It’s school vacation, and I’m away with the kids skiing, having a blast, hanging with friends from breakfast until we all collapse at night. My wife wanted to come, planned to, but stayed behind because of work.
Of course, she misses us; the house seems empty. So she wants to feel part of our trip, connected to the girls and their experiences. But what must I do to make her feel connected to her distant clan?
Technology offers so many ways for us to reach out to far away mom. With photos, videos, texts, e-mails, I could bombard her with constant updates. “Going to breakfast,” I could tweet. “Eating breakfast. Good eggs.” (Attach photo of eggs.) “Done with breakfast.” (Send video of daughters brushing teeth.)
I could keep this up all day — except I’d go crazy and wouldn’t enjoy my vacation. I probably would document the wrong moment, something uninteresting or not meaningful to my wife. My kids would get sick of me and my intrusions. Sure, I miss the woman, but this is my time off. Is one phone call enough? One e-mail — a longish one? One e-mail, two texts and a photo? What’s the etiquette these days?
When the girls were little and one of us was away, it felt important to call each day. We assumed that regular contact made them understand that we were still thinking about them even when physically absent. It seemed essential to raising psychologically well-adjusted children.
The first time my wife was away for more than a week, we jumped through hoops to do the right thing. Of course, she’d call, but we worked hard to make her feel involved in the home life, faxing her newsletters that I made with the kids and e-mailing photos.
At some point, the kids got old enough to understand that people go away and then they come back, at which point, this contact became more for my wife than the kids. There may well be a gender thing here: moms feel guilty being away and harbor secret fears that they’re not needed. How much effort should my girls and I expend protecting that motherly ego?
For my kids, when a parent is absent, their lives go on. At home, there is still school, gymnastics, piano, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today, they will suit up and take death-defying runs in a herd of daring, delighted kids swooping down the mountain. Even though I’m here, my importance only comes from the cash in my wallet and my ability to find missing glove liners. My wife, well, they’ll remember her at some point, maybe on the way home.
This is good. Not that they ignore their parents, but that they don’t need us constantly anymore. It’s not that they don’t miss mom, just that as teenagers they are in the moment, and when parents aren’t present, well, the moment goes on.
My daughters will be happy to see mom when we return. They’ll enjoy telling her about the trip, the wild falls, the movies they watched, the games they played, maybe even the eggs. Right now, they’re here and mom’s in Brooklyn — and that’s all right.