Thursday, July 08, 2010

just like the griswolds




So, one of the many things that has happened since I last updated in May is that we went on our vacation the week of Memorial Day. We went to this place. And it was fun, but I realized something about myself, which is that when it comes to my kids, I am both filled with guilt and deeply neurotic. (Hey, I didn't say it was a new insight, guys.) While I think this tendency is likely multifactorial, I think in large part it is probably related to the fact that I started having kids early in my medical training, and am therefore accustomed to feeling like I am wronging everyone equally no matter what I do.




(Mack in particular feels wronged. He also feels like John Belushi.)

So, Tyler Place. We (that is to say, I) first heard about Tyler Place when I was looking for a fun place to go on our annual family vacation, with the stipulation in place that this place could not under any circumstances be in Florida. (This was way, way before the oil spill, I started making arrangements last fall, so that's not the reason. It's just that every other family vacation we've ever taken has been in Florida because it's cheap and close by and Mickey Mouse lives there. So, NO FLORIDA.)

I also was looking for a place where Joe and I would get a chance to spend some time together. One unfortunate effect of having two parents who work long hours is that while we can for the most part swap who's working late which nights (we schedule and trade and do what it takes so that one of us will always be home to at least bathe the kids and put them to bed), what ends up happening is that when one of us is home, usually the other is not. So there are many weeks where outside of nights and weekends (even those are dodgy, depending on whether or not one of us is on call) we really don't see each other very much. Obviously not ideal, but for now, it's how it has to be.




Tyler Place seemed like it would really fit the bill. First of all, it's in Vermont, which, unless my American public school education has totally failed me, I'm pretty sure is not in Florida. Secondly, it was billed as some sort of family mecca, a place where overstressed parents and kids of all ages could come for a week to unwind, relax, and be entertained both together and apart. See, a big selling point of Tyler Place is that it's like some kind of mega-camp for kids and for adults. Kids have activities all day long. Even baby kids (like Mack) are assigned personal sitters that take them on outings and engage them in activities in the mornings and the evenings, feeding them all meals and taking care of their every whim from dusk 'til dawn.




Meanwhile, parents are also encouraged to take advantage of the camp-like atmosphere and basically do everything that you would want to do if you didn't have your damn kids hanging off you every second of the day. Other people snoozed in hammocks, took art classes, went on hikes, did yoga, took day trips to Montreal, what have you. (Note I said other people. I'm getting to that part.) Food and drinks are all included in the resort fee, as are all the activity expenses. Normally, I think such a trip would probably fall outside our vacation budget (not only the expense of such all-inclusive chicanery, but also factoring in the cost of flying our carcasses in there, etcetera), but the week I chose, the week of Memorial Day, was something like 50% off the peak-season price range. Which seemed strange to me, because come on, Memorial Day, but then I realized why:




Sweaters in June. Hello Vermont, you are truly the snowy north.

People love this place, did I mention that? They love it. There are people there who have been coming there every year for the past five, six, seven years, people who plan their whole yeararound their annual trip to Tyler Place, people who have made lifelong friendships from these summers in Vermont. And it is very nice. There were some things that we liked a lot. First of all, the food and drink really were superb, and the accomodations were simple but comfortable. The childcare staff was excellent--they were so thoughtful, you could tell they really liked the kids, and scads of them had these charming British and Australian accents. The waterfront was gorgeous, with plenty of activities for the enthusiast. And of course there was Cal's favorite part, which is that you get your own bike the day you check in, that you're encouraged to ride everywhere on the grounds. He was one of the youngest kids there who was riding a two-wheeler, a realization that was, for him, one of the highlights of the entire trip.




The problem? The problem was that every time I would drop Cal and Mack off at their respective clubhouses for a day filled with organic local foods and swimming and treasure hunts and poking other babies in the eye, I felt terrible. Terrible. I felt like a terrible parent. Here we were, working such long hours in our regular lives, only to come on vacation--come on a family vacation--only to dump our kids off so that someone else can have fun with them? This felt sad. Every time after we dropped off the kids, Joe and I didn't know what to do. Did we want to go on a hike? No. Did we want to go take an archery lesson? No. Did we want to join in on the watercolor course on the sundeck? I got paints at home, dude. Did we want to take a Zumba class? OK, now you're not even speaking English anymore.

