The Long-Distance Family

My boys, my two big teenagers, are home! I drove the long drive to pick them up, hugged them, laughed when they called me “Dad-Mom” for the millionth time, piled their suitcases, computer, pillows, books, movies, Xbox 360, and two bicycles and helmets into my small SUV, and drove back home. Whew. This was their eighth summer in LA.

Last year when they returned, I wrote about my anxiety concerning the long-term effects that this going-back-and-forth arrangement might have on them. I can’t help thinking about that. But then I realized that what we do is far better than the alternative – not spending time with their father. It’s not an easy situation, and we do the best we can with it. But this year I didn’t really dwell on that too much. This year, this pick-up, was all about reminiscing.

I remembered the first time we did the 700-Mile Kid Swap, nearly eight years ago. Nigel was seven and Aidan was five. It was for less than a week that first time, for a winter visit. I remember how we transferred all of their stuff out of my car into their dad’s car, hugged goodbye, and drove off in opposite directions. They got in the southbound lane to LA, and I got in the northbound lane to Oregon. I remember crying on the onramp as I realized that this would be the first of many times that I would drive home without my children. And they were so little.

That first summer, when Aidan turned six and Nigel was not yet eight, they were gone for six weeks, and I went to visit them at the three-week point. I think Nigel thought that I had come to take him back with me, and he cried when I said goodbye after the weekend visit, actually said “All done LA,” at a time when his speech was so limited. Broke. My. Heart. And then when they did come back to Oregon, Aidan had such a hard time transitioning and readjusting that he lashed out at me and told me he didn’t want to live with me anymore. I had thought we might go through that when he was a little older, but not at six. It took him a month to work through it. Broke. My. Heart.

So it’s been hard – on all of us. And though we still miss each other when we’re apart, we’ve come a long way in dealing with our reality. We all have hard parts of our lives – autism, divorce, money or health issues – and we do the best we can with them. That’s all we can do. We have to work with what is. And I think that, over the years, my boys and I have done pretty well with our “what is.” We might feel, as Aidan said at age seven, like we have two lives, but we’ve learned how to blend them seamlessly. We’ve adapted. And we’ve thrived.

It may not be what I would have wished for or expected when I started my family, but that’s okay. It may not be ideal, but we’ve made it work for us, and I’m rather proud of that. We’re, like, pros in the long-distance family department. We have absolutely no transitioning problems now. And I only got called “Dad-Mom” twice!

22 thoughts on “The Long-Distance Family

  1. CorrieHowe

    Wow! Thanks for sharing! I’m glad it has gotten easier over the years. I can’t even imagine what your car must look like. I know how much we pack for a week long family vacation when our family is still all together!

  2. Paulene Angela

    I use Skype.com video conferencing with some close friends and family in the UK, my son’s speech is limited, although his understanding fine. So the visual aid is really helpful.

    Nevertheless it always makes a tug on my heart that we do not live closer and miss sharing these important years, more so for my son.

  3. nicki

    I think its pretty cool that you go to visit them halfway through their visit with their dad. It may have confused them a little when they were small and thought you were there to get them, but in the long run it probably taught them that you are all still a family (you, their dad, and them) even when you’re not together.

  4. dynamite girl

    What a graceful post on the reality that life choices are not always easy. I do my best even if my best is not ideal, thank you for reminding me that my best is good enough. Glad the boys are home!

  5. rhemashope

    Yes, so glad you have your boys home! I know that you’ve probably had to insert a lot of grace into this whole process over the years, and it has paid off. What a special family.

  6. kyra

    i’m so impressed with you all, with your willingness to hang in there, persevere. you express such a sincere and sacred feeling of family and love, and show that it can be brought to any situation, even when it doesn’t look the way we imagined it.

  7. babs

    I did this for years with my first family, and while it didn’t get easier being without my girls, I made a concerted effort, as you certainly did this summer, to fill that time with useful activities and allowed myself to recharge so I could be better for them when they came back. 🙂 And I’m not at all tired of your Nepalese reminiscences!! (Still jealous, though!!)

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  9. Alicia

    Im picking up my daughter (CB) tomorrow after her 3 week long vacation with her father 2 states north from me. i miss her so much! It’s the longest ive been without her, but this is what we’ve been doing for 8 years – every august after her summer program ends. youre right – its not what i thought it would be like when starting a family, but nothing in life has really worked out the way i thought it would. but ya know? despite the challenges, its worked out MUCH better than i ever dreamed :).

  10. Courtney

    When I was little, my mom moved to NY, and my sister and I shuttled back and forth between NY and CA. This post was so moving. Would you believe that all these years later, I’ve never thought about what it felt like to my parents. Thanks for this.

  11. Bonnie Sayers

    My family is all in NJ and I moved out to CA, but we ceased communicating long ago. The kids father helped out this summer due to the camp cancelling and for the month of August he came each morning while I went to the gym. Today was the last day as tomorrow Matt starts school. Now back to regular Sat visits.

    Glad to read the visits have worked out so well over these past eight yrs.

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  13. Aradia

    I’ve noticed (who can help it?) that the already high divorce rate seems to skyrocket even higher among families where one or more children has autism. Do men just cut and run when things get rough? I hate to think that but it seems like the woman champions and protects the child while the man can’t handle the stress and decides to split.
    I’ve been married for twenty-six years. It’s the first marriage for both of us. We married young — right out of college — and we had many challenges but we stayed the course. My hubby’s parents were divorced when he was in his senior year in boarding school and it really messed him up. I can still see the painful effect it had on him all these years later.
    I’m not condemning anyone who chooses to divorce; it’s not an easy choice, but it makes me so sad for the children not to have that stability and sense of security that comes from living in the same house as both parents.

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