My Destination Vacation

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Dushenina | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

While most of Santa Barbara was schussing down the slopes at Mammoth or slathering on the sunscreen in Hawaii, I spent my spring break on a guilt trip, once again. I’m a creature of habit and guilt trips are definitely my vacation destination of choice.

Well, not exactly “choice.”

I’d rather be drinking upside down margaritas in Mexico, or yachting in Europe without a care in the world, but given my current bank account, that wasn’t going to be happening this year–again. Like most other creative types who feel incredibly lucky just to be able to eke out a living without selling their souls, when there’s work to be had, I have to work.

Last week just happened to be one of those weeks. It also just happened to be the first week of Koss’s spring break. Yes, that wasn’t a typo. The FIRST week of his spring break. Apparently the families in our school district worked so hard for the three months after our three-week winter break that they need a two-week spring break to oh, say, ski in Mammoth or sun in Hawaii.

Not that I’m bitter or anything. If I could afford to take FIVE weeks off in the middle of the school year and go somewhere glamorous, I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’m sure if I left out enough bowls of cereal, the kid would be fine.

Instead, I sent my son to camp, where he golfed, bowled, fished, hiked, learned a few swear words, and had a marvelous time. I, of course, felt incredibly guilty.

Despite the fact that I take my son to school every day, spend a ridiculous amount of time volunteering at his school when I should be working, then pick my son up from that same school every single day, have a semi-nutritious snack waiting for him in the car, and am always there after school to help him with his homework, schedule play dates, play handball, and take him to soccer/basketball/baseball/whatever else is in season practice–if I spend even a small part of his school breaks working, I feel guilty. If I spend a large part of those breaks working, I feel really guilty.

And if, as was the case last week, I spend a part of those school breaks actually taking a break for myself, say by putting him in camp all day while I do some writing and then go to the movies, I feel really, really guilty. Especially when my husband surprises me and says he wants to go to the movies one night during the week. Do I admit that I’ve actually already seen everything worth seeing? Then I’ll feel really guilty since he’s the one who’s been working full time while I’m doing full time chauffer/ part time career thing from home, which is actually harder, I know, because I’ve worked full time before when he stayed at home, but I feel guilty saying that because I know he’d switch positions with me in a heartbeat if I’d let him.

It’s a vicious cycle. But I’m comforted to know that I’m not the only woman who was raised on a diet of guilt (though mine was well seasoned with plenty of humor, I should add, so that I won’t feel too guilty when my mother reads this). A recent article in the Washington Post told the story of a woman in Virginia who felt so guilty about leaving her family in the evening that she almost missed out on an interesting lecture–titled “Mommy Guilt.”

Honey, I feel your pain, but I’ve decided to play through it anyway.

Rather than guilt tripping about my need to have a little bit of time to myself–and taking it anyway–I’m going to make friends with my guilt and take it on a few more outings this week. You won’t see us on the slopes, unfortunately, but maybe you’ll see us at the movies.

Originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound April 6, 2007

Taking a vacation from my guilt trips

Not Guilty by Ged Carroll, courtesy

Not Guilty by Ged Carroll, courtesy

I’m doing the right thing. Or am I?

I was raised on a diet of guilt, albeit one well seasoned with plenty of humor (a caveat I added so that I wouldn’t feel too guilty when my mother reads this). Guilt is so deeply embedded into my DNA that I really thought it would be the one aspect of motherhood I would have mastered in advance. After all, I’ve spent most of my life making important decisions based on the avoidance of future guilt (Can the dentist really tell if I skip one night of flossing? I’d rather watch The O.C., but what if Joey gets canceled because I stopped watching?).

I hear a lot of voices in my head, and while my mother’s is one of the loudest, I’m also haunted by Humphrey Bogart’s warning at the end of Casablanca: “If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

Of course, if I were Ingrid Bergman I would have felt guilty for even having the discussion about leaving my husband, especially outside in the rain, where I could have caught a cold and died, thus ruining my mother’s life.

Yet, despite so many years of guilty woulda coulda shoulda dress rehearsals in my head, I continue to be surprised by how entwined guilt is with motherhood.

I’m still reeling from last week’s doozy.

My husband and I went to Soho to hear a friend sing, a rare night out in adult world, while unbeknownst to us (cell phones only work if you can hear them ring) our son was vomiting — for several hours — all over grandma’s house.

My poor baby! My poor mom! Her poor carpet! My stomach still hurts from feeling guilty over my mistreatment of all three of them. Of course, my overdeveloped gag reflex doesn’t help.

While the part of me that hears voices is convinced that people with clear consciences have bad memories, or are just plain delusional, the more rational part of me has decided that all of this guilt has got to go. Therefore, this Mother’s Day (while part of me was enjoying being with my family and part of me was wishing I could be at a spa, with Sven the masseuse) I resolved that there are certain things I will no longer feel guilty about. The list includes:

1. Working full time. Yeah right, who am I kidding? Even though my husband stays home with our son, I am convinced that I could be doing a better job if I were the one to say home, which of course, I feel terribly guilty for even thinking about when he’s such a great father.

2. Being more lenient with my son than I should be on the weekends, because I want our time together to be fun. (Yeah sure. Want to lay odds on that one?)

3. Gelt guilt: the Jewish version of spending the weekend buying things for your child because you worked all week and you want your time together to be fun.

Clearly I’m aiming a bit too high — or I’m a total failure at guilt alleviation, which makes me feel simultaneously terrible and guilty. Maybe I should ease into this less ambitiously. From here on I resolve to not feel guilty:

4. About lusting after my childless friends’ bank accounts and social calendars.

5. That my son’s favorite song is “Psycho Killer” instead of “Requiem in D Minor.”

6. Taking that first, wonderful sip of my latte and feeling like a terrible mom for enjoying it when I could have stayed home with my son for five minutes longer instead.

7. That we let our son watch TV in the morning so we can sleep “just a little longer.”

8. That I sometimes pretend to be asleep in the hopes that my husband will get up with our child in the middle of the night.

9. That I sometimes pretend to be asleep in the hopes that my husband will not get up with me in the middle of the night.

10. That I pray I’ll be the only one home when I pull into the driveway.

11. … Then am annoyed that I rushed from work and there’s nobody there.

12. Doing a little happy dance when I go to work and my husband has to worry about what to feed our little darling for breakfast.

13. That my husband and I spend the majority of our date nights talking about our son, and not about things like “Requiem in D Minor.”

14. For feeling guilty and then blaming it on my DNA or the voices in my head.

15. Picturing my child telling his analyst about me one day.

16. … Then putting money in a therapy jar every time I do something I know he will tell his analyst about.

There, I actually feel better.

Or at least I will when I get home and put $16 in the therapy jar for writing this column.

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on May 12, 2005.