“It won’t be the same,” our son said as we planned a vacation over the President’s Day break.
Very little in life stays the same, I want to tell him. As soon as I get comfortable, with a project, a friendship, a stage of my children’s development, something shifts. I am left to grapple with not knowing how I fit in. But I don’t say anything; this falls into the category of lessons he needs to learn himself.
We take the plunge – a family vacation without one of the four members of family. Our older daughter is studying in Israel for the year. When she telephones, she expresses good-natured shock that we are going without her, and I remind her that she has been treated to what amounts to a year-long vacation. But my son’s reaction goes to the heart of the matter. “The dynamic just won’t be right,” he laments. I can’t argue with him.
My children don’t enjoy some fantasy-like harmonious sibling relationship. Two years apart, they are highly interactive with each other, both when things gel, and when they irritate each other. But it has always been “us and them, the parents and the kids.” Not in an antagonistic way, but we have been successful in presenting a united front in our parenting most of the time, and they have been equally successful in staying on the same page in response. We have been evenly matched, even when, as parents, we had the inherent upper hand. And now, his comrade in arms doing her own thing elsewhere, our son is unsure.
On the second day, we are plunged into the midst of a jungle, following our guide on a hike that takes us only a mile up and a mile back, but, according to the tracker on my phone, has us climbing 40 flights. It is beyond taxing for me, but I pull myself up using the tree roots in the ground, and grab onto the trunks for support as I propel myself up the mountain. Several times, my son waits to help me get my footing, and he is no longer a small boy, but a fit and strong man, pushing his way forward into life. After we’re safely back, he tells me he is amazed that I made it. And I think, “what choice did I have? You just have to keep going.” But I don’t say that. I just thank him for recognizing my achievement.
That night we each have a beer – refreshing for our strained bodies, with just that edge of a thrill because my son, tall and handsome, is still a little underage. We sit at the bar and we talk about how we miss his sister. But a new phase of life has taken root here, with my son as the “only child,” and a dynamic of its own is taking shape. It won’t be long until we transition to the next stage, when we vacation alone as a couple. But for now, it works.
About the Author
Reyna Marder Gentin lives in Westchester, New York, with her husband and their two wonderful teenage children. After over twenty years practicing law, Reyna is now pursuing other interests, including taking courses in memoir and fiction at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. She has published in Kveller, Parent.co, Mothers Always Write, Mamalode, and others, and is currently working on her first novel. Her short story “A Reckoning” will be published in the next issue of The Westchester Review.