So I spent the past week rambling through Northern Michigan with my ex-husband, our two daughters, and a three-legged American bull dog. It was a crowded 900 miles altogether, packed into the extended cab of a Silverado with pillows and blankets and Capri suns. I was nervous about this co-parenting experiment with the guy whom I spent the entire decade of my twenties with. We have always done little dinners or day trips every once in a while. We’ve done holidays together and apart. We have also had some challenges over the past six years, since the split. I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out. This was our first week long family vacation. I was hopeful, but apprehensive about how this trip would feel, to me or the kids. It’s a little strange to spend a week as the family that we used to be, but that no longer exists.
It couldn’t have gone any better. Everyone was happy. Our fourteen year old daughter had no service on her cell phone. She played scrabble and laughed so hard, she had to hold her belly. We had a family joke, where she said that I looked like a Susan and her dad looked like a Brad. Then she joked about making ‘Starter Pack Memes’ with our new names. Like the Brad Starter Pack would include a vape pen and Jordans and some shitty techno music. The Susan starter pack would include tarot cards and cats and cheap leggings from Dollar General. We made up names for the girls and carried this cheesy joke through the whole trip. I think that joke will end up being our favorite souvenir.
My eight year old went fishing, and impressed her grandfather with the ability to bait and remove her own hook. She smiled so much, her cheeks hurt. I think ‘Brad’ and I both enjoyed the scenery of watching our girls play together, and discover the breathtaking beauty of Northern Michigan, along the Lake Superior coastline. We had real, family conversations about the steady stream of changes in all of our lives, while hiking through a wild wonderland of beautiful waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, and forests that could heal your soul.
We got to be those nerdy parents who sat by the fire and shared dating advice with our fourteen year old daughter while we drank some two hearted ales, just miles away from the actual river that beer is named after. Our daughter got to engage in a very entertaining conversation about how we met, and the things that we went through, and how she came about, and how much we loved her. It was the kind of conversation that could have never happened, had we stayed together. Because her dad and I have dated other people off and on for the past six years, we both have a lot of knowledge to share in that department.
There we were, in our old tattoos that used to read each other’s names, now covered up by a crab and a kite, explaining how dating was different in the nineties, and how some things will never change. My daughter must have been impressed to receive dating advice from her divorced and relationally dysfunctional parents as we sipped just enough alcohol to take the edge of the awkwardness off. But I will bet you, she will remember that night for the rest of her life. She will know that her parents love her enough to plan a crazy divorced family vacation for her. And she will tell her children one day of the time we hiked to Mosquito Falls, uphill both ways, with a three-legged dog and a family that stayed a family even though it exists in different households and in different cities.