I spent this past Christmas break on a 10-day vacation with my three children. They were not originally supposed to be with me, so a few weeks ago when I learned we would be together over the holidays I scrambled to find us a last minute solution for spending quality time together as a family away from home. This was to be our first real family vacation with me at the helm, alone, no grandparents along for the ride for support and, certainly, no husband to bear part of the responsibility.
Three nights in Houston followed by a seven-day cruise to Costa Maya, Belize and Cozumel was my chosen itinerary. Not quite roughing it, but a large undertaking for any single parent nonetheless.
The children's behavior during this trip was, to say the least, less than stellar on more occasions than I will ever choose to remember. Fights over card games, who said what to whom, who looked at each other the wrong way, and who touched whose body. Complaints were likewise always the order of the day. The boat was too rocky, the beds too hard. You name it, they bickered or complained about it. My patience was tried in a biblical sense. At the time, I could not understand their angst, and I lamented daily that for this aggravation I could have stayed at home for free.
On day five of the cruise, our ship docked in Cozumel, Mexico. For a pre-arranged shore excursion to visit the Mayan ruins in Tulum, we left our cabin at six o'clock in the morning to eat a big breakfast in anticipation of sightseeing all day, amid even more bickering and even more complaints. I visited Tulum with my then husband back in 1997, very early on in our marriage and before our first child was born. I knew it would be a learning experience for the children in light of their respective school curriculums, but I could never have imagined the life lessons we all would ultimately take away from that day.
As I stood there staring at the ruins more than 16 years later, this time without my husband but with our three children by my side, my feelings were bittersweet. Like the civilization the Mayans worked so hard to build, now marked only by the rubble laying around us, the marriage my husband and I spent 16 years building now forever lays for posterity in similar disrepair.
But, as our tour guide educated us, the legacy of the Mayans continues to live on in present day Mexican culture, as does the product of my ex-husband’s and my union in the three lives we created together.
That night before bed, my eight year-old son broke down crying. "I miss Daddy. He should be here with us. I hate her. I wish she would just go away and then he could come back." Of course, my son was talking about my ex-husband's significant other, who he was "seeing" while we were still married. It did not take long for my two daughters to tearfully join in. Apparently, watching all of the families together at holiday time weighed heavily on them all week, likely the reason underlying their bad behavior.
I was shocked. It had already been almost two years since my ex-husband and I separated. Were these children actually still holding out hope that their father and I would someday reconcile? I certainly was not, so how could they?
To three wide-eyed children, I explained yet again that Daddy is not coming back to me, no matter what becomes of his relationship with someone else. Whether or not it fully sank in, I am still skeptical. What I did emphasize to my children, and hope to have illustrated to them during our trip, is that although their father is not a part of their day-to-day lives, there are still good times to be had with each of their parents individually and new memories to be made. Although no longer a couple, we are still their family and will forever share the privilege of being their parents.
The Mayan civilization believed that their calendar could be used as a predictor of the future. Although the Mayan's prophecy for the end of the world did not, thankfully, come to fruition, the Mayan civilization did serve to illustrate that legacies continue for years and years to come.
Civilizations change and so do families. But life goes on. Just in a different form.