The men in my life have always left me. Not for good, mind you, and not because they didn't love me.
It started with my father, whose job took him far and wide, reducing our early relationship to a collection of postcards, foreign coins and souvenir dolls from just about every airport on the globe.
I still remember his postcards to me, his youngest, that began "Dear Tory, I hope you're taking care of everything for me . . . " They always ended "XO, D.O.D." . . . hugs and kisses from Dear Old Dad.
Work is work and Dad had a job to do. And so, you might have thought when it was time for me to marry, I might have chosen a homebody for my life mate -- the kind of guy whose wanderlust never takes him much farther than his own back yard, who would rather stay in than go out, the kind of guy who would just plain be there.
A therapist once told me that, to some degree, women marry their fathers. They want a "do-over," a chance to get it right.
I can tell you my husband and my father both are quick with a joke, possess a razor-sharp intelligence, and both adore me completely. And, like my dad, my husband leaves me. When we started out, he worked in the restaurant business. It meant that he worked while others played, spending his days in his office and his nights in the restaurants.
And even though his switch to a less intense area of the food-service industry has certainly meant more overall time at home with the family, it has added some weekday travel. Although this may sound lonely, I am not at all alone.
That is particularly true in a town like Washington, where there are "job widows" all around us -- men, women, straight, gay.
And, even though their partners leave, they stay.
A Housewife Without The Chores The restaurant business leaves a lot of widows in its wake.
And, if your partner is Nora Pouillon, founding chef of Washington's famed Restaurant Nora and Asia Nora, you can imagine it might be tough to have her home for dinner. "We really have reverse roles,"says Steven Damato, Pouillon's partner in business and in life, and the father of the couple's two daughters, Nina, 14 and Nadia, 11.
"I'm the one who takes the kids to the doctor, the dentist, to school, talks to their teachers, helps with homework, hassles them about music lessons."
To lighten the load, the family has household help, which is why Damato characterizes himself as a "housewife without the chores." Damato and their two daughters actually are Pouillon's second family; her two sons from her first marriage are in their thirties now. When she and Damato got together the boys were 8 and 6, and when Damato told her he'd like to have a "second set," Pouillon was up front about who would need to be the one to raise them.
"I like being mommy; I even get Mother's Day presents," Damato says.
"The kids are my focus; I enjoy my job, but not as much as I enjoy what I do at home." Perhaps it's the couple's ability to recognize individual strengths and weaknesses, and to define roles accordingly that makes this family work.
"Nora is more ambitious, she likes the restaurant, and saving the world through her causes -- when I get home from the restaurant, I don't want to talk about it. Nora wants to talk about it 24 hours a day."
As for the children, they take their cue from their parents. The family sometimes has dinner together at the restaurant during the week, and they spend Saturday during the day and all day Sunday together, when rugged family outings and garden parties fill the schedule. Damato believes that people need to be flexible in their definition of family.
"We have a nice life. Our kids are happy because they have security and consistency in their lives. They don't [spend their time] missing their mother, because they know she loves them, and they know when they can connect with her and do the girl stuff." And as for Damato -- he's lobbying for a third child.
"I Just Did It" The television news business rivals the restaurant business in terms of time away from home.
Linda Foreman, who recently moved to Bethesda from Denver, has been up close and personal with the travels of a newsman -- her husband Tom was a correspondent for "ABC World News Tonight" and "Nightline."
"I had good training, because my dad was a pilot for United Airlines, and he would often get called away at the last minute," Foreman recalls.
She doesn't remember her own mother complaining, and so, neither did she. "I just did it. Whenever he was home, we'd seize the moment," Foreman says.
She pretty much got over being uptight about having to go to parties or school events on her own. And even though she knew she had to make a life for herself and her two daughters, she was flexible about keeping herself available in case her husband made it home.
Some people were understanding of her situation, others weren't. "Couple friendships were hard to develop, because we never knew when he was going to be around, or if there would have to be a last-minute cancellation." Even with the unpredictable schedule, Tom Foreman never missed a birthday, although Linda admits to rescheduling one party.
Also, she says that the network always tried to get people home for the holidays. Still, Foreman remembers taking her daughter, Ronnie, to the airport once to meet Tom, and as she sent the little girl rushing into his arms, Linda commented, "Look who came to visit!" Moments like this, coupled with the knowledge that eventually Tom was sure to miss a birthday, prompted the family to re-think their situation. "We made a conscious decision to make a change to a more predictable lifestyle," Linda says.
Tom Foreman has left the correspondent's life for a job with National Geographic Today.
He's home in the evenings -- and now when his girls run to see him, it's usually just down the hall to the front door.
