When I was 13 years-old, my mother and father separated. My father moved from our home in Matawan, NJ back to Staten Island, NY, leaving my mother, my two brothers and myself to live in our childhood home. As with most separations, my parents did their very best to retain normalcy within the family structure, despite the fact that the core of what myself and my brothers had grown up within was now gone. We still did the things that normal families did, only it was with one or the other parent.
Throughout most of the ’80s, the family summer tradition was to head south to Wildwood Crest, NJ for one week a year. We shared a group space within a motel, drank tons of no-frills soda, sunned at the beach by day and generally made the best effort we could to exist as a family and have fun. I like to think we did a pretty damn good job too. Even if funds were tight, my parents could throw us in the motel pool and leave three cans of RC Cola by the pool side. And this formula worked for our family unit of five. But by 1989, the unit had dwindled to three, leaving my mother, my brother and myself to take what would amount to our last vacation as a family unit in Wildwood, NJ.
My older brother, aged 20 at the time, was in no way going to be apart of a family vacation to the beach. This should be a given. He was growing up, worried about being perceived as cool and not about to jump into a 1986 Chrysler station wagon with his mom and two brothers. My father, as stated previously, wouldn’t be coming along as a by-product of the separation.
For all five of us, things were changing right before our eyes. At the time, I was 15. My older brother was 20 and my younger brother 13. We were not alike at all, but the combination of our ages; entering into, existing within and growing out of the teen-age years brought with it a certain degree of apathy and rebellion. Collectively, we all tried to not let the separation affect us. It wasn’t cool to care, an edict of teen-age suburbia that I’m sure only made the separation tougher on both of our parents.
And in the summer of 1989, my mother did what she could to hold onto the traditions of our former unit, booking a motel in Wildwood and driving the two-hour drive south. I don’t know if it was the same for other people whose parents separated, but something strange happened on the way to the divorce. Now, this might seem really petty, but you need to keep in mind that myself and my brothers are, at the time, hovering in and around the prime age when you start to realize that you need to define yourself through outward appearance, which will also undoubtedly be judged and misjudged by your friends and acquaintances. How does this tie into parental separation and divorce? Simple. Our parents became a lot more attentive to our needs as penniless consumers that wanted to look cool amongst our friends. They bought us cool shit. I know, it’s terribly petty. But there were some side benefits in retrospect. My parents became quite insightful into our evolving tastes as growing boys. They both separately knew: 1) where to buy Vision Street Wear and Life’s a Beach clothing, 2) why Vans and Reebok were better than Pro-Keds, and 3) where to find Led Zeppelin, They Might Be Giants, and Fugazi in the local record store. Not only were our parents becoming more cool and attentive; we were individually communicating better. I’ll break that down as another by-product of the divorce.
But I digress. My mother, my brother and my on a week-long vacation in Wildwood. I remember the feeling vividly. It just wasn’t the same. Not because my father and older brother weren’t there, but because we were all changing. All five of us had become more independent outside of the family unit we had created years earlier in Wildwood. And returning to the same motel and swimming in the same pool was not going to recreate what we once were. But not for the lack of trying. We took in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, played miniature golf and paraded around the boardwalk at night. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the same. I only wanted to return home, not wishing to confront the memory of our family’s past, not wishing to confront the fact that our family was moving apart at a rate I couldn’t comprehend. I only wanted nothing to do with the changes.
What turned into the most difficult family vacation we had taken was also the last. And as the definition of our family unit changed, the traditions needed to follow. But we never made it that far. Outside of holidays, our family traditions died a slow death somewhere along the Garden State Parkway North in the late summer of 1989.
We’ve since moved apart even further, but I like to think that, for a few years in the mid ’80s at least, our family unit of five owned Wildwood Crest for one week each summer.