However, did we want to tiptoe up to the kid's clubhouse and peek in through the window like creeps, making sure that Cal was having fun in his group? Yes indeedy do!




The fact of it is that it might not have been quite the right kind of structure for our kind of family vacation. We probably could have used something a little more free-form, and that's my fault for not realizing that. But I kind of started to feel like there was something wrong with me. Because the other parents were enjoying themselves so much. They loved having all those child-free hours, taking advantage of all the adult-only activities. (It kind of sounds like I'm talking about secret sex parties when I say "adult-only activities," but I'm more referring to doubles tennis and karaoke night.) They were participating in everything. Joe and I were just worriedly wringing our hands, pretending to play Scrabble at the inn while checking our watches obsessively until it was time to collect our offspring. We felt like we were wasting our vacation time without them.




The thing is when you work long hours, and have been working long hours since your children have been born, when your kids say "I want to spend time with you" it is very, very difficult not to feel terrible about pushing them away. Of course they want to do stuff with us. They're our kids. We're their parents. The last thing we want to do is come on a family trip and feel like we're pawning them off on other people to take care of.




Cal did do some of the activities with his group, but we pulled him out of "camp" for as many days as he was in it, using the time that Mack was in his group to do some special activities with Cal that we wouldn't be able to do with the baby in tow. (Which is basically everything.) And that's not to say that Cal didn't enjoy the activities with his group either. In particular, he loved "Pirate Night," a evening where they took all the four and five-year olds on a pontoon boat out to this little island and staged a pirate battle after which booty was reclaimed and distributed amongst the slack-jawed children. (The booty was candy and plastic bedazzled trinkets. Cal got a ridiculous green jeweled ring, which he very earnestly showed us, told us he intended to use as his ring "when he got married," and proceeded to wear to bed.)

I don't mean it to sound like we didn't have fun at Tyler Place, because really, we did, and the people there were so gracious and lovely that I feel like a shitheel for even sounding like I'm complaining when really, it was a wonderful family trip. But I work a lot of hours in my non-vacation life, and I miss my kids when I'm not with them. And though one of the highlights of the week for me was the opportunity to have dinner every night in a dining room with other adults, putting food into my own mouth with a fork as opposed to fielding projectile food particles while getting up from the table thirty thousand times to fetch another glass of milk/napkin/clean spoon/change of pants--there were points that week where I missed that too. So clearly, I am insane.

In sum: Vermont was pretty. We had fun. I felt guilty for every moment that I was not with my children. I will grow up to be a creepy and socially inappropriate mom who tags alongside her full-grown sons, insisting shrilly that they give their mother a kiss, what was that look for, DON'T YOU LOVE ME?




The end.

(Full photo set here.)

51 comments:

  1. I believe all these feelings of guilt and attachment stem from the fact that you're an ASIAN mom. I speak from the experience of being the daughter of an Asian mom and watching my sister turn into an Asian mom.

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  2. I always thought I'd be one of those moms who would happily drop my kids off at daycare / grandparents' house / in the bushes, but you kind of brought up a point which hadn't occurred to me. If you don't even see your kids to begin with, like as a doctor, you're definitely going to feel bad going on vacation and not spending time with them.

    Although...did you and your husband have a LITTLE bit of a good time alone together??

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  3. Anonymous5:27 PM

    Adorable photos, cute shoes too! You wanted to go on vacation to spend time with your kids. You went on a vacation geared toward giving you time away from your kids. Wanting to hang out with your kids when you get rare free time as a family doesn't make you a helicopter parent -- it just means you picked the wrong vacation.

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  4. I hate to bandy one of those recession-inspired neologisms about, but why not try a "staycation" next time? Stay at home and do the usual home stuff, but together, like some kind of "real" family (whatever that means).

