You are what you are


In my family, I’m known as the Trip Daddy.

When arrangements need to be made, passports checked, flights booked, everyone rounded up to get to planes/trains/ferries on time, I’m the one in the family who does it.  I go around the house banging on doors, telling people it’s time to get up so we can get on the road.  I herd people along, get them to gulp down breakfast, and ask if everyone’s got their toothbrushes packed.  In short, I’m the horrible family nag.

I became aware of how irritating that can be during a recent trip to the US Virgin Islands.  I was trying to hurry everyone along to catch a ferry, and my son blurted out, “God, will you just chill out, Mom?!!!”

That hurt.  I was just trying to get everyone where they needed to be, and no one appreciated it.  Yes, they wanted to catch the ferry.  They wanted to get moving.  But no one was doing anything about it.  And the one person trying to do something about it — me — was getting criticized for trying to make things happen.

I decided, then and there, to adopt a completely new attitude: Whatever.  So what if we didn’t make the ferry on time?  So what if no one got to do what they’d planned to do?  It wasn’t my problem.  I was just going to lie back, read my book, and wait for someone else to take charge and be the Trip Daddy.  

And that’s what I did.  The next morning, the family had plans to go into Charlotte Amalie to go shopping.  But noon came and went and no one got out of bed.  Whatever.  I just enjoyed myself sitting on the porch, reading.  Eventually family members started stumbling downstairs to eat breakfast.  They surfed the internet.  They hung out.  I didn’t make a peep.  It got to be late afternoon.  The ferry was long gone.  


The family started whispering to each other.  I’m sure they were wondering: “What’s wrong with mom? Why isn’t she nagging us to move our butts?” 

Evening rolled around.  We had reservations for a steak dinner on the beach.  I didn’t say a thing; I just kept reading my book.

The earth was beginning to shift.  My husband said, “Um, maybe we should get going…”

Hunh.  Whatever.  I was no longer the Trip Daddy, so let someone else round up the troops.

Hubby got more insistent.  Maybe he was hungry; maybe he’d sensed that in this new vacuum, someone had to take charge.  So he got everyone moving.  I cooperated, obedient as a cow, but I was through being the leader of the pack.  I was tired of it, and tired of having to be the nag.  Because, let’s face it — no one likes Trip Daddies.  

Even though they know they need one.

I resolved to adopt Whatever as my new motto.  No longer would I be responsible for the family’s daily vacation schedule!  No longer would I feel the pressure of making sure that everyone was happy and well-fed!  It was every man for himself. I was just going to look out for myself.  

 I luxuriated in irresponsibility.  The next two days, I ate breakfast alone when i wanted to, got up when I wanted to.  I didn’t tell anyone what to do or where to go.  We missed ferries.  We got to dinners late, and ended up at the lousy tables that no one wanted.  Not my fault, not my problem.  I was learning to be a slacker, and it felt pretty darn relaxing.

But two days later, I realized our vacation cottage had run out of bottled water, as well as milk and bread and fruit and eggs.  Someone had to catch the ferry into town and go shopping. I looked around at my dear family, who hadn’t even noticed that the refrigerator was empty, and realized that if I waited for one of them to notice the problem, the last ferry would be long gone for the day.  And we’d have no breakfast in the morning.

I caught the ferry and went shopping.

My brief experiment in slackerhood was over.  I was back to being the Trip Daddy and the obsessive-compulsive mom, back to automatically taking inventory of toothpaste and oatmeal.

What I discovered from this vacation experiment is that it’s not easy to change one’s basic nature.  From the time I was a little girl, I was irritatingly responsible. Occasionally, I’ve tried to cut loose and be spontaneous, but I just can’t keep up the charade. I look at the calendar and can’t help but think of deadlines.  I obsess over everything that can possibly go wrong, and I plan accordingly.  And because I do, no one else feels the need to.

