Down This Long Distance Line Tonight

October 19, 2011

Of all the types of mother that I imagined I’d be – when, that is I did imagine being a mother, which was not all that often – I never imagined that I’d be an absentee mother.

I imagined that I’d work, of course – staying at home was nothing that I ever aspired to, which is why it was so surprising when I ended up doing exactly that, for a time – and I imagined that I’d travel and I imagined that I would, broadly speaking, have a life outside of motherhood. That was, in fact, a condition that I imposed on my future motherhood: I would be more than ‘just’ a mother. I would do things other than ‘mother.’ But even given the conditions and parameters that I placed upon my future motherhood, I always assumed that wherever I was as a mother, there I’d be. Putting my kids to bed and getting them dressed in the morning and hugging them and kissing them as often as I could. You know, mothering.

Which is what I did, mostly, for the first few years of my motherhood. I worked some, I stayed at home some, I worked from home some… but regardless of what I was doing, I was always there.

But now I’m not there. Or at least, I’m not often there. They’re not here. It’s a condition of sustained absence. And that feels weird. Wrong. If it weren’t for the existence of Skype and FaceTime and various photo-sharing applications, it would be intolerable. Sometimes it feels intolerable even with those things. My husband sends me many, many photos – daily – of Emilia and Jasper doing adorable things like jumping in puddles and dancing with umbrellas and, you know, being adorable, and every single time that I open one of thosephotos it’s like I’ve been stabbed in the heart with a sharp stick. My babies. SO FAR AWAY.

But that’s just me, at my end, fretting about whether or not to open the latest email from Kyle with an IMG tag. There’s also them, at the other end, only seeing their mother on tiny, tiny screens. And although I suppose that’s better than not seeing their mother at all, it sometimes feels, I don’t know, worse, maybe? The other night Kyle called Jasper over to his computer, to say goodnight to Mommy on Skype, and as he turned his laptop to capture the full view of Jasper’s tiny pajamaed form I heard a shout.


And then there he was, beflanneled arms crossed tightly across beflanneled chest, glaring in that furiously angry way that only three olds can glare, and my heart skipped, painfully, a beat, and then he was gone, stomping off, away from the computer and from Mommy, who is really just such an asshole for living in the computer instead of at home, and my heart not only skipped, but stopped, and thudded, and dropped.

And I wondered: what good is this technology for, anyway?

It is, of course, good – great – that we can connect across distances. It’s fantastic that we can get more than just voices echoing down wires, that we can see each other, that we can touch fingers to screens and blow kisses and imagine that we’re just on the other side of a window, not far at all. That when our hearts break, it’s not down long distance lines, but across pixelated screens, in full view, in HD even.

But still. They break. Is it really better that they break in high definition?


I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure at all.

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    Amanda October 19, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    My 7 year old daughter stroked my face tonight, in anticipation of me leaving for 48 tomorrow, and said, “I already miss you.” My three year old begged me not to go and my five year old said, “You’re really leaving us?” I swear I felt a sensation of milk letdown all over again.

    The missing in high-def? The seeing? I don’t know the answer to that, but I am grateful to my core that their words and faces touch me beyond the screen, that in the midst of all this noise and technology, no one has devised anything that can compare to syrup scented ringlet or a dimpled hand reaching for you.

    Her Bad Mother October 19, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Ah! You made me cry.

    In a good way :)

    Saisquoi October 19, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    It’s so very hard. And as I read this I think of a handful of stories…stories that involve Daddies rather than Mamas, but stories about hearts breaking and loneliness and families that are apart when they ought not to be.

    The first is my own Daddy–he missed my second birthday because he was in basic training for the US Air Force. According to the story, his unit was busted for something and all privileges for that evening were revoked. Dad was an older recruit (in his early-mid 20s rather than 18), but was in tears. The drill sergeant wanted to know what was wrong with him, and was told “It’s his daughter’s second birthday.” Apparently, even drill sergeants have hearts, and my father was allowed to call home and talk to me. Even with phones, though, when he came home a few weeks later, I didn’t recognize him and wouldn’t let him hold me or hug me for quite some time…which, I’m pretty sure was heartbreaking.

    My Dad was gone a lot during his military career: either on tour (he was in the Band), or at school in leadership programs which tended to last a good 6 weeks or so. He missed us and we missed him, but it was what it was. Looking back, I don’t remember being angry, but I do remember missing him, especially if he missed important things (opening night of the school play, the death of our dog, etc.).

