My family vacations are how I always dreamed they would be. My 5-year-old son's sticky ice-cream hands and sandy legs curled up in my lap. His dad gobbling up his belly, our hotel room filled with happy shrieks. The only difference is that his dad and I slide into separate beds.
When my ex and I separated, I never would have imagined we'd be a family again in any traditional sense. Divorce always feels like a failure. But I was never going to be like my divorced parents, bitter and worn down by anger, expecting my sisters and me to work around their unhappiness. I wanted my son to know the luxury of having everyone you love together.
About a year after our split, my ex called and said, “Hey, which week can you take off this summer? Where can we go?” Like…nothing had changed. I almost sarcastically reminded him that we were, um, what's that word again? Oh, yeah. Divorcing. But I said I'd think about it.
It was probably my inability to reconcile my guilt that triggered me to say yes. For our trial run, I agreed to drive to Niagara Falls for four days. Long enough to feel like a break, short enough to survive if things went south.
When my son fell asleep on his dad that night, and we stayed up to watch a movie, whispering above takeout, I knew they wouldn't.
We are both in love with the same person. Just not each other.
Still, a happy joint vacay means not letting pet peeves get in the way of niceties. Letting someone parent his way. And accepting that you will be in a situation where there's not much you can do if his way is bugging you.
The big upside is that your child can crawl into whichever parent's bed he wants. He'll wake up and have two pairs of eyeballs to peel open, two sets of ears to squeal into. There's a quote I read somewhere that stays with me: “In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy, too.” That long weekend brought my son pure joy. Now, when he asks why Daddy can't live at our house, I feel less hollow.
Next year, we're thinking, he'll be the perfect age for Disney. Neither of us has said it, but it feels like that may be the last trip together. Maybe it's that by then one of us will (hopefully) have found a significant other; or maybe it's that I'm putting myself wholly first. Maybe it's that I'll finally be sure that my son can flourish without us together. It'll be bittersweet. But I wouldn't have changed a thing.