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  5. Oh my gosh. I've grown up on my mother's stories of working at The Tyler Place during her summer vacations from college in the 50's. I always imagined it as this idyllic, rural-yet-sophisticated spot, and had no idea it was still around. Mom also had plenty to say about the attractive staff (who, while perhaps not having secret sex parties, were certainly having a lot of sex, 1950's be damned). Heck she even met the guy she should have married there. Which is another story.

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  6. pedsdoc7:22 PM

    Disagree with it being asian mom's, might be medical (or just long hours). Same thing happened to us and we are as white as can be. Missed the kids and never put them in the activities. Our solution was to go on vacation with/near family and have a "date night" while on vacation.

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  7. Glad you were able to have some fun on your family vacation.

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  8. Anonymous8:13 PM

    I completely understand your guilt and neuroticism and it's great to read someone else articulate my feelings. Am also in a two-physician family with only one child (so far) and feel completely guilty not being with our daughter in our very limited time off together. Thanks for the post - you're not alone!

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  9. Anonymous8:19 PM

    all i can say right now is, FI!NA!LY!

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  10. Anonymous10:01 PM

    You are so funny and I loooovee reading your blog. So glad you updated! Great pictures - Mack has such scrumptious cheeks.

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  11. We lived about half an hour south of The Tyler Place till we moved away from VT for medical school (4 years ago). Lake Champlain is beautiful, but the cold was always a bit much for this california girl.

    You are such a good momma! Those boys are so lucky to have you and Joe. I'm glad you're posting again Dr. Au! ♥

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  12. Amy, when our kids were younger, I struggled with the same kinds of feelings you describe. I enjoyed spending time with my kids and sometimes felt there must be something wrong with me that I didn't enjoy being away from them as much as other parents. My husband and I aren't doctors, or Asian (!), we do work long hours (who doesn't?)
    Our kids are 22 and 25 now and we still all enjoy being together! They both have active, busy lives with lots of friends, but we also still share rich family times together! Be encouraged, you won't be the creepy mom, you'll be the mom the other kids wish they had!

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  13. Apparently the sign of a bad joke is that you have to explain it... The "Asian mom" comment was said in jest, people.

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  14. Anonymous1:28 PM

    Sounds like a great vacation place for a family with a stay-at-home mom (or dad) and a step-dad (or mom).

    But Michelle, as a parent in a two-physician household with young children, I would feel the same as you did. The guilt of long workdays and daycare make it impossible to get anything done on the weekends, except kid stuff. I think my neighbors think I am lazy.

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  15. Anonymous5:13 AM

    You kids are freaking adorable. And your entries are so freaking funny and entertaining. I can't wait to read your book.

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  16. Anonymous11:09 AM

    Thanks so much for this post! We are a two-physician household expecting our first baby in November, and it's always been so interesting and so helpful to see how other doctor couples do it. One of the things that we stressed a little bit about is, were we ever going to be able to take a vacation again that wasn't to Disneyworld? But the thought had never occurred to me that maybe we wouldn't WANT time away from our kid(s).

    Also, Cal is getting so grown-up! I think of him as looking Mack's age.

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  17. I have the same ambivalent feelings--guilty if I spend a lot of time away from them, and guilty when I'm with them that I'm neglecting other, non-kid areas of my life, etc. Most other parents I have talked to about this (but especially moms) feel similarly.

    Maybe the perfect vacation place would be one where you could choose exactly how much family time and how much grown up time you wanted. You are totally not alone in wanting to spend time as a family on vacation.

    Also nice green monkey hoodie--we have one too :)

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  18. Two words: Outer Banks NC. You can rent a house and then go to the beach, drive around and see the ponies, play mini-golf, eat barbecue, go to the beach -- all totally on your own schedule. Did I mention going to the beach? Even Cooper would like it. Just go in the off season (before Memorial Day) to make sure that you don't have to put up with a bunch of teenagers on summer vacation.

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  19. For what it is worth, I don't think you are mad. I think you love and adore your kids. That is nothing to be worried about!

