During days of hiking in the wilderness with her son, Susan made discoveries about her child, her former spouse, and the challenges of any great journey. She reflects on her lessons in this three part series.
I go for months without seeing my children. One in New York, one in California, me in the middle and all of us with careers. When we say goodbye after spending time together, I try not to think about how long it will be before we see one another again, face to face.
Of all of the challenging issues in the world of divorce with children, the question of time is perhaps the most difficult to resolve. Without time, how do we have relationship? Without time, how do we have influence? Without time, how do we have the delight of being in the presence of these amazing beings we treasure?
We may never feel as though our time with our children is enough (although my friends with millennial children in the basement bedroom might disagree), so many of us struggle. During divorce, we may mediate, negotiate, or litigate over how the weeks, days and hours are shared. After divorce, we may be tempted to use sneaky strategies to manipulate when we can’t find better ways to get just a little more time to have the joys of being a parent.
Getting a handful of days alone with either of my children is a rare opportunity, and it’s never enough. As I look back nine months to our earliest excitement about the possibility of Jack and I having a mother-son wilderness adventure on the John Muir Trail, I see that making the most of what we have demands being intentional before, during, and after our days together. I hope to remember this:
Before. The months leading up to our trip were filled with anticipation and preparation. What will be our rendezvous point? Do you think I’ll be in shape in time? Who will buy the peanut butter M & Ms? Our anticipation and communication meant I was delighting in our relationship even before we were in the same state.
During. Some hours were mostly silent as we trudged on endlessly upward. At another point Jack made me laugh by asking, “Are you tired of listening to me talk about this?” as though this mother could ever be weary of hearing her introverted son talk about possibilities for his future. Later he would tease me, “Let’s see, it took you 14 hours on the trail before you told me this?” after I nonchalantly revealed there was a romantic interest in my life.
After. After showers to remove enough of the layers of caked dirt and sand to make us suitable for being in public, we celebrated sitting at the bar of the BBQ joint across the highway from our motel. I lifted my glass of boxed cabernet to Jack’s icy mug of beer as we toasted our accomplishment. We savored every morsel of the smoked chicken and the satisfaction of intentions fulfilled.
Gratitude Going Forward. This precious time with Jack might be over, but going forward I will take with me both memories and so much gratitude. Gratitude for the experience, for the lessons learned, and for being a parent, no matter how much or how little time I get to spend with my children. It may never feel like enough. But it’s plenty.