Once upon a time, my husband and I were young and carefree. We spent our days lazily sleeping in on weekends, treating ourselves to fancy meals in Philadelphia’s hottest new restaurants, and jaunting away on weekend retreats to nearby cities and distant islands. We were in love and marriage as well as the entire world seemed full of possibilities.
Well, maybe it was not all champagne and roses, but several years into our marriage when the kids were still very young. We were extraordinarily sleep-deprived, overworked, and trying to precariously balance the most challenging act (to date) of our lives. It seemed in our distant memories that life before children was some magical Shangri La.
Of course, we loved our children and treasured the incredible gift of parenthood, but the spark we had once had in our marriage had slowly dimmed. Our days were filled with new parents’ worries, stressors of building careers, making new friends in a new city, and somehow still finding time for ourselves. We no longer slept in on Saturdays or rode bikes to farmers markets and weekend getaways without the children seemed exceptionally far fetched.
We stressed about coming up with a downpayment for a house, college savings accounts, and 401Ks. Date night dinners became take-out or 6 pm reservations so we could make it home in time to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before the kids woke us up at their usual hours of 3 am of 5 am or whenever it popped into their heads that they wanted a drink of water or had a bad dream.
For my husband, the weight of responsibility of having his own family made him simultaneously the most incredibly devoted father and provider yet increasingly distant husband. We had different schedules, he keeping the irregular hours and days of an ER physician and me working a regular schedule of long days in the hospital with weekends and holidays off.
We went days seeing each other only in passing or in the middle of the night when we would argue about whose turn it was to get up with the kids. The easily flowing conversations and hours spent intrigued by each other’s thoughts and ideas were replaced by small resentments and unfulfilled needs. We didn’t have the energy to delve into our issues, trying in vain to reconcile the external image we portrayed of a happy, successful young family and internal disappointments of unmet expectations.
For me the only time i ever felt connected in or marriage was when we traveled. We would escape the daily grind and responsibilities, shirk our obligations and feel a semblance of the people we had been before having children. I loved every minute of every trip we ever took but the stress of paying for them, missing work and having to make up the hours caused endless arguments and fights in our house.
I wanted to feel young, happy and loved, connected to my husband and children away from the distraction of work, commitments and chores in exotic locations. He wanted to have quiet Sundays at home to watch football and catch up on sleep. There didn’t seem to be a middle ground or a way for us to recognize each others needs without sacrificing our own. Days turned to weeks and months and I felt increasing despair. We had a beautiful home, stable jobs, good friends and yet the image of a happy family I had conjured up in my mind was not the reality I was living. Then in the summer of 2011 our life slowly began to shift.
Somehow after endless arguments and financial calculations I had convinced my husband to take a much needed 2 week family escape to Costa Rica. Our daughter was 21 months old and our son was 3 1/2. We were sleep deprived, child proofed out and the Arizona summers had worn on my patience. We needed to escape the heat and rejuvenate our spirits surrounded by nature and calmed by warm ocean waters, friendly locals and laid back Pura Vida lifestyle. This time a road trip to California with the traffic, crowds and exorbitant prices was not going to cut it.
The town we chose was Santa Teresa, a tiny place in Puntarenas Province which required a flight, 4 hour drive and 70 minute ferry to get to. Looking back it only took a few days of being in this laid back town along a dirt road, with it’s gleaming sands, howler monkey wake up calls and crystal clear waters for something to change within us. A slow understanding began to creep back in. We stopped arguing, too happy and relaxed to bring up old grudges. It was as though the distance from our normal routine allowed us the space we needed to take a deep breath and see each other for the people we had once been and maybe still were.
Each time we dipped our bodies in the ocean pounded by waves, the kids giddily laughing, another resentment was washed away. We spent those two weeks without cell phones, tv’s or chores slowly rebuilding the love we had secretly feared had been lost in the chaos of parenthood. Without preset schedules or preconceived notions of what we were supposed to be doing we found a new rhythm to our days. As the trip concluded we made a promise to return to that magical country afraid to speak the truth of how it had saved us for fear of breaking the spell, yet both innately recognizing its significance.
We returned home a little kinder, softer and more compassionate and although the days of raising young children were still long and difficult we knew we had a place to return to which could always reset our love. After spending two more summers in Costa Rica we ventured on to Europe, realizing it wasn’t the destination itself that mattered but rather the people we were able to become when we stepped out of our comfort zones.
Each trip we became a little bolder, ventured a bit further and created memories that could be conjured up whenever we needed a reminder that our marriage was worth fighting for and that our family was worth whatever sacrifices we needed to make. Watching our children make friends in foreign countries, experience new cultures, cuisines and destinations transformed us in a way that we could never have had were it not for that first trip to Costa Rica.
If you are in that stage of your life when the dreams you once had seem destined to forever be disillusioned press your own reset button and take an unexpected adventure. I can promise that whichever destination you choose to be surrounded by the people you love and reminded of the immense beauty of our planet and each other, will give you the resilience to get through the rest of those long days.