Mars, the kids, and I took a three-week family trip to Europe in summer of 2013. 5 countries, 7 cities, and 7 UNESCO world heritage sites in 21 days. It was an aggressive schedule.

Mars had originally planned to do this trip solo because he wanted to visit friends, some of whom he hadn’t seen in 20 years. Visiting these friends was the backbone of our itinerary and the reason the trip was scheduled as it was.

Cologne -> Munich -> Neuschwanstein Castle at the base of the Bavarian Alps -> Murren in the Swiss Alps -> Avignon & Cassis in southern France -> Paris -> London -> Stonehenge -> Bournemouth in southern England -> London

Our friends live in Cologne, Avignon, London, and Bournemouth.

The trip ended up being about a week too long. The kids were exhausted, homesick, and missed their friends. Mars and I were exhausted and stressed.

Things between Mars and I started to become tense in Paris. He set out on a rental bike one night after the kids were in bed to see Paris at night, saying he wasn’t going to be out long. Five hours later, at 2 in the morning, he returned. I was worried sick that he’d been hit by a car and killed with no way of finding out and was also up most of the entire night taking care of a sick child by myself. When he finally arrived, he tracked dog poop into the hotel room on the bottom of his shoe. That was the last straw and I completely lost it.

We missed our Eurostar to London the next morning and had to pay an extra $450 to re-book. He blamed me.

In London, he left the kids and I at the hotel one evening so he could meet a friend for a quick beer. I urged him to hurry and stressed the importance of being back at the hotel by 6:00, as it was close to dinnertime and we didn’t really have a proper lunch being that our daughter had a bit of a tummy bug. In other words, “Don’t be selfish. Think about your family.”

Did he hurry? No. At 6:45, I was pissed out of my mind and heading out the door for dinner with the kids when he and his friend showed up. Mars blamed his tardiness on his friend. His friend blamed himself, which made me even angrier. I couldn’t even. It was all too much. The travel. The exhaustion. The constant traipsing around between cities carrying heavy baggage. The cultural differences. Navigating menus with the picky eater kids. Not being respected or understood by my husband.

I shut down. I knew it was over with Mars. After three years in marriage counseling, it was finally over. Our marriage counselor warned us that this trip would be difficult. She was right.

I could barely look at him, let alone talk to him. On one of our last days in London, we took the kids to the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens. As I sat there on a rock watching the kids play on the wooden pirate ship (I sat under the tropical palm-like tree in the photo below), I noticed “the perfect family”.

Wooden pirate ship a la Peter Pan

A perfect young super-attractive British family. The mom was gorgeous, tan, and fit with long blonde wavy hair, a short white tennis skirt, and a yellow cable-knit sweater. The dad was model good-looking with brown hair, dimples, button-down shirt, and navy blue chinos. Their children, who looked to be about 8 and 10, were doppelgangers of their parents, very well-behaved, and polite. Unlike our kids, these kids did not fight.

The perfect parents did not have to yell at their perfect kids.

Our kids fought with each other, creating chaos. We had to yell at our kids. We were the loud, boorish Americans.

I observed the parents calmly discussing their dinner plans. What should they do? When should they leave? They quietly gave their kids a 10 minute time warning; their kids nodded approvingly. Their kids did not protest or throw a tantrum, like ours would.

Then, upon leaving, they had a calm discussion about who would ride with whom and who was going to pick up the take-out. They had apparently brought different cars to the park.

I was amazed and quite a bit jealous of this family. I couldn’t believe a family like this really existed. I thought marriages and families like this were just a myth. I thought they only existed in Disney!

What was I doing wrong?! I was not on speaking terms with my husband and my kids could not be trusted to play peacefully amongst themselves for even 2 minutes.

I returned to San Francisco solo with the kids while Mars stayed behind to attend some events with friends. I did not even say goodbye to him at the airport. I got on the plane knowing that when Mars returned home a few days later, we would be discussing a separation strategy.

When he returned home, I told him it was over. We needed to discuss finances, moving out, and moving on. We broke the news to our therapist. She told us to hold off on making such a rash decision, to decompress first and let the stress of the trip subside.

And then Mars told her that he’d noticed a family at Diana Memorial Playground that was doing everything right, highlighting everything wrong with us.

Yes, the same family. That family. He had been intently watching the same family I had. I mean, hell, they were hard to miss… but I never expected that he’d be the type to notice such a family. They were too perfect, too preppy. If anything, I thought he’d make fun of them or else completely ignore them. He’s very much in his own head most of the time.

I was blown away.

Rationally, I knew it was stupid to compare myself to anyone. You never know what’s going on in anyone’s life, after all. They might have broken up and recently gotten back together, in the “honeymoon phase”. They might simply be having an exceptionally good day.

Our therapist said the same thing. She said it was unlikely they were like that all the time, or even most of the time. That was comforting.

We took her advice and held off on separating. It was good advice, only because it’s not a good idea to make a hasty serious decision during stressful times. The outcome didn’t change, though.

We lasted another year before calling it off for good.