Sunday, March 24, 2013

Need a vacation?

Last year, I took a couple of weeks off in the summer to go visit my parents.

It was miserable. Two of my family members because very sick, one necessitating a 2AM trip to the ER, another resulting in an urgent doctor's visit that I had to pay for out of pocket. I probably got an hour of sleep the whole trip. My husband and I fought on the drive in both directions. And when I got back, the work that had piled up in my absence was overwhelming.

This year, I refuse to go.

I've been thinking about taking two half-weeks off, so I won't return to such an overwhelming load. But at the same time, I wonder if human beings need a longer vacation?

Like, will I get completely burned out if I go over a year without taking a straight week off? And what about my kids? Do they need a week off as well? Are a few days here and there enough?


  1. I LOVE long weekends. I find them very restorative, and much easier to arrange than week-long vacations - easier to get the time, easier to find childcare if we want to go away by ourselves, less stressful, easier to recover from at work. We usually do one or two long weekends a year plus at least one week off together (often two, but not consecutive). We don't always go away on our weeks off.

    I don't remember how old your kids are. Traveling as a family has gotten much less stressful now that Eve is older. She can entertain herself, she can stay up late enough to do fun things in the evening, she eats pretty much anything. If we can bring along a friend or meet up with an age-matched cousin, it's even better. I think your kids will be perfectly fine for a few years without week-long vacations.

    That said, traveling to see family is *not* a vacation, at least not for us. It adds the stress of coping with family to everything else. These days it's the grandparents who are most likely to need an ER trip - had to take my mother-in-law a few years ago. If you can travel to family who will then give you a break from childcare, that would be different, but that doesn't sound like it happened. Your vacation time needs to be restorative to you. Do what you need to do.

    1. I didn't want to get into this in my post, but part of the problem is that my parents' house, where we would stay, is a baby deathtrap. They did make a bit of an effort to make it somewhat less dangerous, but it's still pretty bad. Which means that I can't leave my youngest alone for even a minute. I pointed out to my father that every single morning when I visited, I had to BEG someone to watch her just so I could shower, and I did not get to even pee without her company, and he acted like he had no idea what I was talking about. "It will be different this time." Yeah, right. I think I'll wait till she's over age 3, thank you very much.

      And my husband, who was the one who needed the ER trip on day #2, was "sick" and didn't have to lift a finger to help me the whole trip. After I spent the entire night awake with him in the ER, I attempted to sneak in 15 minutes of sleep on a couch, but everyone was just waiting for me to get home so I could take over watching the baby. That trip sucked.

    2. That sounds awful. I can relate, though. When you're a mom, it's like you have to do childcare plus all the other things you're "supposed to" do in addition to being available for "everything" else. The reality is that we are often the ones that need more breaks. It's exhausting to have a little one hanging off you all day, worse if you have another who misses mommy because mommy is so often busy with the littler one. This is a huge part of why I'm not sure I will be able to do medicine. What with being able to establish the support you really need, having to convince people (esp your spouse) of why you want to do medicine when it will: cost so much, take so much of your time, mean relocating your family, etc. Sigh.

  2. Fizzy, that sounds about like what my last vacation -- which was almost 2 years ago -- was like. This, the logistics of flying to Italy with a toddler, and my own parent-death-trap house has been what has kept me from taking another vacation since. I would rather work than deal with all of that.

    Don't even get me started on the whole "man-cold" thing.

    1. It was actually kidney stones. Granted, it didn't look fun. But by two days after, I was beginning to wish I'd been the one with kidney stones. When we talk about that trip now, he says, "What was so stressful about it? It was so relaxing!" It kills me that he had kidney stones, yet still had a better time than I did.

  3. Yes you need to take vacation. It's good to visit family; think about staying in a nearby motel (doesn't have to be super nice; you'll just be there to sleep) so you can have some anxiety down time. Don't expect your parents to understand that their house isn't baby proof and don't bring it up. And go for shorter visits-- perhaps stop on the way there or on the way back so you only have half the time with family.

    While visiting family is technically vacation, you need vacation not with family as well. It doesn't have to be a long and complex vacation, though. Think about going somewhere a 1-2 hour drive away from home. Find a place with a kid's camp within a resort so you can have some alone time (or consider leaving the kids behind for a short trip!).

    It's a good idea to take all the vacation you have coming to you. Use some of it for stay-cations to catch up on things at home. Plan your vacations so you don't need one at the end to recuperate-- leave a day later and return a day earlier.