Who's Mommy? For Mona Scott and Leeanne Smith of Silver Spring, defining roles in their relationship, at least according to society's precedent, takes on an added degree of difficulty. In other words, when you're both women, who's Mommy?
The short answer is, they both are, since Smith is the legal adoptive mother of their 5-year-old daughter, although it's Scott who spends the most time with her, since Smith's job as an environmental scientist takes her on the road quite a bit. Full disclosure is what makes the arrangement work.
"I knew going into this adoption I would be the primary caregiver, " Scott says. "I knew what I was getting into, and what I wanted, so I didn't have any resentment." It also helps that Scott knows her partner to be a true homebody, someone who would definitely rather be at home.
When Scott and her daughter are home making Valentine's cards, and Smith calls to check in, the wistfulness in Smith's voice when she says "I wish I was there" is real. Scott also admits to the positive aspects of having a traveling partner.
"If she's not gone for too long, say, about three days, it's all right. We have different personal rhythms, so when she's away, I can just have pizza for dinner, or stay up late -- I enjoy that break in the routine."
What's On The Menu? Mona Scott isn't the only one with the pizza delivery number on speed dial -- the solution to dinner while partners are away came up again and again.
Heidi Bumpers of Cabin John says she switches to "cruise food" when her husband, Bill, is out of town. "The term comes from what wives cooked for their families when their Navy husbands were away on cruises."
Bumpers thinks of it as foods that help her cruise through meals.
"Scrambled eggs, macaroni and cheese, or anything else that can be fixed fast with little clean-up -- I have a whole list of 'dump and serve' cruise food recipes. I'm thinking of writing a cookbook called 'The 60-Second Gourmet.' "
New Yorker Trish Peters remembers her and her four siblings' own excitement when they clamored to tell their traveling salesman dad they had "pancakes for dinner" when he was away. He'd receive this news as he was showing his wife the menus from the places he'd eaten on his trip.
"I think [the contrast] made my dad realize how difficult it was for my mom to care for five kids, help with homework, keep the house clean and prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner on a daily basis," says Peters.
Gretchen Pritchett of Nashville sounds the rallying cry of "All right, Cheerios for dinner!" in response to queries of her husband's business travels.
Pritchett knew what she was getting into: The couple met on a plane when they were both on business trips, and continued a long-distance romance while meeting in different cities.
Timing Is Everything When is the ultimate time for your husband to be in Kosovo for three weeks? Well, according to working Bethesda mom and mother of two Dede Graves, it's not when the kids are on school vacation, or when one of them is sick, or when a wedding must be attended solo.
"Timing and the availability of a support system is everything," says Graves. "The keys are for the travel not to be constant, and for it not to occur during vacations, and hopefully not for longer than a week or so. But a little break three or four times a year can actually be a little boost for everyone."
Graves was feeling pretty good recently, even though her husband, Peter, was getting ready to head overseas for two weeks. Maybe it was because she had all of her solo parenting ducks in a row.
"The kids will be in school, I [currently] have full-time child care, we live in a great neighborhood with an active support system of friends and neighbors, and I have even planned for a surprise visit from an out-of-town friend to distract us. The travel will actually be a lot harder on Peter than it will be on the rest of us."
Graves has no problem getting her own needs met. "I'll get to catch up on all the 'girl movie' videos Peter wouldn't want to watch, snag a guiltless movie or dinner with girlfriends, even get a manicure or pedicure," she says. "I make sure to pamper myself in exchange for single-parent duty."
Graves also credits the couple's independence as a reason why their arrangement works. "I'm not sure if it's because we got married in our thirties -- we were quite happy with our single lives. Neither of us is bereft without the other. In fact, we find that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and even makes for some very romantic reunions."
Getting Help When You Need It So, what do the professionals have to say about all this? Mary Dluhy, a Washington, D.C., and Alexandria-based psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker, offered some advice. "Travel can be devastating to a marriage if the couple is not paying attention and actively working on [the relationship]," she says.
Most important, she advises couples to accept the reality of the situation. "Face what you've got -- own it and acknowledge it, and don't spend time wishing for something else."
She notes that this can be difficult in toxic relationships built around fighting and blame.
Next, she says, couples and families need to figure out what they are going to do together, whether it's date night for mom and dad or quality time for the whole family.
"Figure out what joint activity you like to do together, and commit to doing it."
Perhaps most crucial of all, Dluhy says, is sharing your "secret thoughts" with your partner or spouse.
"You must work through whatever hurts, slights or bad feelings you have toward the other person," she says. "If one of you is harboring a secret resentment that they're afraid to share because they don't want to fight or they're afraid of being left, then this must be worked on in therapy. We have to get to those unspoken thoughts in order to find a solution. As long as that long-standing, unspoken material is in the way, the couple will live parallel lives instead of living together."