Three weeks in to my kids’ summer vacation and I’ve already taken two trips with them, traveling to North Carolina for my grandmother’s 94th birthday and to Colorado to see my dad, stepmother, brother and his family. These trips have just been the three of us, which is something different. Usually we travel in a pack that includes my husband and his daughter. But we’re doing things a little differently this summer and spending some time alone with our respective children. For them, it was a week-long Alaskan cruise last month. For us, it was these two trips.
I remember the first time I ever traveled alone with my kids. The three of us were flying out to California from our home in Florida to visit my brother, his wife and their two kids. (They have three now.) It was 2002, my son was 5 years old and my daughter was almost 3. I was traveling alone with them because my first husband and I were in the middle of our summer long trial separation. I had agreed to the separation even though I already knew that there would be nothing trial about it.
I was nervous about being on a long flight with the kids. Just the bulk of carry-on items that my parenting magazines told me to bring was menacing. Change of clothes, snacks, toys, books, more snacks. Back then, before I got divorced, I hadn’t spent long periods of time alone with the kids. My husband worked for himself in an office close to our house and both kids were in pre-school (sounds better than day care) a few days a week. What if one of them was inconsolable on the flight or threw up or wet their pants? How would I go to the bathroom with the two of them in tow? I didn’t feel like enough of a grown-up to be the sole parent in charge.
The night before we left, the kids were with their dad and I went out with some friends. I stayed out way too late and, as I was wont to do back then, drank too much and woke up for my early flight with a hangover. And immediately regretted it. But it was too late. My husband picked me up and drove the three of us to the airport. To my happy surprise, the flight, and the accompanying car ride to Sonoma, went fine. Sure it was a long day but nobody questioned my parenting, neither of the kids freaked out and I didn’t throw up my gimlets from the night before.
The week we spent out there was really memorable for the kids and good for my soul. The kids had fun with their cousins. They’re all close in age and the week was like a never-ending play date complete with a pool. I had some long talks about my marital situation with my brother and sister-in-law. Saying out loud the feelings and thoughts I had about my marriage was therapeutic. And being together was so much better than talking on the phone.
When the week was over, the three of us took a car service to the San Francisco airport and then a plane to New York City, where I had lived for 11 years and where my husband was waiting to take the kids for his week alone with them. Not really alone. They were going to his parents’ house in the mountains where they would be surrounded by more family. And I was happy for them. I flew home, back to Florida, and waited for the week to be over. I was getting used to being by myself. For the last few months I had been spending half the week at my in-laws’ empty house a few miles away so that the kids could stay in one place and not have their routine disturbed.
At the end of the week, the three of them returned. The summer was almost over and it was time to make the decision about my marriage official. Making the decision seemed easy compared to the actual execution of it. Looking my husband in the eye and telling him that I wanted a divorce was one of the most heart-wrenching things that I have ever had to do. A punched repeatedly in the gut kind of feeling. But the alternative, staying married, was not an option for me. Therapy, both alone and as a couple, had only reinforced this.
My heart hurt but my mind was free.
Ten months later, and 20 pounds lighter, I was divorced. And I was spending lots of time alone with my kids, which I was growing to enjoy. The stress of being in an unhappy marriage was gone. Most of my guilt was gone. I felt like a grownup. And I was a better parent. A happy parent. A more present parent. Which remains true today, eight years later and almost four years into my second marriage.
So, I’ll be home for the next week and a half, working, writing and hanging out with the kids. Then my family of five, including my husband and his daughter, will hop in to a rented mini van and drive 11 hours north on I-95 to a house on the beach in North Carolina for the fourth year of this new family tradition. My brother, his wife and their 3 kids will be there. And my mom and my stepfather. In the house next door will be first cousins, second cousins and even second cousins once removed. This trip follows an old tradition of my youth when my brother and I, along with my parents before they got divorced, would spend a week or two at the beach in North Carolina with my mom’s parents. A particularly blissful part of my childhood.
And giving my kids some undivided attention for those early summer trips was a great idea. I think I’ve already reaped some positive benefits from it. I feel like we’ve recharged our relationships. And there actually seems to be less fighting between them. I know that the time my stepdaughter had alone with her dad has strengthened their relationship and given them a special closeness.
The downside to all of these genetically singular trips is that my husband and I have been apart for an unprecedented amount of time. Eighteen days out of twenty seven. The upside is that Peaches and Herb have got nothing on us: “Reunited and it feels so good”.