Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Week of "Yes!"

I haven't posted in a while because I've been busy vacationing.  Yes, vacationing.  It's a bit of a miracle that I can say that. Here's the background:

My husband and I are notorious workaholics, and vacation was always something we put off.  Excuses are always at the ready: I hate flying, the planning required to leave town is daunting, the work that waits when I get back haunts me....I could go on.  Until our son was about 15 months old, we considered the trips we took to visit family and friends "vacations," but as all of you who have to travel long distances to visit family know, those visits are not a real vacation.  We realized that we needed to do something different.

Granted, we come by our workaholism and vacation-less-ness honestly.  Though we both took family trips as kids, the trips generally had a clear purpose and itinerary.  In my case, we took road trips all over California and saw pretty much everything between Eureka and San Diego.  Crockett's family ventured farther, but there were always plans.  Now that I am a parent myself, I can't imagine that those trips were at all refreshing for our parents.  There certainly were moments of great joy and adventure, but the mere thought of wrangling kids (and husband) into the car every morning to head out to a new point of interest and trying to coordinate meals and naps every day is, at least for me, the stuff of nightmares.

As you might imagine, neither of us knows much about the art of relaxation.  We wanted to teach our son something different, so we agreed that every year, we would take a REAL vacation--one where relaxation was the only objective--and we developed a few very important rules defining what that meant.

Number one, and most importantly, our vacation has to be a vacation for ALL of us.  If the trip means more planning and stress than we have at home in the course of our usual routine, it is not a vacation.  This means primarily that there has to be some arrangement made for childcare for at least part of most days.   Clearly, we love our son more than anything, but we love him the most when we aren't responsible for entertaining, supervising, and disciplining him every minute of every day.  Having childcare means that we can have alone time--both as a couple and as individuals--to get the rest we need as well.

The second rule is that our trip should have no objective aside from relaxation.  If we want to visit some sites, that's great.  If we want to go somewhere and do nothing, that's great too.  If we happen to visit with friends who live in the area, fantastic.  If we don't manage to see them, no biggie.  We plan almost nothing and just figure out what we feel like doing one day to the next.  It's a freeing experience.

Finally, we have to be comfortable.  For us, it just isn't comfortable to be crammed in a single hotel room.  We stay in suites and condos, where we can stretch out, shut the boy in his own room to sleep, and have access to a fridge and (sometimes) laundry, which I consider necessities when traveling with a small child.  I am a bit of a hotel snob--I really appreciate a nice hotel and have had the privilege of staying at some amazing ones--but when traveling with a child, I would much rather stay in a less fancy place in order to be able to have enough space for all of us.

And so we arrive at The Week of "Yes."  It turns out that it's not so easy to find a destination that meets all of these requirements, and it takes a bit of work to find the perfect place.  About six months ago, a Google search led me to the Tyler Place resort in Vermont.  I thought I was crazy for considering hauling my little family 3000 miles to stay at a totally unknown locale, but after reading about the resort, I got fixated on the idea.  Fortunately, my husband indulged me and agreed to the trip.  Seven nights in the middle of nowhere, just a few miles south of the Quebec border.  He must really trust me.

What a glorious week it was.

Asher was in "group" for eight hours every day: from 8:30 to 1:30 and then again from 5:30 to 8:30.  It was expected that your child participate in group activities every day, and when your child was there, you were expected to be out of the picture.  "Go!  Do your own thing!  Your kid will have a great time with us!" was the message.  Surrounded by dozens of other parents who embrace this philosophy, I could relax.  No worry about who was watching him.  No guilt for wanting time to myself.  Plus, they had a roving photographer catching glimpses of the kids in their group activities for us curious/obsessive parents who want to document every childhood moment.

In the meantime, Crockett and I could do what we pleased.  We took a pottery class on Monday morning, and on Friday morning, I sojourned to Quebec to fire my pots.  One day, Crockett took an archery class.  Another day, I experimented with a martial art I had never heard of.  Some days we just hung out, napped, read, got a massage, or went to the gym.  There were a lot of activities we could do, but none required much advance planning--sign-up sheets were posted each evening for the next day's activities.  Afternoons for us meant napping and time at the pool, and when Asher napped, even I got to nap because there was no urgency  to complete chores while he slept.  I actually felt rested for the first time in two years.

Perhaps most glorious of all, as an all-inclusive resort, meals were a no-brainer, and it was adults-only dining at every meal (kids ate with their groups).  No fussing with a toddler at restaurants or trying to plan where or when we were going to eat next.  No worry.  No stress.  Real conversations with other adults who, similarly, were not distracted by their children.  Perhaps too much dessert, but who cares?

One of the women I befriended, an ophthalmologist from Tucson with four children, said her husband was worried mid-week because she was acting strangely--she didn't project the usual degree of anxiety.  For the first time in their life with children, she had nothing to worry about.  I could relate; I had never been so relaxed and carefree in my life. 

I wasn't the only one who was happy and carefree.  I realized toward the end of the week that everyone's family dynamics had shifted.  Kids didn't fuss.  Time-outs didn't happen.  Boundaries were respected.  It was amazing.  As one parent described it, it was The Week of "Yes!"

Every family needs this kind of week.  Vacations are not about breakfast with Minnie Mouse or seeing the tourist-traps in New York City.  They are about re-charging and letting go of the day-to-day stresses of life.  Since our return, many people have seemed perplexed about what we did while Asher was in group, and I have realized how much we parents have devalued our own happiness.  I want to shout, "We had lives!"  Contrary to what many parents believe, this is possible, though it takes some work and sacrifice.  It might mean flying cross-country with a 2-year-old or taking a shorter vacation so that your budget will accommodate sitters and a suite. Whatever compromise you have to make, finding this kind of retreat for your family will pay you back with a new kind of closeness that few families are able to achieve. 

I feel fortunate that we have found this kind of retreat and will be able to return year after year.  In the future, we will probably tie in some goal-directed side-trips, like a few days in Boston to see the sights or an extended lay-over in Washington, D.C., to catch up with friends.  But the essence of this trip will always be fun, relaxation, and coming together as a family.

Just fifty-one weeks to go....