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Susan Orlins

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"Family Vacation" At the Beach With My Ex and Our Kids

Posted: 09/30/11 01:08 AM ET

Season 8 of "The Family Vacation" has ended. Back from The Hamptons to their everyday lives are "Family Vacation" stars: the exes -- since 1998 -- Steve and Susan (yours truly) and their three twenty-something daughters.

Let's take a look back at Season 1, Summer of 2004.

"The whole family's in the pool," my oldest daughter observes in a tone as sparkly as the cool water after I ease in to join her, her two sisters and their dad, Steve.

Even though Steve and I divorced in 1998, the five of us are in East Hampton, New York on what we call The Family Vacation.

It started that summer of 2004, when camps, trips and jobs allowed only 9 days that all three girls were available at the same time. Steve called me to discuss how to divvy up the time.

I searched my mind for a way to get 5 days to his 4.

But then I had a eureka moment and suggested that rather than each of us taking a mini holiday with the kids, all 5 of us could go away together for twice as long. Without hesitation, Steve agreed.

I relished the novelty. Steve and I had both recovered sufficiently from the bruises of our union and its dissolution. And we each had new love interests; neither of us was pining for the other.

Even during the worst moments, we had managed to compartmentalize our differences and problem solve whenever issues arose regarding the girls. In fact, I was often secretly grateful for a crisis, so I could experience the fuzzy feeling of good will between Steve and me.

As soon as I enter the rented house on the first day of that first family vacation, I scurry to check out the bedrooms and stake claim to the one that best suits me.

Steve cares about quiet; I care about openings to the outdoors. He is happiest in a room away from the kitchen and girls' rooms; I like the pj-party atmosphere when my room is near the kids.

Steve avoids bickering; I am a better bickerer.

In the Season 1 house, I bicker better and get the bedroom farthest from the kitchen, the quietest but also the one nearest the girls' rooms and the only one with a door to the outside. Steve ends up in the room closest to the kitchen and the morning rumpus.

We go to the beach every day no matter what. Steve has Weatherman in his DNA and sometimes he has us set out while it's still raining, but by the time we step on the sand with our folding chairs, the sun is peeking through, as he'd predicted.

On such weather days, we are practically the only ones at the water's edge. We are all alike in our fondness for slouching in beach chairs and reading. Everyone loves the ocean, except for me. I dislike the feeling of water on my face and I'm afraid of waves.

Once when Steve and I were dating, we ventured into the water together and the surf was bigger than I'd thought. One after the other waves washed over us, never pausing long enough for me to get out, the same way, when my labor was induced for my first child to be born, the contractions came back-to-back, no break, no exit strategy. Bang, bang, bang.

At night we like to cook and eat in, only occasionally venturing into the town, which is dense with city folk clad in expensive sports clothes. We go only to prowl the bookstore, get ice cream cones or see a movie.

Most nights we line up in front of the TV after dinner, each of us with a laptop perched on our thighs. It's the 2004 Olympics and Steve and the girls like watching the competitions. Steve gets teary during athletes' personal stories and when unexpected victories and heartbreaking losses occur.

I don't mind watching the Olympics, though it makes me sad that kids are packaged into mono-track lives that deprive them of their childhoods. No one agrees with me. I'm a Debbie Downer when it comes to the Olympics.

The only thing that feels odd over the 9 days, is that it feels so normal to all be together. Everyone agrees we should do this again next year.

This is such a win-win-win-win-win situation for our family. I wish more divorced families would vacation together. Please share this; maybe it will inspire others to try. Of course, it takes 2 willing parents.

For more details about how we have done this for 8 seasons, see Vacation With my Ex: Who Sleeps Where, Significant Others, Arguments, Socializing and More.

Speaking of summer, check out my secret, one-minute way to Stop a Mosquito Bite From Itching.

 

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