of a Bravo doc series in 2003). Yes, you can actually do this. It’s a mere short cut across Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Disclaimer: I’m not scheming a similar adventure (although if I did, I would choose a BMX versus a BMW to retrace their route), but, I’m always hungry for sweaty and dusty travel memoirs. From my chaise lounge outpost in Belize I finished Julie and Colin Angus’ Rowed Trip which chronicled the just-engaged couple’s macho and ambitious row and bike from Scotland to Syria, visiting their ancestral grounds. Before that I was flea-bitten and a little lonesome with Britta Das in Mongar, Bhutan in Buttertea at Sunrise, practically sipping the salty tea with my eyes trained on her ominous Himalayan backdrop. A few weeks ago I was hanging on to Thomas Kohnstaam’s backpack as he tromped and boozed his way through Brazil on assignment for Lonely Planet in Do Travel Writers Go To Hell?
Whether writers are sculling the edges of the Black Sea, detailing servo-booster brake and beefy Boxer engine performance off-road, emotionally excavating the isolation of monsoon season or staring at the weeping ceilings of some shit hostel with a crush of strung-out Aussies, I am there. Five pages into the Frommer’s guide, I’m already in Iceland too (fast forward to September 2012). I make note of the Museum of Small Exhibits in Upper Eyjafjordur that exhibits master carpenter (and dare we say, hoarder?) Sverrir Hermannsson’s collections of cocktail napkins, tacks, fake teeth, hair elastics, waffle irons and (wait for it…) “pencil shavings in unbroken spirals.” There’s also a Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, Skogar Folk Museum (carved headboard and makeshift mousetrap artifacts) and of course, the Museum of the Phallus which must make every man so immensely proud of his member. There are 276 specimens on display, including last year’s donation from a 95-year-old Icelandic man, Pall Arason, whose legacy will remain erect.
I already have Kim signed up to try Icelandic classics like putrefied shark, sheep’s head jelly, cod chins and Brennivin (‘Black Death’)–a potent fermented potato mash and caraway seed hooch. Afternoons escape me as I read about the likes of the Vogafjos Cowshed Cafe in Bjarnarflag. The cafe looks directly into a milking shed (milking times are 7:30 am and 5:30pm). Warm milk is passed around and homemade mozza and feta is on the menu. “Bedrooms in old Icelandic turf farms were often placed directly over the cow stables for sharing body heat. Cow intimacy carries on at this cafe.” How great is that?
And this is how it happens. I’m massaging and traveling in my head and scheming about our next trip. The pan flute concerto is replaced by the hum of a bright and shiny revelation. The Employment Standards Act and Maternity Leave! I have zero interest in having a baby, but I like the 52 weeks off deal. In lieu of the baby part, I would like to take a baby trip. I’ve worked 600 insurable hours in 52 weeks and contribute to Employment Insurance. So, how can I sign up? I’d like 15 weeks of paid mat leave, and then would be more than happy to do the 35 week parental leave benefits. Even though it would be 55% of my average earning, it would still make for a nice weekly travel paycheque.
Better yet, I might be able to convince my employer for a “top-up” to 75% of my average pay with a guarantee that I’ll return to my job in a year. Selling points to Best Boss Ever: No future concern about needing random nights off for parent-teacher interviews, the school’s Christmas assembly, the spring performance of Macbeth or last minute can’t-come-in-today-due-to snotty noses, high fevers and snow days.
Disclaimer: I have nothing against spring performances of Macbeth, or smiley preggo moms. However, there must be some fairness here, to those who would like to skip maternity leave and leave the country instead. Because, if you do the math like me (and I skipped a few classes in my day), the average mother gets A LOT of holiday time. Generous companies that allow employees to accrue vacation time without a cap still rarely dish out more than 10 weeks holidays for 25+ years of service. Which means, a mother of one child is earning the vacation equivalent of someone who has worked at a company for, practically a lifetime. Said mother could work one year and qualify for 52 weeks off which would take the average non-mother entitled to the average 2 weeks vacation a year, a whopping 26 years of work. Two years of mat leave is 104 weeks off which equals 80 dog years and probably 230 years working for the same company (with no gold service pen).
Again, I do love mothers, but, I believe they are hogging vacay time with their womb staycations.
*Editor’s Note: By no means is this to be misconstrued as a desire for me to see firsthand the workload of the modern mother. I get it. It’s not the 52 week holiday package I would choose. And, this is also not a cry out for babysitting offers. I traded in my biological clock for a travel alarm clock long ago.