On the evening my first daughter was born, a nurse came to my bedside and asked me a question that shocked me: Would I like her to bring my baby into the nursery for the night?
My new baby? The one I struggled to conceive, the one whose birth I had imagined for years, the one who had triggered a fierce maternal protection reflex? Give her up to strangers for an entire night? Absolutely not.
Fast forward 24 sleepless hours, and I changed my answer for the second night.
The memory came back to me this past weekend when my husband, daughters and I escaped D.C. for an abbreviated family vacation.
It turned out our togetherness benefitted from some scheduled separation.
The guilt-inducing thing about this realization was that this trip was intended to give us all some intense family time before a hectic summer.
Yes, summers should be filled with impromptu adventures, lots of open play and, as Dana Milbank rightly pointed out in The Post Sunday, ice cream eaten with a wooden spoon. But ours will not.
I will have daily deadlines and my husband is beginning a new, demanding job. My daughters are both enrolled in formal summer camps. It’s a situation about which I feel terrible.
Hence, a mini-vacation that I saw as a form of apology.
We chose a family-friendly resort that would provide us with plenty of opportunities to do things together. The Web site promised swimming, miniature golf and toasting marshmallows.
The offerings also included a day “camp” for kids. Translation: daytime babysitting.
I had seen this at family-vacation destinations before. At first, I couldn’t understand why, if the point were family togetherness, parents would pay to avoid their children. Hiring a sitter during vacation for a special adult dinner, I get that. But during the day?
Eventually, I understood.
Last summer, I found myself in a rented cabin for a week with a friend and our daughters, without our husbands.
I had hoped for some relaxed exploration, but most of the time I was scolding and corralling. Ever night by 8 p.m. I was exhausted.
By day four, I hinted to my friend that we might use a daytime sitter and enjoy some adult-only downtime. I was embarrassed to be suggesting it, but also desperate to have an afternoon without reprimanding anyone.
My friend, far more patient than I and with one of those angelic children, did not take the hint.
I backed off, feeling ashamed that I even considered it.
I returned from the trip, tired and cranky and feeling guilty for being tired and cranky.
Then came this past weekend: I noticed the brochure for “Camp Hyatt” at our check-in. The menu included an all-day option or chunks of three hours, promising arts and crafts, swimming, outdoor play.
I didn’t think of it again until the morning of our second day, after the girls and I had slept poorly in our single room and the sibling bickering was getting on my nerves.
“What do you guys think about checking out the camp?” I asked.
My husband, oblivious to the pressure for family time, (he is infuriating that way) responded immediately: “Sure,” he shrugged. “Then we could play some tennis and relax.”
And the girls? I had them at “arts and crafts.”
Three hours, a tennis match, two pina coladas, four art projects and a hefty babysitting tab later, the four us joined up at the pool.
We were all in good moods simultaneously, something I thought impossible, and embarked on an evening of easy togetherness.
The next day, we repeated the pattern.
By the time we checked out and drove home, we all seemed to have benefitted from the bonding and un-bonding time. Both my daughters even asked when they could go back to “camp.”
I may have been the only one in the car who felt bad when I told them that they’d have all summer to spend at camp.
What do you think? Is it selfish to schedule breaks from the kids during vacations?