New Christmas Traditions: It’s Not Too Late and It Will Heal
December 26, 2020
It’s not too late to create your traditions. The holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) were always a painful time of year for Mr. Plastic Picker and myself. It may have been for you as well. When we lived in Boston and had our son, we were still immersed in the university life and still trainee physicians. We had the MDs but not the salary nor the marketable skills, nor the scheduling freedom. Little did we know that scheduling freedom is really a mythical unicorn and does not exist. But every holiday the grandparents would disappear from Boston to New York City, as Mr. Plastic Picker’s sisters were in New York with their chaotic lives and the chaotic cousins.
On the holidays if one of us was actually off, someone would stay home with our then one child. If either was working, we sent our son with his grandparents to be with the chaotic cousins. I remember distinctly this one Thanksgiving when he must have been about two, when we both had Thanksgiving off and the grandparents were gone. We lived in a very small apartment and of course we didn’t know how to cook yet. Free Thanksgiving Dinner was provided by Crimson University at a select number of dining halls and we went to Adams House. This was Mr. Plastic Picker’s old undergraduate House at Crimson University. Honestly the dinner , although well made and delicious, was always kind of sad. Crimson University for all it’s glory was still a faceless institution, and we sat there eating with our toddler son as graduate advisors with a roomful of other sentient beings living their lives and really wishing to be with others that were not us.
There were happier times when our son was again in New York City with the chaotic cousins and his grandparents during the holidays, and we were able to coordinate shifts to squeeze in some time to be with the extended family. Mr. Plastic Picker and I would often make the crazy drive from Boston to Manhattan post-call to catch the beginning or end of some kind of family celebration in Manhattan. We were grateful to be there and I remember just hugging that little boy toddler that was our entire world so tightly when we got there. I was grateful to be able to sleep in these amazing homes and be surrounded by Mr. Plastic Picker’s amazingly accomplished extended family in Tribecca, living in multi-million dollar condos literally next to the Murdochs and Jay-Z and Beyonce in the middle of glitzy New York City. But honestly at those moments when I held my little toddler who often didn’t want to be held by me, because he was firmly attached to his grandmother and rather run around with his chaotic cousins, I envied anyone who was able to just be with their children without worrying about career or consequences during the holidays. I envied those stay at home moms of all income brackets. I would have given everything up over the holidays just to ensure I could be with him.
It wasn’t that different when we arrived to Southern California initially. Again during the holidays, the grandparents would disappear. It was their perogative and the siren call of luxurious vacations with the chaotic cousins, and how could I ask them to stay? They wanted to see their daughters, albeit for limited intervals and only during the holidays. And I felt no one cared about me nor my career nor my children, as long as I brought home a paycheck. That is how I honestly felt as a young working mom. It is hard to find childcare for little children over the holidays. Older children there are camps and trust me, I knew them all within our area. YMCA, Natural History Museum, and I even sent my daughter one year to stay with someone who tried to convert her to their religion – it’s mainstream and a pacifist sect but still technically a cult. My little toddler told me all about the cartoon videos she watched about the church and the name they call their God.
During the beggining of my career as an attending physician, we again sent our son away three Christmas seasons in be with the grandparents and cousins because we couldn’t figure out childcare. I refused to send our daughter as she had some lingering chronic medical problems, and I literally did not feel medically safe if she wasn’t with me. So we figured that one out as a patchwork between my own sister, an aunt who subbed in as a nanny and bringing her into the office at some points to play and do things as I worked. We only sent my son to be with the cousins during the holidays 3 seasons, but as his mother, I remember those years painfully. I remember being sad to be away from him. Every holiday season, I would look at Mr. Plastic Picker and I tell him, “I want to quit. Just trying to figure out the schedule for these two weeks, makes me want to quit.” And honestly if anyone had given my the green light, I would have done it without regrets.
So yesterday during the COVID Christmas when our son is 15 and daughter is 12, and as the years have become easier because they are self sufficient and as the work schedules are easier because we are older more established physicians – we started a new Christmas Tradition. We went on a hike. I didn’t realize yesterday what a luxury it is to have a Christmas tradition. It means you have some sort of guarantee to have some of the holiday off. It means you have your children and family together.
I have had premedical students ask me about how to time having a family. I just laughed self-deprecatingly and as I told the UC Berkeley Premed Honor Society during a recent career panel, for us having kids during training and along the process of establishing our careers, it was a hot mess. It was a big hot mess. But it worked out. It worked out much better after women became in charge. It was a woman that finally created the holiday schedule to even out coverage across the department. It was a young woman Assistant Boss who is now my Chief Boss (and I am her Assistant) that called me Christmas morning and told me, “You can stay home” and I remember jumping up for joy. And it is a primarily female team that I am a part of, that reduced extra work duties and made the schedule at least predictable so that the moms can plan. The schedule is out at least 4 months in advance and that makes a huge difference as a mother. And those two weeks of Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I don’t threaten to quit anymore.
I used to think it was me. It was a failure on my part that I wanted to quit as a physician mom during the holidays. But it wasn’t me. It was an unfair system and would chew and spit out young physicians and not care. I remember older male physicians would acuse younger MD moms of not wanting to work hard enough, but now being on the management side – I know that is 100% not true. There were scheduling shenangans on the back end that 100% hurt the young woman and the older men got away with things. You cannot even imagine. Just look at the schedules in years past, and who was working and who was home? Now everyone works and it’s predictable and even and as fair as we can make it. Even Dr. Plastic Picker works the holidays.
But this Holiday I worked scheduling for the department, and I do more than my fair share. But I turned it off this Christmas. I didn’t fully understand why yesterday’s hike was so important. Mr. Plastic Picker and I only have a few more years while both kids are in the house. But we will keep this new tradition that we were able to create.
We made homemade granola packaging free. Brought it along during our Christmas Day Hike at Sunset Nature Park in Point Loma. And we just took a walk.
My people and our puppy. Together and just taking a hike on a nature trail near our house. That is all we ever wanted, to be together at a time when other families were together as well.