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Career Casualties: The Cost of Traveling Parents

The call came in the summer of 2004. My husband, Jake, and I were enjoying a well deserved vacation. Sitting seaside, I peacefully gazed at our four month old son, Ben, cozily nestled in my arms.

He was the baby I had yearned for my entire life. After two miscarriages and a stressful pregnancy, here he was. For the first time, I felt pure joy.

Jake’s ringing cell phone momentarily drowned out the sound of waves crashing on the beach. Mesmerized by the crisp salty air, I faintly heard Jake agitatedly utter, “What?” I glanced up as he stepped inside.

I was fixated on the ocean mist when Jake reappeared. He stood behind me declaring, “The company folded.” Instantly, those three words changed the course of our marriage.

Suddenly our income was annihilated. We were already down one salary due to my extended maternity leave. Now we would be losing our primary source of revenue. Serenity was quickly replaced with uncertainty and panic.

Five years earlier, a friend introduced me to Jake while he was upstate recovering from an accident. At the time, his career was centered in New York City, overseeing ornamental ironwork projects on the City’s largest bridges.

Luckily, Jake’s affection for me soon outweighed his love for bridges. He abandoned New York and found a management position locally. We married, bought our first home, and hoped for a family.

When we returned from vacation, Jake immediately began pursuing professional opportunities, exhausting all territorial leads without success. Regional jobs were scarce in the steel industry.

My heart filled with dread as the statement spilled from Jake’s lips, “I think we should consider jobs in the City.” Jake was highly respected, with a stellar reputation. Logistically, securing employment in NYC wouldn’t be difficult. Navigating the emotional turmoil an offer would generate was more problematic.

Concerned about our dwindling savings, I agreed to the possibility. Jake quickly received a proposal. We debated arguments for and against, reflected on the expected challenges, and cried envisioning the impact of long distance parenting on Ben.

With my approval, Jake accepted the offer. Our agreement was that he would continue to look for employment locally. The promise was that Jake would be home permanently by the time Ben began kindergarten.

Eleven years have elapsed. We have been blessed with two more sons. Jake’s affinity for the bright lights of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges has returned. This affection, coupled with his ingrained ideology that man is provider, impedes our intentions of 2004. Sometimes agreements aren’t fulfilled and promises are broken.

As adults, Jake and I have adapted to the weekly commute and irregular lifestyle. Our children have acclimated, weathering the disappointment of missed concerts, plays, and sporting competitions with grace.

But each struggle uniquely and individually. Ben and Jake share the same juvenile sense of humor. Ben’s loss can be felt in the evenings, when his favorite comedies are on. He glances at Jake’s empty chair absentmindedly, perhaps hopefully, prepared to share a laugh with his dad. Ben misses Jake’s daily physical presence, their wrestling matches and quiet cuddles before bed.

Peter is introspective, practical, and sensitive. His deprivation is felt during homework, class projects, and school events. Of our three boys, Peter is the most conscious of his peers. He watches friends interacting with their fathers with envy, mourning the paternal friendship he feels entitled to. He yearns for a deeper relationship with Jake, for his dad to have a deeper understanding of his dreams and ambitions.

Jake’s absence has had the most visible impact on our youngest son. Josh is emotional, creative, and nurturing. He loves acting, drawing, and painting. Josh’s concern for other children, belies his age. In kindergarten, he received three commendations for demonstrating compassion, after instinctively befriending and assisting his differently-abled classmates.

Sensitivity and creativity don’t come naturally to Jake. His boisterous approach with the older boys hasn’t been successful with Josh. Their differing interests have shaped a divide between them.

The distance has promoted awkwardness and hampers their relationship. Neither can see the ramifications of their mutual indifference. Josh because he’s 7. Jake because he takes Josh’s attitude personally.

Josh feels deprived of the fatherhood he should have. He lashes out physically during the recreational time he shares with Jake. He aches for acceptance, but doesn’t know how to articulate it.

Jake expresses anger and impatience at Josh’s belligerence, failing to recognize the origin of either of their feelings. To do so would mean facing the casualties of Jake’s career, addressing the realities of what our family has forfeited.

There are glimmers of hope. I have seen moments of spontaneous and unadulterated affection between Jake and Josh. It is clear that they love one another. But, attempting to strengthen their bond, while quelling Josh’s aggression is laborious.