No matter how much I may want to change, I’ve accepted that this is who I am.  I’ll never be the wild woman who throws on a backpack, abandons the family, and disappears without warning into the jungles of Borneo.

 But if you want your refrigerator stocked and dinner on the table every night, I’m your gal.

24 thoughts on “You are what you are

  1. PK the Bookeemonster

    I can completely relate. I am just not a follower though I have to be at times and it just grates.

  2. Jim Winter

    At our house, my wife thinks it’s funny because I make lists. Of course, she didn’t know me through my two decades of slackerhood.

    Slacking can breed a can-do attitude and an entrepreneurial spirit.

    If you don’t mind starting when you’re 40.

  3. JD Rhoades

    You weren’t just trying to change your behavior, you were trying to change theirs as well (and for the better). Maybe missing breakfast one morning would have been the, you should pardon the expression, real wake-up call letting them know that THEY were going to have to take some of the responsibility for getting motivated. Hard to do tough love on vacation, though, I’ll grant you that.

  4. billie

    LOL – I refer to myself as the master database that holds all information for everyone in my family. If something is lost, they ask me. If anything has to be remembered, they assume I will do it. I carry all the ‘knowledge’ about cats/dogs/horses/donkeys/doctors/names of people/recipes/you name it, I have it information. Occasionally I either overload completely or try to wrangle some change by purposely not being open for searching. 🙂

    Like you, I find that it doesn’t last for too long. I can’t turn myself into someone who doesn’t pay attention to details, and I can’t help but store all the info that’s relevant to our daily lives in my head. I married someone who offers completely different skills to the mix, and the children have found their own places in this dynamic.

    One time early in our marriage my husband, who tends to misplace (if not outright lose) things. He had been saving a little bit of money each week and had over a thousand dollars but he had stashed it somewhere in the rental house we were finally moving out of to our first home. He couldn’t remember where he’d put it, and he couldn’t find it. And lo and behold, he hadn’t told ME where it was. We looked and looked and tried to retrace his steps the last time he’d added to the little stash.

    Finally he agreed to let me use clinical hypnosis with him. He found it about a minute later.

    That didn’t help matters – now it’s considered generally feasible that even if I don’t personally KNOW something, I can somehow get it out of their heads!

  5. Eika

    My friends say I’m too responsible for my own good, sometimes. I pay attention to everything, remember appointments, am very strict with things, and don’t give myself any slack. It’s gotten to the point where they scold me if I mention wanting something for myself that I haven’t gotten yet, because if I can’t quite ‘justify’ it to myself, I won’t get it, no matter what it’ll bring me. Granted, money is tight- college student without enough scholarships and loans, money will be tight for a while- but it’s apparently ridiculous to question any purchase over $10.

    But all my work’s done ahead of time, and I get done whatever I want to get done, so it works out.

    Just don’t ask me to find anything. Lose things, on the other hand, I can literally do in my sleep. Once, I woke up and my retainer wasn’t in my mouth anymore; I still have no idea how it happened. Twenty minutes later, my father informed me it was dead center underneath the king-sized bed (my twin-sized mattress is at school except for summer vacation, because the mattresses there suck) and did I have any clue how it got there? Nope. Talent.

  6. Becky LeJeune

    But wasn’t it nice not to be the Trip Daddy for a while? Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone had taken over the responsibility and really let you relax? That’s how I feel. It would be so nice if someone would cook dinner for me for once, or even decide on the meal for once. If someone else would notice the toilet paper is low and go to the store to get it so that I don’t have to.

    Not to be whiny, but man being the responsible one can be exhausting.

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I’m a true Gemini. Fifty-percent Trip Daddy and fifty-percent slacker. Sometimes I’ll leave a road map – make all the lists, get everything ready to go, make all the advance calls and reservations, then go bury my head in the garden while the rest of the house wakes up and dawdles. If we don’t make it out in time, well, at least I’ve done whatever I can to set the stage for success. Despite my best efforts, this household usually doesn’t get started until after Noon.

