Conflicting Dreams – Motorcycles and Boats

If I had to pick a pivotal topic within our marriage that changed the course of our future, I would pin it to decisions that evolved around  motorcycles and boats.  Maybe this sounds lame to some people – that our marriage hinged on what happened relevant to two inanimate objects.  Well first, I must inform you that there is nothing inanimate about boating or for that matter, motorcycling.  Both in fact add animation to life.  Or at least I’d say they add “living” to life.

Bob and I are passionate people with strong opinions and a commitment to living life to the fullest.  Some people may be okay just cruising through life on autopilot.  Not us.  We want to experience life.  It is fleeting after all.  Our strong passions for life could have been a great asset to our marriage and I’d say early on it was as we shared many common interests.  But as time marched on, the strength of our desires evolved with different emphasis.

Bob loves motorcycles and I like them ok.  I love boating and Bob likes boating well enough.  But both of these things were catalysts for each of us to make decisions that were self-centered at the time.  Although, looking back over the past 18 years, I can conclude that it was inevitable.  You see, Bob had to become a Harley rider.  And I had to become a boat owner.  We just had to.  But each got in the way of the other and this is when the trouble started.

When Ian was about 2 years old, I got a substantial raise at my job.  I wanted to buy a boat that we could all enjoy together as Ian got older. Bob thought it was a good time to buy his first Harley.  We could have finally afforded either, albeit a modest selection of whichever one we chose.  But we certainly couldn’t afford both.  I don’t really know what the market is for Harley’s now but back then, there was a waiting list for the most basic Harley you could get.  And the type of boats we both liked was Mastercraft brand.  They are what our friends had and what I felt most comfortable in.  Bottom line, neither of these items is cheap!

So a few months into my new job and income, Bob didn’t so much ask me as much as he announced to me that he had put himself on the wait list for a bike.  What?  I was pissed.  How were we going to enjoy this investment with a two year old?  Three people do not fit on a motorcycle!  Bob’s response was that we would get his mom to watch Ian when we went on the bike.  I just saw this as a completely selfish move and one that took money we could use for so many things (eh hem… a boat!) and divert it to this extravagance that only Bob could truly enjoy.  Still “we” proceeded with the purchase of Bob’s first Harley.

Conversely, a few years before Ian was born, we had developed a circuit of friends who owned and/or enjoyed boating and waterskiing. I fell in love with the sport and everything about being on the water.  Waterskiing was really the first sport I felt reasonably good at.  It was freeing and boating itself was simultaneously energizing and relaxing.  Bob was actually a much better skier than me back in the day.  So it motivated me to get better, to keep up.  But I wanted more rope time.  So we went with friends as often as we could.  We started going on houseboat trips to Lake Cumberland where one could get in several opportunities to ski each day.  I looked forward all year every year to these houseboat trips and being back on the lake.  As soon as we got in our cars to leave the lake each year, I looked fondly upon my return.  Then in the fall of ‘97, our friends who we’ll call Bill and Crystal and who also happened to be both boaters and Harley riders, bought a house on the Scioto River in Columbus.  … in the ski zone!  It was awesome because we enjoyed each other’s company and they were very gracious in sharing their amenities with us.

Happily Divorced Houseboating Norris Lake
Houseboating on Norris Lake in Tennesse

As spring ’98 approached, it was time to plan the houseboat trip which usually took place in June.  Instead, Bob announced to me that he and Bill had been talking and that they wanted for the four of us to forego the houseboat trip this one year and instead go to Milwaukee for the Harley Davidson 95th Anniversary celebration.  Well it wasn’t a houseboat trip but it was only one year we’d miss it and this would be a different type of memorable experience.  So I agreed.  Just this one year.

The next spring, again it was time to plan the houseboat trip and I had heard no talk of it. So I asked Bob and he announced to me that this year, he and Bill were instead going to go to Sturgis for another Harley thing.  I suggested I may not be interested in doing that and Bob informed me that it was going to be an all guys trip anyway.  No women allowed.  Really?  When confronted with my displeasure of this situation, Bob said, “What’s the big deal?  We can ski on the river anytime we want with Bill and Crystal.” What?  That is NOT THE SAME!  That’s not the lake NOR a houseboat trip!!!

So faced with missing a second year in a row at my beloved lake, I asked Bob if he minded if I tried to find another houseboat trip to go on.  He said he didn’t care, a decision he would live to regret for quite a while.  I knew of at least one other friend who was going on a trip and promptly made a call to ask her if there was room for me.  Of course there was.  So both out of spite and desire, I packed my bags and was on a houseboat on Lake Cumberland in about three weeks.