    As others have commented, it is interesting to see how other doctor families manage having small kids while they are in training. I'll be doing the same thing in a year or two (hopefully) and it is good to see that other people can manage it.

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  20. Anonymous9:47 AM

    I admit that I came to this site looking for reassurance that "having it all" is possible ... that a mom could attend medical school, become a physician, find that perfect part time job that still provided a great salary and be able to play Dr. Super Mom. Can't say I feel encouraged. I'm a pre-med who has put off submitting the medical school application for fear of making the wrong decision for my family's needs. I'm thinking CRNA may be a better route for me (although I am a very qualified med. school applicant.) I wonder what your thoughts are about a young mom pursuing a CRNA career instead? I know you're bias, but, you've also lived the experience. I'd love to hear your perspective on this if possible.

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  21. CRNA may ultimately be better for family life than attending med school & completing residency, but remember that you'll still have to go to nursing school first and maybe even work as a nurse before getting into a CRNA program. Now, I'm a nurse, so I'm not knocking the profession, but it's very different from medicine, and having to put in time on the floor or in the OR before becoming a CRNA might not be a lot of fun if you don't actually want to be a nurse. Just my two cents...

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  22. Anonymous12:50 PM

    If you're interested in practicing MEDICINE at a mid-level (instead of nursing) go to Anesthesia Associate or Physician Associate/Assistant school, where you can practice medicine under the supervision of a physician (as opposed to nursing.)

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  23. Anonymous12:57 PM

    btw, it's great to have hilariously (if a bit unrealistically) self-deprecating Michelle back. This is a classic post, wherein you state that you must be weird for wanting to spend time with your kids (there is nothing weird about it and it doesn't make you a better or worse parent than anyone else at Tyler Place.) It's a great throwback to 2005 after Cal was born when you regularly used the blog to write long, train-of-thought, Greek tragedy-like posts about your tragic choice between being a good mother or a good doctor (both in fact are possible.) Classic!

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  24. ENT_resident8:16 PM

    hilarious post! and your kids are adorable!!!

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  25. Anonymous8:32 PM

    Well well well. Remember that post about you being worried about Cal not fitting in? Look how far we have come! (By we, I mean you.) Pictures look lovely, your writing is hilarious (in a good way).

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  26. Anonymous10:00 AM

    I really think it can be a blessing to live simply. Find a mentor who has made this work in the world of medicine. Sometimes having resources and external expectations get in the way. I think your next vacation should be one with little planning and forethought, low budget (seriously pretend that the money you have budgeted is ALL you have) and just see what happens. You might be very surprised. (think-campgrounds,county fairs, libraries, picnic lunches, etc.) The sacrifices you have to make since mack is so young will just help cal realize that the world doesn't revolve around only him. Working within a budget can be part of the fun.

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  27. Elaine2:31 AM

    Nothing abnormal or even neurotic here! I think Tyler Place must be wonderful for families with stay-at-home parents who actually do get plenty of time with their kids and need a little bit of real "two-time." OBX sounds like a really nice choice for next year, or something else where you basically are just in a house in an area with lots of things for everybody to do.

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  28. I am a stay at home Mom and some of my friends think I am strange because I hate when summer vacation ends, I LOVE snow days and I wouldn't dream of going on vacation without them. I worked for a long time when they were babies, so I know exactly how you feel - but you are a great Mom with a lovely family and a very important job that you worked hard to have - cut yourself some slack - Cal and Mack are doing beautifully and it is all due to you and their Dad.

    Mother. The guilt is a given :).

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  29. JenniferB2:45 PM

    That is such a beautiful photo of you with your boys! I agree with you in that when we go on vacation I want to do something I normally don't get to do (anything without kids) but I want to enjoy my wonderful babies too (too old to call babies, trust me). It's a fine line, and never easy to negotiate. The good part is later on, actually, when we talk about our trip as a family and realize we all had good times together and apart.

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  30. Insane? Not so much. But always entertaining! Classic Mom guilt with a dash of working Mom guilt. I can relate. I've got both plus the Catholic guilt that trumps it all!

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