  8. Jeff Abbott

    It can be exhausting to be the responsible one. My wife once announced she was done being the Trip Daddy and so I took over. I did it for two days and then she wanted to be it again because while we are both organized, we organize in slightly different ways and she couldn’t deny her innate Trip Daddiness, But she appreciated that I gave her a break, and I appreciated how hard it can be to be a really top notch Trip Daddy like she is.

  9. tess gerritsen

    that’s what’s nice about going on book tour — someone else plays Trip Daddy. I love it when a media escort takes over and tells me where and when to go.

  10. Jessica Scott

    Wow, that could have been me. I blame my chronic inability to be late on my military service. I feel physical pain if we aren’t out the door in a timely manner. But, like you, I’m tired of being the nag, being the one who urges the kids to eat their breakfast faster, to get dressed and get moving. I’m tired of griping about their dirty room and the laundry all over the floor.
    I tried a strike. It lasted less than a day. The day I was so sick, I was unable to move off the couch, I watched my husband transform into me. Yelling at the kids, telling them to pick things up, urging them to get their butts moving. It would have been funny if I hadn’t been so sick.
    One thing I’ve learned though, is that sometimes, its okay to just relax. On weekends, I have things to do that keep the house running. Rarely do I get to sit still. But once the kids are in bed, the laundry done, the lunches packed for the next day, I settle into my little corner of the house and try to write. I am what I am, I can’t change that. But I do wonder what life would be like if I could just relax a little bit more.
    Great post!

  11. Judy Wirzberger

    I would LOVE to travel with you. You would do all the pre-planning, you would check schedules, know costs, routes, best places to stay, eat, and have fun. You would have appropriate snacks for long drives and know the weather for the day. We could tour Europe and see every sight worth seeing, every church worth praying in, every bistro and trattoria worth dining in. Upon request, you would even schedule some down time. I wouldn’t have to do a thing but follow along and enjoy the sights. Having a Trip Daddy is a marvelous gift. You are underappreciated. When they grow beyond traveling with you and are on their own, they will be shocked — like going to college and finding out you have to wash your own clothes. Until thn… Up and Attem, time to head out.

  12. toni mcgee causey

    I used to be the Trip Daddy. My husband (and youngest son) loses things, too, and I have a habit of just memorizing the house as I walk through so I don’t have to get up to go find stuff. Blows their minds, how much I’ll remember about where things are. I was the one getting the kids out of the door, getting everything scheduled, running the construction business (which amounts to scheduling a bunch of other people and things to be somewhere at a set time), and going back to school full time (yeah, I didn’t sleep much those years).

    Then. I stopped. When the kids were finally old enough and I was focused more on writing, I told them I couldn’t keep all of their information and all of the worlds I was creating in my head. They were on their own. Both my husband and my son got a *whole* lot better about not losing things. They all took over being Trip Daddies (my oldest son was always innately a Trip Daddy anyway, but he doesn’t live nearby). My husband became a quasi Trip Daddy and I still help out. I can’t totally stop the Trip Daddiness (I’m the one making mental lists of things to do and I have to say them out loud because they’re just SITTING THERE, undone, taunting me, especially if someone’s promised to do them, but I am working to curb that.)

    I wish I’d thought to do it earlier. (Tess, we did have quite a few times when the pantry / fridge were empty because I was too busy to go and none of them thought of it. After going hungry a couple of times, my husband took over all grocery shopping and cooking. I think that was one of my happiest moments.)

  13. KC

    Off topic: Tess, I got an iPad for my birthday and the first ebook I bought (with my Kindle App) was The Surgeon! Wonderful characters and sooo creepy.

    ; )

  14. Allison Davis

    I’m a control freak. I know it, I accept it and I’ve lived with it a long time. It makes others crazy, including my ex-husband, but then stuff would wither and die under his care. And I don’t mind most of the time doing it all, and in fact, sometimes insist on it, because I want it done my way. And there’s the rub. I just can’t let go and that’s me.