    1. I have trouble seeing how any family trip could be relaxing. 4 people squeezed into a hotel room for $100+/night?

  4. I had the same reaction to family trips when Eve was little. Either we paid for an actual suite with a bedroom door ($$$$), or we had to turn out the lights at 7:00 when she went to sleep. What fun is that? Toddler in a restaurant - not fun. Toddler in a museum - not fun. Toddler on a long car trip - REALLY not fun. More work than staying home. My mother collects art glass and small sculptures of frogs, and she has a pool. She was at least willing to watch Eve, but I was constantly worried that something would get broken. Not fun. Certainly not a vacation. We didn't travel with Eve much between the ages of two and five - we couldn't afford the kind of all-inclusive resort that had a kids camp. We stayed home.

  5. Vacations when the kiddos are little are not really vacations....just the same song and dance in an unfamiliar location where your kids won't sleep, you don't have the same resources, different bed, having to deal with multiple people and you have to PAY for the luxury of all this! And also, convincing a man that a trip to see his parents is not a "vacation" is next to impossible. It took me 10+ years of marriage for my husband to finally finally see the difference.

  6. I don't think we necessarily need longer than half week vacations. And I think you should do what you you find restorative during these mini vacations. If that means resting at home, I think that is great! I often drag my toddler and baby out of the house to many vacations where I work way harder than if we were home. We go camping, rock climbing, hiking, stay in hotels aka baby death traps, with long car/plane rides. But because I love the activities and find that they fill my soul, I keep dragging the kids out.

    I find flying my folks out to our house is much easier. That is what I did with my last 10 day vacation. It was wonderful. Sometimes nothing beats a stay-cation!

  7. Yeah, I agree with the "vacations with small kids = same sh&t, different place". Nothing worse than a hotel room with a light sleeper baby, having to have lights out & not a whisper after 7pm. The point of a vacation is to be relaxing and restorative...if traveling with your family doesn't fit that, I don't really see why you HAVE to do it. I like short trips (3-4 days) with the kids & also taking random days off by myself (kids go to daycare). We do go visit our families, but it is an obligation--even though their homes are nice and safe for littles and we get a LOT of help with the kids, its still not FUN. Once the kids are in regular school you'll be forced to take certain times off, and hopefully by then they'll be old enough that traveling with them is actually fun.

  8. Take the vacation time but stay home! That is the most relaxing thing to do when you have little ones. Explore stuff that's local, go to the park, get out the finger paints, breathe a little.

  9. OK, so I don't have time to read all the replies, but I got the gist and I feel passionately about this.

    YES, *I* need vacation time with my family and they need vacation time with me. I work my butt off when I'm at work, and we enjoy vacationing together. Our first trip was when Dude was 6 weeks old, and first plane trip was at 8 weeks old. (I was on Canadian mat leave.) We've taken 2 "away" family vacation every year since - one to visit family (more on this in a minute) and one to just get away for ourselves.

    Only once did we stay with family - and never again. I, as the in-law, take the crap about this, but I don't care - I need a safe relaxing *vacation* zone, and your apartment/death trap just isn't it - and why should it be? You are 58/85 whatever and you have different needs. So, we have an apartment we rent for the week - an added expense but worth every single penny. We have to fly to visit them (other end of the country) and we're happy to do it, but not at the incalculable cost of everyone's peace of mind being worse.

    So, we are ruthless about routine, and nutrition while we're away, and this paradoxically lends itself to a much happier vacation. After 5 years of this, they are accepting of it, even though they don't "get" it.

    The other vacation is away, to someplace warm (we are in a cold place), and it's always been a lovely, rejuvenating experience. I love to read, so I equip myself with a fully-loaded e-book I can read in the dark, and I save up movies that I haven't been able to see, that I watch on my laptop with headphones while my son is asleep in the evenings. My husband is quite content to sit at the bar for a quiet drink in the evenings, and then I get other breaks during the day. Going to bed early, and waking up rested is a huge part of what I get out of vacation.

    These trips are now our annual traditions, and I know I'm in a much better headspace as mother and doctor when I come back. Otherwise, we do the long weekend thing, but in fact, the 1 week vacations allow for more unwinding.

    Beyond that, I also love the staycation, though I loathe the term... but that, I take, by myself- I get more vacation than my husband, so Dude stays in school (was daycare) for most of it, while I tend to my needs.

