Visiting our Fantastic Children in Mon-ten-e-gro!
The plan was for my husband and me to visit Belgrade, Serbia together. He was nine-months clean and we were excited to visit his youngest daughter at her first international internship at University of Belgrade in summer 2016.
Then I returned from a trip to New Orleans with my biological children in April; a trip to celebrate milestones in their young adult lives. He was supposed to go too; knew how much I counted on the four of us traveling together to help heal still-raw wounds suffered from his last relapse. But two days before we left for The Big Easy, he suddenly fell ill and said he couldn’t travel. The day we returned to Cleveland, flush from adventures we eagerly shared, I discovered the bag of syringes, skin-toned make-up, and baggie of brown rock he hadn’t even bothered to hide. “Yes,” he admitted glumly. “I’m using again. But I’ll stop.”
The numb nod of my head as my brain flipped to autopilot. “You know what you need to do.” The despair in his eyes as he dutifully packed a few things and left.
I never considered not going to visit Anne. After all, my husband and I had traveled with all of our children and stepchildren every summer while they were growing up. Since they started interning and working, we’ve made it a point to visit them in every location they’ve stayed. It’s true Belgrade would be the furthest, priciest kid zone yet, and this time, I was in the midst of selling the house, most of my possessions, while job searching and hammering out a legal separation, so the timing wasn’t great.
Or was it?
For once it was Anne and me alone time. She suggested itineraries for me while she worked in Belgrade, and created a Google spreadsheet for us to plan our big side trip to a bordering country. But which one? It was her discussion with Serbian locals that informed her request for us to visit Montenegro, and when I saw the options on the Google spreadsheet, I was all in.
For the first time, I was interacting with my youngest stepdaughter as an equal, not as a responsibility. She suggested taking the overnight bus to Montenegro, and right after we arrived at our Air B&B in Kotor and heard about the unreliable buses, I decided to rent a car.
Our first outing, to the Njegos Mausoleum perched on a mountain in Lovcen National Park, was up a narrow switchback road with 25 hairpin turns. As I began the trek, re-acclimating myself after a 15-year absence of driving stick, stalling out twice in bumper-to bumper traffic in Kotor, Anne immediately assumed the role of navigator and cheerleader. When I drove for three hours north for a white water rafting trip on the Tara River, she was the one who discovered someone else had booked our Kotor room for the evening. She found an alternative online in Risa, with a sea view, and snagged it on the late afternoon drive back.
By this time, Anne was singing the word Mon-ten-e-gro! every time a new challenge presented itself. On the bus ride from Belgrade to Kotor, she had to pay 50 Serbian dinar to use a Turkish bathroom? Mon-ten-e-gro! The road from Njegos Mausoleum to Cetinje, the only road to get to our next stop, was closed for the next three hours for a car race? Mon-ten-e-gro! We treked at least a kilometer down a previously two-way seaside road that had morphed into a one-way, and I was driving the wrong way? Mon-ten-e-gro! The Air B&B Anne found for us in Risan had a killer view from the veranda, but our room was a closet with a mildewed bathroom. Mon-ten-e-gro!
I had wondered if it would seem strange to either of us that I was there and her father wasn’t. But it didn’t. We didn’t talk much about him. Heavy thinking wasn’t what this trip was about. It was about cementing my relationship with a remarkable 21-year-old whom I’ve helped raise since she was five-years-old. It was about letting her know that I’m family, for now and always, no matter what happens with her father. It was about two capable women planning our way in an uncertain world, embracing every aspect of our special adventure.
Because we both know by now that we can’t control the world around us, only our reactions to it. (God, grant me the serenity…) We have given ourselves the freedom to lead our own lives without becoming swallowed up by the addiction of a man we both love. And while we are both there for dad/husband while he tries to straighten himself out, we will not let his addiction define us.
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