    But sometimes I am damn tired of being responsible. I have friends who are as control freaky as I am and I go on vacation with them, and we can then take turns being in control (sometimes we grate but most of the time not). I have a friend in NYC, and when I go there, she’s in charge, when she comes to New Orleans or San Francisco, I’m in charge and since we know and trust each other, it works. But that’s rare.

    With families, it’s harder — much. Getting bills paid, 401(k)’s, school, all the infrastructure stuff, it’s a bear so Tess, I understand the dynamic there. There will be a point though where the kids will have to figure out how to "solve the problem" without mom filling the frig…coping skills of a sort. Not sure how that will work. With my foster son, who moved in when he was a teenager, I was lucky he was aware…and sometimes he was helpful but could never get him to initiate. Maybe when he’s older. Sigh.

    (What should I get first, a TV or an iPad?)

  15. Nancy Laughlin

    Boy can I relate to this. For several years when my extended family wanted to do something together (like go to a movie), I made all the arrangements, looked up the times, negotiated who wanted to see what, etc.
    I stopped after something went wrong a couple of times (not my fault) and I got blamed. Even if someone else made a last minute change that impacted all the rest of us, it was my fault. I decided enough of that.
    Then last year, we decided to go on a family cruise. I contacted a cruise agent and got information, which the whole family thought meant I was going to plan everything. As the questions started pouring in, I emailed them all the poor cruise agents contact info and told them I didn’t have time.
    Interestingly enough, they all managed to handle their own arrangements.
    I did not have any problem not being the trip daddy, and I did not get blamed for anything this time round!

  16. Allison Brennan

    "No matter how much I may want to change, I’ve accepted that this is who I am. "

    If people understood this about themselves, they would be happier. I think we spend more time trying to change behavior that annoys other people than learning to accept that we’re all unique human beings with strengths and weaknesses.

    I am responsible for many things–paying the bills, getting the kids their doctor/dentist check-ups, cooking, grocery shopping, etc–but I am in general a very lazy person who slacks off and has, on occasion, had to pay late fees because I forgot to pay a bill on time. I forget to get the oil changed in the car. I’m habitually late to everything–so much so that my daughter always gives me an earlier time for things she needs to be at. I tell the kids to do their homework, but I don’t nag, and sometimes the homework doesn’t get done. I make dinner, but I don’t make meals a battlefield (left over from mommy guilt when I worked full-time outside of the home) so I cook simply things that they like. As long as it’s healthy, I don’t really care what they eat. Hence, lots of pasta in our house.

    I love being spontaneous, which is harder with young kids. Though I did plan my daughter’s 16th birthday trip to Disneyland last minute. And when I’m on vacation, I don’t like to plan anything. I’ll wake up in the morning and think, "Ok, what do I feel like doing today?" And I always pack the night before a trip, usually really late–and have often packed the morning of a trip. Yes, I’ve forgotten things but nothing major. (Except the one time for an RWA conference I left my non-dryable clothes hanging in my closet to dry and forgot about them and didn’t wonder why my suitcase was so light until I unpacked . . . my mom overnighted me the clothes 🙂

  17. Allison Brennan

    Oh, even though I wrote a post-length comment, I thought I’d add that I am the most disorganized person on the planet, much to my mother’s consternation. I recently told her after she nagged me that my business receipts were in multiple places that I’m 40 years old and I’m not going to change now, and if I lose a couple hundred dollars in write-offs, that’s my fault and my loss, so stop nagging me. The stress of staying organized is worse for me than being disorganized. And I am ALWAYS the one who finds all the lost things in the house, for husband AND kids.

  18. JT Ellison

    Ahem. I have just enough OCD to be dangerous to those around me who don’t put things back where they were found, etc. So this post I can totally understand! Seriously, without us organization maniacs, the world would cease to turn, don’t you think???


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