As a mother, I am charged with teaching and nurturing my children. I embrace these responsibilities unconditionally. Feeling obligated to parent a spouse feels awkward and unnatural. How can I bridge this gap without showing favoritism to my son or demeaning my husband?

I’m navigating this terrain gently. My focus as a parent is to reign in Josh’s behavior. As a wife, I have encouraged Jake to find a common interest with Josh. My hope is that meaningful interactions between father and son will turn the tide of their relationship.

The influence of a father in a son’s life is indisputable. I want Jake to have a positive relationship with all of our sons. He does too. However, staying connected while commuting has been challenging.

Sometimes in the serenity of the night I hear Jake’s words again, “I think we should consider jobs in the City.” As I peacefully gaze upon my precious boys as they slumber, I envision how different our lives would be if I hadn’t consented.

Childhood is fleeting. My hope is that one day when Ben, Peter, and Josh reflect on theirs it’s happily, remembering the quality of the time spent with their father and not the quantity.

Back to the Future: Failure or Fortune?

Hidden beneath the covers in the dark of night, I often troll social media sites seeking comic relief. There is something cathartic about seeing images of giggling babies and dancing grandmas traipsing across the screen. Temporarily I’m transported to a different setting, leaving the tension of the day behind.

During my last virtual adventure, scrolling through Facebook, I came upon a post seeking parents willing to participate in a community forum via personal web site. I remembered the blog I had abandoned long ago. Would I be able to track down my forgotten words of wisdom? If the adage is true, nothing is lost on the Internet.

Finding the blog was exciting, like discovering an old diary in the attic. Hastily, four years had passed, seemingly in the blink of an eye. I wistfully reviewed the historical entries. Yesteryear had proven how dramatically my world has transformed.

My Title Is Parent originated as a means to promote my foray into entrepreneurship. After years of research and development over countless sleepless nights, I had finally launched a visual schedule business.

It was 2011 and like much of America, I was enthralled with the final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Episodes were filled with success stories and philosophical guests espousing William Arthur Ward’s sentiments, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.” The shows were inspiring and discussed topics about vision boards, hopes, and dreams.

Visual Schedules was guaranteed to be an overnight success. I was prepared for the financial windfall. I envisioned summers at our new lake house and school breaks lounging by the fire in a mountainside villa. Surely, the universe would give credit for the effort and passion that were dedicated to the venture. Differently-abled families would benefit from the colorful, customized, magnetic agendas. My son had.

Feverishly, I tried to find prospective clients through social media, community events, and press releases. I quickly learned that promoting a business takes as much time and capital as developing one.

Most of the development phase was done in the wee hours of the morning, dressed in pajamas from my home office, while my children were peacefully slumbering. Marketing in a nightgown is much more difficult. It requires persistent networking and personal appearances. It was exhausting and funding set aside for advertising quickly evaporated.

It quickly became apparent that being a momtrepreneur took more than vision and dreams. Overseeing a corporation while concurrently juggling the demands of three young sons and a job was daunting.

Orders trickled in, from as far away as Australia. But customization and worldwide shipping rates gobbled up the modest profit per order. Earnings sustained the business, but didn’t begin to dent the invoices and financial burdens of the initial investment. More disconcerting than the business’ fiscal constraints was the time taken away from my children. Visual Schedules was intended to replace my career, not become a second one. The hope was that it would enhance our lives, allow me to work from home, and spend more time with my children, not less.

After a valiant three year effort, I made the difficult decision to dissolve Visual Schedules. My plea to Shark Tank went unanswered and a promotional opportunity arose at my place of employment.

Failure? Some may think so. I no longer envision a lake house in my immediate future. But I developed and founded an international corporation, serving as president and chief executive officer. More importantly, my visual schedules helped make the lives of numerous families affected by autism spectrum disorders a little easier. I don’t consider that defeat.

Now my life is transported back to the future. Back to 9 to 5. Back to My Title Is Parent. My sons are now eleven, nine, and seven-years-old. Much has changed, although my devotion to my children has not. In hindsight, it’s glaring how different career, motherhood, and autism look in this advanced purview.

What experiences does life have in store for us? How will I feel when I look back at our familial history in 2019? Join me on our journey and we’ll find out together.

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