Vacation with my Meyers-Briggs J parents: Some tentative thoughts


I’ve been around a long time and have learned a thing or two about relating to my parents.

But the thing that still keeps me up at night (or puts me to bed early from exhaustion) is navigating the world of vacation with them.

Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whether it’s called vacationing, going on holiday, or “Come up to the mountains with us this weekend; your sister will be there,” I suspect that taking some time away with your folks is bound to pose some acute challenges. The cream rises. The fishing line is smooth, but it has a hook at the end.

My words here are not for everybody, but arise from a certain set of experiences I’ve lived as a Myers-Briggs P, the child of two J parents. You know their type–planning, organizing, packing away (not just packing), generally getting the show on the road. And me–just trying to live and move and have my being. Them–choosing, deciding, constructing decisions out of thin air. Me–neither deciding nor given to deciding. Them, never resting until the plan has been “finalized.” Me, as it turns out, never resting.

We might even say that to them, “resting” functions as a transitive verb only: to rest their case, to rest their decisions. rest. settle. They settle the details. They set in stone.

But if it’s true that the experiences that are most personal are also the most universal, then maybe there’s something to be had for you too. Hey, maybe this works equally as a commentary on being a millennial around your boomer parents. And perhaps only a certain set can stomach the complaints of someone who gets to take some time off, who gets fresh coffee made for him in the morning (only on the non-hike days) and sometimes a fishing license bought for him (if he can decide well in advance which kind he’ll want). The cream rises. The fishing line is smooth, but it has a hook at the end.

As I said, this isn’t for everybody, but if you are a P child or a J parent, this may stir your thoughts in just the right way.

This also is not an ordered list or a set of rules. (Let me be a P!) I offer only a few observations and memories about vacation with my J parents.

A few observations, memories about J-cationing with my parents
(See, I can do headings.)

The road, or “J parents be like…”

A week before I was to leave on a road trip up north, I’m pretty sure my parents invited me to breakfast just so they could ask me what hour of the day I would be leaving each morning and give me maps. And open them up. And point out highways to me. In the middle of the restaurant.

This is pretty typical.

As a P, I say that sometimes you just have to take an exit, not talk about it for a half hour before you do, consult four maps, then consider options for what you will do if you miss it.

I wonder though, in their defense, if all the discussion eases their conscience, as if deviating from the plan constituted a moral failure. That’s understandable.

My dad says, “We leave fifteen minutes early so we can stop for coffee in Auburn.”

You can decide if that’s understandable.

The itinerary

Last vacation, my parents and I had the following conversation.

DaddyJ: There’s a hike that goes up the back of the Sierra Buttes.

Baby-P: That sounds awesome. I’d like to do that hike.

DaddyJ: Nice.

MamaJ: I’ll put my boots out by the door right now.

Somehow, to my astonishment, my parents walked away from the conversation thinking I had agreed to go on this hike with them the next day, leaving at 10:00am. I’m not making this up. I will now attempt to redact the subtext of this conversation. Who made too many leaps of assumption–the P or the J? You decide. (Or not. Information is inherently neutral.)

DaddyJ: There’s a hike that goes up the back of the Sierra Buttes. We have been thinking about what we will do tomorrow. Because that is what normal people do on vacations.

Baby-P: That sounds awesome. I’d like to do that hike SOMETIME. Not to say that this hike is necessarily better than any of the hundreds of hikes in this area–how could I possibly know? Maybe someday we’ll do it together if we feel like it the next morning and if the weather is good. Human beings also have no way of forecasting tomorrow’s weather on a summer day in California.

DaddyJ: Nice. It’s a plan. We’ve made a decision now. What a relief. People never talk about beautiful things they enjoy doing unless they are scheduling something. #GettingItDone.

MamaJ: I’ll drop everything and put my boots out by the door right now. #AllTheWorldsACalendar.

The trip home

The other day I was complaining (#again) about people who offer to drive on a trip but don’t get gas before they pick everyone up. My J parents were beaming. We raised him to be courteous etc. seemed to be their attitude.

“I mean,” I continued, “I bet you guys got up early and filled up the tank before we left this morning.”

“Actually,” they answered, “we filled it up last night, so we can get an early start today.” Then they added: “We didn’t want to have to worry about it in the morning.”

This is beyond me. Not, of course, that they would fill up before the trip (I’m not that heartless), but that their minds could conceive of what they might feel like the next morning, and be conscious of it!

I’ve learned to handle the structure of these vacations, to be patient in the ongoing debates about what everyone wants to do tomorrow and how that might affect Sunday. I’ve entered the conversations with Plan B’s and Plan C’s (it’s what P’s do best, after all), and I’ve taught myself how to fold AAA maps. I’ve even sometimes enjoyed the rush of activities on a vacation that leave me breathless when I reenter the work week.

But to make a judgment call the night before…and to trust the judgment of a moment’s thought on a wild September night…and to stick with it in the unflinching light of a future morning–these are things that may never feel natural to me. And if I did, I would never let on. People might expect me to be unequivocal. Or stop using the word “tentative.”

So, Mom and Dad, don’t hold me to it, but I think I can commit to leaving early on our trips, to holding it in so we can stop for the bathroom at the scheduled rest stop, to imagining ahead to what the universe might be like a summer from now the next time your underground river of plan-making bubbles up in my presence, to loving the consideration you (albeit compulsively) put into structuring our time together on Labor Days–(Oh, what is time and to what extent does it have a shape?)–to smiling when you schedule “down time” and don’t see the irony, to letting it go when our down time consists of rehashing tomorrow’s plan.

But when I say that I like this movie or that hike, that I’m “happy to do” such and such an activity or choose such and such a dessert (provided the option’s open: my mom once told me that our family eats crepes in the Sierras and nowhere else, as if it were a fact of life), when I say that I lied when I told you I knew how to fold maps, please recognize that I am not committing to these choices. Because they are in fact not choices. They are just perceptions.

And please take my perceptions for what they are–simple, superficial, at face value. And when you do, remember that the P has many faces, and many values, which no highway can run through, which can be charted on no map, nor etched into any calendar.

With love and openness,
Your son