The journey is over and I am back in New England. It’s always great to be back home. As I said, I did play the role I had intended: as a (mostly) silent observer and witness to the often odd and sometimes disturbing workings of my family. One thing I did note, and it’s probably not unique to us, is that everyone seemed more excited to be coming home than going on our trip.
So, for the record, I traveled with my ex husband, his wife, my youngest and middle daughter. We made odd bed-fellows. While I have been divorced many, many years and they have been married for a decent time too, it was not the too distant past that we have had the typical ‘issues’ as a blended family. Because of this, I was quite apprehensive (down-right biting my nails nervous) about traveling as one family. But we decided to do it as it is an expensive and long journey with many legs. Sharing the financial burden seemed to make sense. And I guess we all hoped we could be mature and forward-looking enough to get through it all. It was very interesting I must say.
There were positives, negatives and unexpected surprises. Going with absolutely no expectations was the right way to approach it for sure! And taught me the lesson once again that this is the way to approach all of life. That way we will have no dashed expectations. So here below will be some of my backseat (literally) observations. Often I felt like the third wheel as they all had conversations about trips that I did not attend or people I did not know. It was like I wasn’t there anyway so to be a ‘reporter’ made sense to me. I wasn’t really a Mom going to a graduation, but rather played some other roles this weekend.
1. Airport Hobnobber: I’m the type of person that will talk to anyone, anywhere (which actually used to embarrass my ex). So while we were waiting for our flight to Denver, a man came over to our set of seats and put his foot on one. An older, rather bold woman came over to him and politely, yet firmly asked him if that seat was taken. There were hardly any seats left, and she and her husband, in their seventies, wanted a place to sit. The man, seeing the foolishness of his ways by putting his dirty foot on a seat, was quick to apologize and scurry away. This put the woman near me, so we struck up this wonderful conversation. We had plenty of time before the plane boarded and, as these things go, learned tons about each other in those ways we do about strangers we figure we’ll never see again. As we began boarding we said our goodbyes and good lucks for each other’s trips–and began the trudge towards the plane and our seats. But by those crazy twists of fate, as I squished my way down the aisle, it turned out we were seated right next to each other! We were thrilled! She and I ended up chatting the entire 4 hour flight to Denver, and even ending up exchanging emails and phone numbers. They live in the next state, and it won’t be unreasonable for us to meet again. My parents met on a plane…and were married for over 30 years. I believe in these things.
2. Dog Sitter: I decided after staying at my daughter’s (the graduate) apartment for 2 nights, once alone, that I was really invited to be her dog sitter so she could go out and party with her friends. I imagine most Mom’s don’t clean up dog poop and pee when they go visit their kids for vacation? Or maybe they do? It wasn’t really my plan. Or staying in her little apartment by myself either.
3. Protective Warrior: The relationship between my three girls is challenging to say the least. I know families all have these dynamics, but I can only speak to mine. My adopted middle daughter sadly takes the brunt of behaviors that I had truly hoped everyone would have outgrown by now. She is special needs and mentally challenged, but that doesn’t seem to stop the temptation to do the things that families do and not have kindness. Yes, she has her faults too for sure. Even her father seemed to have little patience, and there was surely a time I didn’t know how to deal with it all either. But one would think on a very short trip, everyone could just be on good behavior and try. She certainly brings some things on herself, but I have learned different tactics besides just being mean. I even noticed in the photos taken how she is always just the person out it seems, so I made a big effort to try to focus on her. The oldest and youngest had each other, so she needed me more. It just made me sad.
4. Tongue Biter: There were so many opportunities where I wanted to just open my normally big mouth and say something. There was too much talk about alcohol, too much drinking of alcohol (was this purposely to press my buttons?), too much bickering, too much putting down of Step-Mom, too much criticizing. But, very unlike me: I sat mute. No-one would believe it. I felt it was very important to not be the one to start anything this trip. I was really very much on the outside.
5. Third Wheel: It was so very interesting to observe my current role within the family now. It’s clear to me that somehow my girls think Dad is more capable than me. Maybe it’s because he makes more money, is married, lives in a big house–pays for everything for them? They tell me I’m ‘too emotional’ or that he never talks about me to them. He’s the ‘go to’ parent. I’m just chopped liver (as my Mom used to say). I was able to stay detached from this observation. Plus they spent lots of time talking about their other trips together, the people they knew, the fun times they had–as though no-one else was in the room! Lovely.