    Anyhow - I'll stop my rant. It is possible, with research, to find places to stay that are maybe a bit more expensive than $100 per night, but we feed ourselves from a kitchen, so save money on eating out. It's just part of our budget, and, heck, I pay for sanity!

    All done now. :)

  10. People really differ in their vacation needs - so the key is to figure out what YOU need and do that and definintely absolutely NOT spend precious vacation time or energy on something that doesn't rejunivate you. I am a person who really needs to go away a couple of times per year; and here are a couple of things I've learned:

    1) Totally true what the others said. When you have a baby, there is no such thing as a vacation, just a relocation.

    2) Go away for CME meetings WITHOUT your family. How awesome is it to eat at restaurants where they dont' serve chicken fingers and nobody is sitting on your lap?? How awesome is it to stay in a hotel room and enjoy whatever movie or TV you want with nobody interrupting you?? Awesome. Play your cards right and your employer will foot the bill for this, and since you "have" to do it you can talk yourself out of some guilt. I generally give a couple of presentations at meetings, and the rest of the time I enjoy myself. Lovely. Competent husband and grandmothers at home can handle it.

    3) When you vacation with kids, always try and go someplace you can rent a house. Life is so much better when you don't have to eat out three meals per day, and when you have at least one bedroom with a closable door. There are lots of lakeside cabins that aren't too much money, but they feel like "away", and you can enjoy new things (mini-golf, anyone? short hikes with no time constraints?) and some of the stress of travelling will be alleviated.

    4)Low expectations. I fall back on "well, at least I'm not at work" or "well, at least this is a nice change of pace" (which is more important for me than relaxing, per se, which is why I loathe staycations). Lower your standards too - are filling up on goldfish crackers at the beach once per year really that much of a problem?

    5) This gets one million times easier when your kids get just a smidge older. Not cheaper, mind you...but easier. Camping becomes possible. Eating out is not an ordeal (though it is more expensive). Plane rides become an adventure (and for petes's sake fly JetBlue with their seatback entertainment systems and endless snacks). My two school-age kids are now really fun on vacations, assuming we choose the right ones (rent a house at the beach, go camping in a national park, city trips where we explore parks and zoos and FAO Schwartz and not really museums).

    Good luck!

  11. Yes. No food rules on vacation. As long as Eve ingests a reasonable amount of protein at regular intervals, she can eat whatever she wants on vacation. Sugar cereal and French toast for breakfast? Sure. Dessert with lunch and dinner? Of course. Soda every day? Yes (although we usually make her choose between soda and dessert). We want vacation to be fun for her and for us, so we choose our battles. When she was younger, we kept to her regular bedtime (and also argued with the relatives who thought we were nuts. I especially loved being called "amateur parents"). Now we don't have to worry about that. Early bedtime in a hotel would have been easier if we'd had movies and books on laptops, but back in the early 2000s we didn't :-).

    OTOH, it's not a vacation for me if it's entirely celibate, and it was easier to have sex in a room next to a clueless and heavily sleeping toddler than a wised-up and often awake teenager....

  12. I just did a Spring Break vacation with two single mom friends. Three single moms and 7 kids in a big rent house. Kids were in ski school for 6 hours three out of five days so we adults could cross country ski and snowshoe mountain trails. We each took responsibility for cooking a wonderful meal one of the nights so we only had to eat out once (one night was take out). I was nervous about it, especially with the long drive, but it was truly restorative and fabulous.

    I'm doing a dude ranch with kids programs this summer. I have drunk the Kool-Aid on vacations with kid programs - yes much easier when kids get older.

    I've had vacations similar to ones you describe above, when kids were younger and family dynamics were dicier. It did suck.

    I have partners that do two week stretches in the summer and swear by them - they say you cannot truly relax until the end of the first week and I can see the point, but I am ready to get back into work mode after a week. I also make an effort to take a week for myself to go to a conference once a year - a very different kind of vacation. As a single I've been sharing my dinners with book authors for the past few years. This year, next month, I am going with boyfriend and I'm very excited. You have to build you time into any vacation or it won't work - I have found that depending on family for this is too guilt-ridden, whether you create those feelings yourself or not.

    Keep trying, Fizzy - they aren't all bad. But some of them are really bad. It's kind of like caring for a newborn - if you didn't have amnesia around the intensity you would never ever do it again. Distance and new, positive experiences help.


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