I thought I understood what Uber Son was saying. After a decade of family-togetherness vacations in Vermont, he wanted a piece of the time in Vermont for himself and his small family--a time that did not include his parents and his sibling and her family. His children's lives are so tightly programmed all year long--soccer games, piano lessons, gymnastic classes, play dates time three children going to three different schools. He just wanted time and space to do nothing together--to not have to be anywhere at any particular time, to be totally unscheduled and unpressured.
That wasn't what he was getting on this year's vacation. Although he had made this particular need known during the spring when vacation plans were being made, somehow the scheduling for various arrivals got boloxed up--by me, the central planner who tried to meet the disparate needs and overlapping vacation dates of both of my grown children. So Uber Son only had five days before the hordes descended--into a separate condo to be sure but still a presence and a pressure for the cousins to do things together, for his family of three kids to absorb his sister's family of one child, for negotiations with everyone on what hikes, bikes or swims we would take and for debates about what to cook for dinner for 10.
He seemed to be making the best of it. Many good times were had by all. But on the last day, he suggested we take a walk. That's when he let me know just unhappy he was about the intrusion--the mix-up on arrival dates (he had set his, we kept changing ours) and the central planning that overrode his needs and the plans he had made for 'alone' time. I assured him I understood, that Central Planning was on the case. It would not happen next year.
And it won't. But did I really understand? It's one thing to accede to a request and another to comprehend the complex layers that drive it and to not experience it as a rejection of the rest of the family.
Then came this comment posted on this blog by a reader a few days ago in response to a previous post on family vacations.Among the key points she made:
"It is unhealthy not to realize that your children are grown adults with families and traditions of their own."
"Forcing togetherness and pretending like we are all still living in 1978 under one roof is foolish. It doesn't allow for who we have become or recognize that our significant others didn't marry our siblings or parents for that matter."
"Having a good relationship with in laws requires mutual respect and crossing boundaries and invading vacation time is not respectful."
"If you want to drive your children away keep on forcing together time."
I can't say I saw myself in all her points, but the idea that each of my children want to have "families and traditions of their own" hit home. And so did her point about "invading vacation time."
In short, I was viewing these vacations from my perspective: my desire to have the family together, for the cousins and the grown kids to bond and for me to enjoy the sight of it. There is something primal here: if they spend these happy vacation times together (my children do not live near each other or near me) they would be there for each other when we parents no longer are.
But the truth is, Paterfamilias and I would not have put up with such invasions from our parents. So why should ours put up with it from us? So thank you, commenting reader. It is sometimes easier to "hear" a different point of view when it's made by a third party--in this case, by a total outsider.