Picture this one. A mother and father sit on a beach on the Fourth of July with their two children, a boy, 6, and a girl, 4.
The parents are just on the other side of 40, still relatively young, still relatively attractive. Their children are beautiful: hazel-eyed, tawny and sparkling with precocious intelligence. They revel in the simple joys of sand and saltwater, wading into ocean waves that roll up in green cylinders before melting into white froth.
The scene I am describing is not fiction, and neither is it a single spark culled from an ash heap. Over the course of the five-day vacation, many similar scenes unspool in varying forms but with unvarying equanimity. The family hums along smoothly, splashing in the community pool, eating scrambled eggs and cheering as the fuzzy television shows the United States women’s soccer team winning the World Cup.
There are no harsh words, no frosty silences, no recriminations. When the mother and father are alone with each other, there is quiet conversation about work and school and camp, about what to make for dinner. There is even, occasionally, shared laughter.
The mother and father do not fight over the laundry. They do not fight over money. They do not fight over their marriage. There is no laundry or money or marriage to fight over. Not anymore.
Until this Fourth of July family vacation, the mother and father had not slept under the same roof in 18 months. The ink on their no-contest judgment of marital dissolution still felt fresh to them.
But they decided to take their two small children on a vacation together, to a beach house on an isolated stretch of bluffs in Northern California, and it is a happy one.
This is my story. I am the mother. It’s the story of my family.
I grew up in a loving but undeniably hard-charging and overachieving environment, a world of moral absolutes: good/bad, success/failure, right/wrong. The worst thing you could do in my house was lie; the second worst was quit. Losing was acceptable (sort of). But quitting? Never.