I was so giddy the morning of the trip I couldn’t contain myself.  It was like I was overwhelmed with a sense of freedom.  I was deciding how to live my life rather than someone else dictating it to me.  I ended up riding down with a friend of the friend who planned the trip along with a few others.  None of which I knew all that well.  All the way there I felt a connection developing to this person – not as a love interest.  Not at all at that point. He was just someone who shared my passion for boating, philosophy about life, and who was excessively easy to talk to.  He got me!  Bob used to get me but somewhere along the way, he stopped getting me and just became critical of me.  Why wasn’t I more this or less that?

This new friend and I proceeded to spend endless hours talking about everything from family to our academic backgrounds, our professional backgrounds, to our mutual dream of living on a body of ski-able water.  Oh and did I mention he had a Mastercraft ski boat?!?!  We also ventured into the turbulent waters, quite literally, of discussing my current marital strife. As we talked, I felt this urgency building inside of me that if I didn’t choose to start living my life my way now, I was going to be one of those people lying on their death bed suffocated by regret.  It weighed on me like a ton of bricks.  And I was so pissed that Bob, so caught up in his own desires, couldn’t see I was missing out on my life.  So, while I gave a lot of thought during that trip as to what my life could be as someone choosing my own path, I gave little thought to what it wouldn’t be… what it could no longer be.

I returned from the houseboat trip to announce to Bob three days later that I wanted a divorce.  And that was that.  Bob and I split up over motorcycles and boats.

Of course, this isn’t true.  We didn’t split up over things.  We split up because we both stopped treating each other as we wanted to be treated.  We stopped honoring each other’s desires and wanting each other to be happy.  We had both become consumed with our individual dreams and forgot to listen to each other.  We forgot about our little dream family we had created.  Bob wanted his boyish freedom to roam the country with his buddies.  I wanted the freedom of skiing behind a boat any time I chose.  Although I also wanted to introduce my son to the boating experience as I’m sure Bob wanted to indoctrinate Ian on the ways of the Harley rider.  In the end though, it was really about each of us wanting the right to live the life we wanted to live, not one that was thrust upon us.

Teresa's first boat - a Mastercraft TriStar
Teresa’s first boat – a Mastercraft TriStar 190

After our divorce, Bob got his Harley and free time with the guys.  I got my boat, more rope time, and a whole new group of friends.  Friends that liked me for me, not because I was Bob’s wife.  Friends that shared my love of boating and the lake.  I don’t think either of us regrets having these things in our lives now.  They are the fabric of who we each have become.  But it’s unfortunate we couldn’t figure out how to make room for both of these things in our family.

dscf2559-e1498926985513.jpgIan liked, but I wouldn’t say loved, boating when he was very young.  He tolerated it and liked the swimming but didn’t really get into watersports until middle school at which point, he started wakeboarding and grew to like that a lot.  As soon as Ian was old enough to hang on to his dad securely, he road with him on the back of his bike.  I’m sure he enjoyed that just as I did as a child with my dad riding on his Honda with him.  I’m glad Ian has gotten to experience both of our passions just as we’ve shared in his passion for music.  And maybe our divorce was the only way that was ever all going to happen.

If you are struggling in your relationship with conflicting dreams, I think it is key to understand your partner’s passions and support them.  Nothing will kill a relationship more quickly than denying someone their dream.  If you don’t know what they are, you had better ask.  If you think you know her dreams, you better make sure you’re right and are paying attention.  If those dreams conflict with yours, you must work through it.  Don’t leave it to chance and don’t make assumptions.  We know what that does.

Happily Divorced Teresa Skiing
Yep… I’m having fun!

This doesn’t mean you should allow your partner’s dreams to keep you from living yours.  If someone loves you and wants to be with you enough, make sure they know what your dreams are.  You can’t be pissed that they killed your dreams if they don’t know what they are.  And for God’s sake, make sure they’re listening.  If your partner doesn’t work with you to help you achieve your dreams or worse, stands in your way of them, you’re probably headed for trouble or already in it.  Likewise, if you can’t come to terms with the dreams your partner holds and find room for compromise, you’re going to struggle.  Best to move on from the relationship because one or both of you will always be haunted by your unlived dreams.

norris-lake-boating

Michigan dock

Shared Parenting Vacation Planning

Vacations are absolutely about a thousand percent harder to plan for a family where divorce is involved than where it is not.  Why?  Well let’s see… first you have to consider your schedule, the child’s schedule if they are involved in sports or other activities, and the other parent’s schedule.  Then, if either parent is remarried or in a serious relationship, you have to consider the other partner’s schedule and desires.  If they too are divorced with children, you have to work around the schedule of the other parent and the other children’s schedule.  Then finally, if the said vacation is a group event based on years of tradition, you may not even be at much liberty to dictate changes to the vacation schedule.  Seriously, scheduling a family vacation is among the most challenging of acts to pull off when all of these dynamics are simultaneously in play.  And I haven’t even added in the considerations for the location, the weather, and modes of travel.  What a fricking nightmare!

Scheduling family vacations has offered me one of my most profound lessons when it came to learning about compromise and also standing up for myself and my relationship with my son.