6. Ally: Being a blended family is not so easy as many (most) of you out there know. Ours is not so very blended, having only a step-mom in the mix, but never-the-less, we have had our huge challenges over the years. All of our egos, our wounds, immaturity and sometimes just plain meanness has, at one time or another, come waltzing out front and center stage. It’s never pretty and someone is always left feeling like they’ve just been knocked up side the head with a baseball bat. One of my former adversaries, on and off, was my ex’s wife, and my kid’s step-mom. While not a really bad person, given the right soil, she like anyone, was ripe to show her unpleasant side, which usually presented itself in a passive/aggressive way. And, I simply just found her so different from me, that this alone sometimes would often just irritate me. But despite all that, we often found our way to being kind to each other, especially in the later years. Taking time to send cards, giving Christmas gifts (because I know those gifts signed by the both of them were truly from her), and generally just being more careful. Well, this trip sealed for me the fact that she is truly the nice one of that couple and that we both have grown immensely. Being the odd person out and having no tie other than my ex, she presented herself as a real hero this past weekend. With sullen and often nasty step children, she has executed herself with dignity. She has paid for my kid’s education when I couldn’t without expecting much in return (which she didn’t get from them). This particular weekend, she went out of her way to include me, laugh with me, not make me feel uncomfortable about my ex relationship and let me know that I am still The Mother. All with grace. It’s hard enough to be a mother, but being a step mom is even harder I decided. You often get nothing back. I let her know how much I appreciate her anyway, and I vowed never to take that relationship or her for granted again.
7. Old-friend: While I was there, my youngest daughter’s friend came from Boulder to visit as she’s going to school there. And as it happens, her mother, my dear friend was in Boulder too. It was for a sad reason, as her nephew, a young man, is actively dying of cancer. She is there with her sister through the process. This friend is one of the first people I met when I came to this area almost 19 years ago and I have known her ever since. She’s talented, smart, soulful, deep and very kind. We don’t spend much time together as life goes. But while I was there, I got to spend more time alone with her than I probably ever have and it was just what I needed in a time of great contemplation. She is also very wise and her wisdom poured over me like the crystal clear rivers that were crashing nearby. I was lucky to have a number of things she said just make such amazing sense to me. It was a beautiful moment in time.
8. Chrysalis: As I sat back and watched all the action: how my ex had changed, how he interacted with this ‘new’ wife of his, how my kids now interact with him, I was able to think about how I have changed. It gave me great pause. I thought: what if we hadn’t divorced and had been taking this trip without the step-mom, how would it have been different? How would I have been different? How would my journey have been different? Or would I have been any different from who I am now? I knew I had changed from when I first knew my ex, but I also knew he didn’t see it. He would make no effort to get to understand it because it wasn’t important to him. Neither do my kids (yet) care to understand this about me. I don’t care much about my ex except how it pertains to my children, but I do hope that someday the girls do see the changing me.
9. Optimist: Going away from my current life gave me hope that there is more ‘out there’. Because I’m often discouraged with how I am stuck, simply getting away made me realize it’s possible. I saw the beauty of another part of this great country–it took my breath away. In fact so much so, I got altitude sickness! But truly it was amazingly beautiful. And it made me realize anything is possible: other horizons, other mountains, other views, other people and communities. I don’t have to be here forever if I don’t want to be. And I won’t. When the timing is right, I will leave. But it also made me realize that I have to keep diving down deeply within myself, like I did on this trip and find the joy within. Not to let the outside noise and distraction (or people or family) get you down or off your path.
10. Lone-Rider: Finally this trip only re-emphasized what I have always felt deep down in my soul and that is that I walk this planet alone without any real connection to anyone–not even family. While I have daughters and a mother, I felt on this journey, that–as of yet–the bond is not what I believe it should be. It seems to be woven with narcissistic needs, financial gains and obligatory moments. What’s lacking is true heartfelt desire to be part of familial system. That sense of love that we feel when we are all together and we know that this is truly home.
So this was The Trip. I did it and I’m so very proud of my daughter for graduating. But I will never take a trip like this again with everyone else. It was too draining and too exhausting. And for what? I did reap benefits because I was determined to make some gains, so I did. In the future though, I will do my journeying on my own as this is how my heart lives anyway.