    The second story is about my sister and brother-in-law…also a military family. They were both scheduled to be deployed to Iraq, but then my sister got pregnant. So, her husband went and she stayed behind. Their daughter was born while he was overseas. His first glimpses of her were thanks to Skype. Heartbreaking? Of course. But all my own mother could say was how very, very lucky to have that–something she didn’t have when my father traveled, or when her father (also military) was gone on extended duty.

    So, the technology…yes. The heart still breaks. Because they are still THERE while you are HERE. And it is so very, VERY hard to be apart. But would it be better to be without the glimpses and the voices and even the scowl of an angry three-year-old at all?

    Elizabeth Esther October 19, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    When I was in Bolivia on a humanitarian trip, it was actually harder for me to see my 5 kids on Skype. It was better for me to go into a quiet room, close my eyes and conjure up my favorite memories of them. Sometimes I looked at their pictures on my iPhone. But talking to them on Skype was really difficult–almost made the aching worse. it was better just to hold off until i saw them again in real life. It made the waiting and the absence easier to bear–for all of us.

    Andrea October 20, 2011 at 6:51 am

    My heart goes out to you! It’s tough being away from your kids. Hugs are going out to you to get through it.

    Miss Britt October 20, 2011 at 8:12 am

    My daughter refuses to use technology of any kind when she’s missing someone. It’s like she knows it isn’t the same.

    Selena October 20, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Oh man. I’ve (we, really – the mister and I as we both travel for our business’) only just started struggling with this is what would seem such a minute way compared to you. You shall all be together again soon, this – is all for them as much as it is you. Jasper’s disappointment is really just his big-time love for his momma.

    Selena October 20, 2011 at 9:37 am

    But you know that. Knowing doesn’t make it much easier in the moment though, I bet.

    alison kramer October 20, 2011 at 10:32 am

    When i’m away i don’t call or skype with my kids. They know that if they want to talk to me that they can call any time, but i don’t call them.
    i find that kids (at least at the ages mine are) are just so in the moment. My call often interrupts whatever they were doing. And what they are doing has never been waiting for me to call. I stay in touch with whoever the grown up is watching them, so i always know what they are up to.
    With young children, i would say 6 and under depending on the child, the concept of time and when you are coming back is too abstract for them. They don’t get time and space, they just want you. now.
    i just feel like i am calling more for me, than them. i believe that they miss me a whole lot less when i don’t remind them I’m gone.
    On my last trip, my 9 year old called me on his own once and it was such a treat.

    Team Suzanne October 21, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I agree completely. At first, when I would travel for work, the calls to the kids would happen near bedtime, and it would really just upset them more than comfort them–and right at the end of their day (even worse). My husband and I quickly learned that whenever we travel, whoever is home just animates normalcy, doesn’t talk about when the other one is coming home, and just goes on about our business–living in the moment until one day–wham! Mom’s home! Yeah!

    And, honestly–I’m grateful for the chance to be competely without my kids and miss them. It takes distance to feel the gratitude. I’m prone to being ungrateful, and a few days alone usually snaps me out of that.

    But, this “clean break” approach works with absences of a week, give or take a few day. A longer absence may require a different approach–for kids AND for parents.

    SamiJoe October 20, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I find it much easier to just not talk to them until I get back from somewhere. Or I get weepy too. ;) We all have to find what works for us, and some days are harder than others.

    Redneck Mommy October 20, 2011 at 11:10 am

    I don’t Skype my kids when I’m away. The thought of seeing them, interfering with what they have going on, it’s just too brutal. But my kids call. Incessantly. And text. Oh my, the texting. Non stop. But my kids are older, and they know time is fleeting and it will only be moments again until I’m back.

    Now with my husband living away, we Skype some. But not a lot. Because he finds it hard. To see the moments he’s missing. We do nightly phone calls and they pester him with texts too, and it sustains them. I pull out the big guns (Skype) mostly now for when they are out of control and they need their father to terrorize them back into my good graces.

    Every person is different, every family is different. You just gotta do what you gotta do to make the heart less hurty. (And that sentence right there is why I’m not making the big bucks. Heh.)

    Lisa Solod October 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I remember leaving my son when he was 18 months to go off to a writer’s colony for three weeks, the first time I ever left him. Each time I left either of my children it hurt. And now that they have both left me (to go to college) it still hurts to be away from them, still hurts to say goodbye. It never ever ends.

    sweetney October 23, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Gaaaah. So hard. But you’re an awesome mom. And it will get easier soon. The distance and time apart will lessen and then evaporate. POOF. Hang in there. xoxo

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