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Wish I Were Here

Family vacations and finding our way back home

Published in Chocolate for a Woman's Soul II (Touchstone 2003)

My husband, Stacy, and I sat on the rocky shore of Lake Huron and tried to shove tiny rocks into an empty water bottle. Our children helped for half an hour before they left us sitting like two over grown four-year-olds, our brown legs stretched towards each other while the tips of our toes touched. The kids needed to tend to more important matters like firing stones into the whitecaps and tormenting each other with earwigs and frogs.

family adventuresfamily adventuresI guess we stuffed little bits of quartz and granite in a bottle because my son thought it would be a good way to spend the morning. We indulged whims all that week, which sometimes meant doing nothing at all. And I watched those whims closely for clues. I figured that if I followed enough of them, they'd lead us back to the family we used to be.

I hadn't meant to let it happen

I just got too busy with e-mails, teachers who needed to meet, supervisors who needed five more minutes before the end of the day, and that bottomless box full of papers sitting beside the desk. All these monumental and minuscule grown-up jobs collided and completely shortchanged the rest of my life.

Everything became more important than books, music, snuggling together, gardening, vacations, and my kids. The part of me that considered happiness as a worthy day's accomplishment disappeared.

We didn't get away with it

which way do we go?which way do we go?The same old arguments cropped up over and over, and made me wonder why we couldn't resolve any issue and move on. Our arguments funneled down to insignificant things that shouldn't have mattered but had the power to ruin a whole day. Finally we detached emotionally and functioned separately, no longer members of a team.

Our marriage looked like two bored patrons watching a rerun of a once loved movie. It wasn't interesting anymore, and I felt disaffected, as if I were taking part in my life but not really connecting to anybody in it. Accounted for but not present.

This disconnection might have continued for a long time. But events jolted us into taking notice and doing something about it. Both my brothers faced divorce in the same year that a neighbor's fifteen-year-old granddaughter died from an overdose. We, my husband and I, suddenly realized that all the tiny details we scrambled to remember were worthless without the people that mattered most. It was hard to remember the point of all the juggling, shuffling and trying desperately to make things fit.

We both wanted to find that reason again

finding myself againfinding myself againSo we ran away from the real world - not forever, but for a little while anyway. Our tent became our ark as we detached ourselves from email, faxes, cell phones and anything that needed electricity to function. Instead of the kids watching a video after supper, they re-taught my husband and me the fine art of feeding chipmunks from our fingertips. Instead of rolling over to catch ten more minutes of sleep, I played my flute for the rocky barren shores of a lake.

But to tell you the truth, we made it up as we went along. At first we just tried to be together without arguing. We implemented my mother's rule and pledged to keep our mouths closed if we couldn't say something nice. We used our words to communicate, instead of holding resentment in until it bubbled over like a kettle left on the burner.

When we disagreed, we softened it with a touch or smile to let the other know it was said in love. We engaged the time out routine we'd used when the kids were toddlers, only this time we imposed it on ourselves. And we agreed that space during a conflict can be positive.

We agreed that we needed to be happy alone to be happy together. We gave each other time to relax and reconnect with our higher power. Stacy stayed back at camp and fed the kids breakfast while I walked or played my flute or just sat quietly on a deserted beach. The kids took me to the nature center to learn about snakes while Stacy swung in his hammock.  When we came back together as a family, we felt refreshed and ready to face the challenges waiting for us.

time together connectingtime together connectingWe employed our children in this quest as well. They'd heard the arguing and knew something was amiss, so they weren't surprised when we asked for help. In fact they were thrilled to be a part of the solution. Our younger children thought silly songs would make us happy, and we rediscovered tunes we'd learned at camp. We ate chips and drank warm orange soda while our swimsuits stiffened in the sun. We built sand castles and moats and filled them with bewildered frogs and snapping crayfish.

The shoulda's, coulda's, and woulda's that cluttered my consciousness melted away like ice-cream dripping from my chocolate peanut butter cone - a rare treat from the camp store.

Back from holidays and settled into the daily grind of school and work, we're still trying to belong in our children's worlds rather than just pass through. It takes such immense concentration that we're beginning to understand why we couldn't manage it before. We're aware of the fragility of this edifice, our life together, but a new calm has taken hold.

We've made our life simpler, less tangled. We're clearing a path back home for that family that was once full of laughter.

They're on their way; I can hear them.

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