Then and Now, Part III

[Go to Then and Now, Part I and Part II for the story thus far.]

four flowersWhen Roger met Libby, he was at a time in his life when he thought everything would simply keep rolling along until very old age dictated slower days. At 63, he was in decent health, happy with his work, his marriage, his children. Roger felt, in all aspects of his life, content.

Traveling as much as he did, he kept company with a few colleagues whom he called his “work family.” He saw his sons as often as possible—both now young men with their own lives—and made it home when he could spend more than just a couple of days, before having to head back out to wherever in the world the company sent him.

In the early years, before work had him traveling so much, he’d make the long commute into the city. Then with promotions came longer hours, and when those hours started to stretch into late evenings and begin again in the very early morning, he and Miriam decided to get a commuter studio in the city instead of continuing to fork out money on expensive hotel bills. By then Miriam had a successful career as a real estate broker and she simply could not abide throwing money away on anything that smacked of rent. Roger started spending only half the week at home, and the other half at work and the commuter studio.

Just at the time the boys reached their teens, the company presented Roger with a fantastic opportunity. It involved a lot of global travel, working on several projects at a time, which was a more frenetic pace than his current responsibilities had him running, but it was an exciting offer that signaled the company recognized Roger’s time had come for bigger things. The catch was that each assignment would be for several weeks at a time, possibly months, and he would need to be on-site for much of it.

Initially, the idea of Roger being gone so much and for such long periods of time made Roger and Miriam wonder what impact that would have on Jackson and Mitchell. They discussed the notion of the whole family moving with Roger to wherever in the world he would be assigned. “We’d live like gypsies!” Roger happily declared, which he thought a romantic idea. Miriam would take a leave from her job, they’d home school Jackson and Mitch, and in turn, the boys would get an  invaluable first-hand experience learning about different cultures and places around the world.

But as thrilling as it sounded, it quickly proved impractical, and, for that matter, something not everyone liked. When the idea of traveling with Roger was put to Jackson and Mitch, like all teens, they became very upset at the prospect of leaving their friends and put up a pretty ugly fight with their parents about it. Roger and Miriam then discovered there was no guarantee the boys would earn all the credits necessary to graduate high school if they were home-schooled. A GED is not the same as having a good GPA when it came time to apply to colleges.

Still, Roger and Miriam still tried to figure out how to make traveling with Roger work. Maybe Miriam and the boys would join Roger during summer and school breaks, or for just a semester instead of a whole year. The boys still resisted.

The more they discussed it, the more Miriam started to realize that, like her sons, she also would really miss her life at home. She had a close circle of friends, was doing very well in real estate and realized, now that she was forced to think about it, deeply cared about maintaining the life she had worked so diligently to call her own. She wouldn’t be able to maintain it if they were so often away traveling with Roger.

To further her doubts, the more she researched about what to expect when living abroad, the more she developed the fear of becoming an isolated housewife. According to what she read, the reality for a wife and kids living in different places around the world while a husband was busy with work was that of loneliness and almost total seclusion; of being constantly unfamiliar with day-to-day life in a strange place in ways that are far more complicated than that of the simple tourist.

Not willing to cop to her insecurities with Roger, she instead argued that, although he would receive a significant raise in salary, the cut in her income would mean they wouldn’t be much farther ahead. In fact, if she traveled as much as the company said Roger would be away, she might as well quit working altogether. Referrals are hard to come by as a realtor when you are not constantly working at it.

So the conversation turned, and they began to consider whether, in the long run, Roger’s long absences would actually be an issue. Roger suggested he might not even be missed, and he meant it, without even a hint of irony. Given the fact that the boys were now almost entirely independent souls, able to get themselves here and there without parental assistance, meant that both parents didn’t need to be available at all times for the day-to-day to work. And Miriam’s hours were just as long as Rogers at times. There had be several times they had been passing ships in the night, only seeing each other briefly late at night at bedtime for a few minutes of conversation before drifting off to sleep.

The decision was ultimately made that, one, Roger’s promotion was too good to refuse, and, two, it was probably best if Miriam and the boys stay put. And the more they talked about it, the more this solution seemed workable. After all, they concluded, they wouldn’t be the first family forced to live apart for long stretches of time.


 

During that first year when Roger was away, the entire family spoke on the phone at least every other day. But as one year rolled into the next, the daily phone calls turned into twice weekly calls, and then the occasional letter or postcard. With the advent of the internet, emails replaced letters, with only the occasional phone call, primarily from Roger with the quick announcement he was on his way home.

When Jackson and Mitch started college, Roger took to staying at the commuter studio almost exclusively when he was back, citing his desire to be able to see his kids, who were attending nearby universities, or because of very short turnaround times between assignments. Eventually he and Miriam only saw each other four or five times a year, and usually for just a week at a time.

Whenever anyone ventured to ask whether that put a strain on them, Roger would shrug. “It seems to work OK for us,” and he honestly believed it.

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