In 2012, not even a full year after my husband and I had exchanged wedding vows, we took our family on a holiday of a lifetime to Zimbabwe. We have five children between us. He has twin girls, who were then 15 years old, and I have three children. I have two daughters and my last born is a son, who were 22, 20 and 11 years old respectively. We spent five days on this amazing houseboat, where we cruised to different islands on Lake Kariba. It was quite a luxurious experience and we thought that if we gave them this amazing experience, it would bring much joy and connectedness to our lives. Well, anyone who’s ever had to ‘blend’ families together, knows that a holiday in such close quarters, on a lake where no one can get off, for fear of being killed, literally, by crocodiles and hippopotami, understands that we actually set ourselves up for failure – or did we?
It started off well, with all the children getting along and we all, for the most part enjoyed the gentle ride on the boat. We had a crew that prepared brunch and dinner for us each day, so that took quite a load off of me. There was also never any cleaning up to do. It was simplistic, luxury and total bliss, at least where that was concerned. But day after day, playing cards on the deck, spotting animals as we passed islands, the forced interactions began to take their toll. My husband and I weren’t able to really have time to just ‘be’ without the kids. There wasn’t very much privacy, and I need my time away from people (and yes, that even includes my family), in order to recharge my introverted self. It took me about two days before I could sense myself begin to relax. We did eventually settle into some sort of rhythm that felt semi-normal, and where I could, perhaps not stop over-thinking each comment or gesture entirely, but at least begin to let things go and not take each perceived jibe, personally.
The evenings were spent mostly on the deck, with a drink in hand, perhaps a Margarita or a beer, and we drank in the incomparable sunsets and the stillness. Nature started to transmute her joy into our own experience. In time, we began to spend time just chatting and taking in the magnificent sights. I became aware of a deep, inner joy within myself, a profound knowing that no matter how far we still had to go, we would get there. We were going to be that step-family that makes it, that thrives regardless the challenges.
We had many experiences that we’d never before had. Our children attempted to fish for bream and tiger fish off the tender boat. Our captain took us out daily and our brood got better and better. My hubby and I joined in and these shared experiences were filled with a sense of accomplishment. My children hadn’t really had the opportunity of fishing before and I hadn’t fished since I was a child. The sheer elation of actually catching anything, regardless how small, was stimulating. We participated in friendly competition with each other. None of us ever caught a tiger fish, but the chef did prepare the bream for us on our second last night, as a crumbed, fried snack which we ate with our sun downer drinks that evening. Heavenly!
Each morning began with the captain starting our houseboat and moving us along the lake, to our next destination. Usually, by lunchtime, we would be at the new location and all the views would be different. Taking in all these glorious sights, was good for our souls – each one of us. Being able to be so close up with nature, her animals especially, was indeed sublime and surreal. We live in Africa. We’ve all seen wild animals, but never before were we so close to them that we felt we could reach out and touch them – and we truly could have done so, (to our detriment), but it was a possibility.
Experiencing all of this with our ‘new’ family, was special, but also, in the end, very necessary. At the start of our holiday, there was much trepidation, and to be fair, it was not all smooth sailing. We did have a serious fall-out between the twins and I, nearing the end of the holiday. But, at it’s core, this holiday set the stage for many beautiful experiences that followed. My husband and I, will share our 9th wedding anniversary this year. I cannot attribute it all to this early holiday, because each holiday since, has, in it’s own way, brought us ever closer as a family, but one things I understand more clearly now, is that shared experiences honestly contribute to shared joys. Are there shared sorrows too? You bet your life, there are. But what is life without risk? We have decided to continue to clock up many more shared experiences in our future too, because we know that it’s in sharing them, our relationships grow. This we also know, we might have come a good distance in cementing our family ties, but there is always room for improvement.