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The camping trip was the key that opened the door for two more family vacations since then.

We went to Las Vegas for our son’s football tournament last year. We split the cost of the car rental, gas and food while my ex paid for the room. It was great for us to both be there when Jay’s team won the championship trophy, as opposed to Jay having to share the experience with the absent parent over a cell phone.

This past spring break, we planned an even bigger outing: a 12-hour road trip up to the Utah cabin we had bought during our marriage. Admittedly, I had some anxiety over this vacation. Twelve hours on the road plus five nights together was a big commitment. I also needed to process the family memories made there, which I expected to hit me the second I walked through the door. Canceling crossed my mind once or twice.

My ex picked us up at 4 a.m., and it was like crawling into a time machine when I got into his truck. We sang. We ate. We chatted. We laughed. All those things families do on road trips. And it was no surprise that he would get sleepy right after passing Vegas; for all of the 13 years we had made this drive, I would wind up with the leg from Vegas into Utah. It’s a narrow and windy four-lane road through the mountains and along the Virgin River.

On cue, just before the road narrows, I grip the steering wheel a bit tighter. Every few minutes, I remind myself to take a deep breath and slowly release it. I also habitually glance in the rear-view mirror and at my passengers, ensuring all is OK. I continue to keep my focus on the road ahead. Once I’m out of the canyon, the road widens and I am filled with a mix of relief and pride.