Along the Yough River in Pennsylvania, we are whitewater rafting—two rafts, four adults, and three children. Between the adults in the raft, we hold only a negligible amount of rafting experience. But this is the Middle Yough (pronounced “Yock,” short for Youghiogheny), and the guys from the rafting equipment rental place dropped us off at this stretch of river, promising a low-level adventure.
The occupancy of the rafts changes several times over the course of our nine-mile journey between Confluence and Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. In the beginning, my ex-husband, Mike, our seven-year-old daughter, Taylor, and a friend our children call “Aunt Carol,” Carol’s six-year-old son, Patrick, and I are in one raft. In the other raft are Carol’s husband, “Uncle Rob,” and their eight-year-old son, Noah. We’ve left our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Peyton, back at the borrowed condo with a sitter, bribed with snacks and videos to compensate for being left behind.
Although Carol and Rob are not our blood relatives, they fit neatly into the new definition of “family” Mike and I have given to Taylor to allay her fears that divorce means you no longer have a family. A family is a group of people who love, protect, and care for one another. Despite our divorce, we are still a family.
“You make divorce look good.” “If there’s such a thing as a ‘good’ divorce, you have one.” I get these compliments (for lack of a better word) and find them bittersweet. I wish I’d had a better marriage and made that institution look good. Instead, people marvel at how well Mike and I get along, that we can be invited to the same parties and not spend the evening in opposite corners of the room and that we still vacation together with the kids.
I am now apparently the poster child for divorce, amongst my friends, at least. But it could be worse: Ours could be one of the many divorce horror stories of which there seems to be no shortage–vengeful ex-spouses waging long, drawn-out fights about money and property, with the children caught in the crossfire, casualties. Instead, we are oaring down the Yough River, cracking jokes, getting along.
Rob, whom we mockingly dub our “fearless captain,” is the first to fall into the water. And the falling is not the worst of it. Getting him back into the raft as the current steadily pushes us along is the real trial. The rocks and the shallow water are a nightmare. At various turns, Mike, Carol, and I each leave the raft to try to help out (or to retrieve a lost shoe), to no avail. Through a combination of muscle, strategy, and miracle, Rob finally makes it back to his raft, and we move on.
I imagine that to the people in the rafts passing (rapidly) by us, we look like two intact families. They also can’t tell by looking at us that Mike is my ex, that we live completely separate lives, except where our children are concerned, that we juggle a million and one practical and logistical details for raising kids in two households, and that we are trying to cobble together a new friendship between us. They can’t tell by looking at us that this trip is our response to the sad, inconvenient truth of divorce for a kid: You spend almost all your time with one parent or the other, not both.
For a child who has witnessed pre-divorce parental battles, having Mom and Dad retire to their respective corners might be somewhat of a relief. But for Taylor, who was completely blindsided by the divorce and who now observes her dad and I working well together as a parenting team, this either-or reality is a confusing disappointment. She’s heard our explanation that we had grown-up problems that we could not fix, but she still wishes we all lived in the same place again. She wonders why I can’t just love her dad, “the kissing kind of love, not the brother kind of love.” In lieu of sharing the kissing kind of love, we can give her the occasional meal, outing, or vacation together. Most important, we can give her a peaceful family—a safe, stable haven for her and her sister. So here we are, gliding along the Yough River, looking like a family…to be continued
Would you survive a rafting trip with your ex? Would your ex survive? Share your thought on Twitter @divorcedmoms