CRETE -- My ex-husband and I recently celebrated our 12th anniversary. That's how long we've been divorced -- one year longer than we were married.
Just like marriage, divorce isn't easy either, and ours has been no exception. But even though we no longer had a marriage to keep us together, we had something even more powerful -- our daughters. And, spurred by our mutual devotion to them, we have made a huge effort to work through all the difficulties and be friends.
This has included spending Christmas Day and both of our girls' birthdays together as a family every year. And, little by little, with a lot of hard work, we've grown closer and closer. Indeed, a couple of years ago, on what would have been our 20th wedding anniversary, a magnificent bouquet of flowers that included twenty yellow roses arrived at my home. The card said, "Happy 20th Anniversary. We'll always be the parents of two remarkable young women. Love, Michael."
But this is the first time since our divorce we have gone on a summer vacation as a family.
This kind of concentrated together time can often prove to be stressful. But we are having a fabulous time, hanging out as a foursome, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner together, and exploring the exquisite beauty of Crete -- Kriti to my fellow Greeks. The brilliant sand, the jasmine-filled air, the crystalline sea, the jutting mountains -- and history to be found with practically every step you take. Crete was home to the oldest Greek civilization, as well as Ariadne (who helped Theseus slay the Minotaur and then became the bride of Dionysus), and Nikos Kazantzakis (who gave us Zorba the Greek).
What we are doing more than anything, though, is talking. About anything and everything. We have spent a lot of time strolling down Memory Lane, and also taking mental journeys into the future. These future forays have been both practical (our youngest daughter is heading into her final year of high school, which means another round of college application deadlines!) and fanciful (we spent a lot of time the other night, for example, debating the pros and cons of evening weddings and the names of yet-to-be born -- and, thankfully, yet-to-be-conceived -- children).
The surest sign that my ex and I have reached a better place is a newfound willingness on both our parts to not let our pet peeves get in the way of our having a good time. Even in the happiest of marriages, there are little things that each partner does that inevitably set the other one off. These annoyances are magnified ten-fold when you are no longer together as a couple -- which is why making an effort to avoid them is one of the secrets of a good divorce.
For instance, Michael really hates it when we are together and I check my Blackberry or, god forbid, take a call on my cell. Especially when we are out eating. So I have kept to a 100 percent Blackberry ban during all meals. And he hasn't made a big deal of the couple of times I forgot to turn my phone off and it began to ring (especially since I didn't take the calls).
For my part, I am really put off by the way he openly fumes if I am even one second late for something. Even on vacation (I always thought not having to adhere to a strict timetable was one of the defining features of a vacation!). This trip has been different. When I rolled in a few minutes late to dinner the other night, he wasn't glaring at his watch. Instead, he greeted me with a warm smile.
It's been great. And especially great for the kids to have their parents not only not be on edge with each other, but actually enjoying one another's company.
Our children, after all, are the most important thing in our lives -- and in most parents' lives, for that matter. It's a fact that becomes even more inescapable here in Greece, which is an utterly child-centered society. Children here are treated as little gods, creatures of worship -- little totemic beings everyone wants to touch and nurture. They are made to feel so special, with even the tiniest accomplishment cause for exclamations of appreciation and praise.
The fact that Michael and I have these two girls (young women now, really) together is a bond that transcends all grievances we have had through the years.
And while we did not survive as a couple, at least we've survived in the joint parenting of our daughters. We have gotten to the point where there is really nothing left to work out -- and it feels completely natural to be able to sit on a beautiful beach or stroll through the lovely streets of Agios Nikolaos together.
"God," our youngest daughter said the other day, "it's hard to remember you guys are divorced."
For some reason, that made me very, very happy. It felt like I had reached the end of a long and arduous journey. And we were all the better for having made it.
I only hope that, for the sake of the over one million children a year whose parents get divorced, it's a journey more and more families take.