The years preceding when I met my fiancé Brian were easier on vacation scheduling since I didn’t have all the extra schedules to consider and I could be more flexible on my end.  Bob, on the other hand, never seemed to be in a position of setting his own schedule.  As Ian entered high school and I met Brian, things became more challenging.  Between Ian’s marching band schedule and Bob’s unmovable vacation schedule, we started to face some real challenges.  Ian had about one month off from band each summer during which Bob and I would both scramble to fit in the family vacation.  Brian’s family had a 50 year standing tradition of vacationing in upper Michigan on the same week each July.  Of course, this week conflicted directly with the schedule Bob’s friends had also kept for years.  The first year we faced this dilemma, Ian spent the first week of a two-week camping venture with his dad.  I hung back in Columbus until Ian was driven back with someone who was returning early.  Then I drove up with Ian to Michigan to join Brian and his family about four days later.  This was a hectic grind for Ian and made me feel a bit awkward.  I didn’t like making him leave early from his vacation with his dad and I didn’t like us arriving late to our family vacation either.

When the next year rolled around, we faced the same dilemma and I didn’t want to have the same awkward outcome.  So I asked Bob if he could shift the dates of his vacation.  At first, he couldn’t believe I was asking him to do this since, in his mind, he had no say in the dates and I could have picked any other week.  But once I explained the long-standing tradition of Brian’s family and the fact I could not after 50 years attempt to impose a drastic shift in the schedule, he agreed to talk to his contingent and negotiate a different set of dates.  Had I not spoken up, Ian might have missed out on several years of enjoyment with his future step-siblings and extended step-family at a wonderful location in northern Michigan wakeboarding, swimming, and enjoying these precious years with his mother at his side.

As the years progressed, I came to appreciate Bob’s quick rectification of the vacation schedule as our family vacation became the victim of many battles between Brian and his ex who, every year, seemed to find some activity that his daughter or son absolutely couldn’t bear to miss and that would inevitable interrupt our vacation schedule.  Of course, as step-parent, I simply didn’t have the same influence over this situation and had to all-too-frequently just grin and bear it.  But more on that in a future writing.

So as we head into summer vacation season, I have a few suggestions to offer based on my experience.

  1. Plan ahead

I’m sorry but you need to concede your spontaneous nature if you expect things to go smoothly in this department.  If that bothers you, I’ll just ask you to consider if you like it when people spring things on you and impact your schedule without even thinking about how it might affect your life.  So be kind and discuss the plan even if it’s just the dates, as soon as you know them.  That way if there are conflicts to overcome, you can start resolving those issues now and head into your vacation relaxed… as nature intended it.

  1. Be flexible

Yeah, I know. This one is hard because when I say flexible, it may require you bending over backwards to make everything work out.  But don’t assume your large group, ex-spouse, or new companion is inflexible on dates.  Explain your circumstances rationally to decide on the best dates that will present the least conflicts for everyone.

  1. Stick up for yourself and your child

It’s important to understand that when I say be flexible, that doesn’t mean you should always give in to the ex-spouse and forego your vacation desires. If your conflicts are impassable year after year, suggest alternating.  One year he gets his way and the next year you get yours.  If this doesn’t work, ask him for suggestions that don’t call for you being the only one to compromise.  If this still doesn’t work, you may have to be a little more assertive with the situation by expressing to the ex-spouse that all you really want is to spend a nice family vacation with your child and to make sure he gets to do the same with his dad.  When the father sees that you are trying to consider him in the equation, he may back off or offer up reasonable solutions.  If not, then you’re probably struggling with them on a number of fronts which requires a deeper conversation with them to get on a path that is more conducive to cooperation.

  1. Remember what you really want

What do I mean by this? Well you don’t want to get your way if this means your child will be left feeling awful about the situation.  If they are going to miss a monumental family event or a once-in-a-lifetime experience by not joining a particular vacation, you’ll want to do everything in your power to ensure they are included.  Later on when the whole family is sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table together reminiscing about that time in Paris, your child won’t be the only one who wasn’t there.

You don’ want to get your way if it means destroying future prospects of cooperation with your ex-spouse or others with whom you are still connected within his group.  Like so many other circumstances in our lives, we have to think of others and the impact our actions have on them and decide if the way they feel as a result of these actions makes us happy or not.  If our child isn’t happy you’re probably not going to be either.  So this may mean that if your child could go to Disney with dad or on the annual family camping trip with you one year, they might enjoy Disney more and you should probably let them choose Disney guilt-free.  Now if this happens every year, to me it signals that the other parent is manipulating the situation intentionally and that’s not cool either.  When this happens, refer back to #3.

In any case, be sure not to turn the family vacation into a weapon used to guilt your child or your ex, to win favor in your child’s eyes, or to worst of all, deny them unforgettable childhood experiences just so that you impose your will.