Some days, the idea of tearing my kids away from our laid-back life in Barcelona and dropping them into the chaotic sprawl of Los Angeles seems crazy. Why on earth would you take three perfectly happy boys away from their friends, their schools and everything they love about the city they were born in?
For us, uprooting the kids is the only way to keep the family together.
For the past few years my husband Fergus, a commercial film director, has traveled back and forth from the U.S. while I stayed in Spain with our boys, now 8, 11 and 14. As the European financial crisis lingers, there just hasn’t been enough work here to keep us going.
Overall, it’s been an OK arrangement. Fergus has been able to throw himself into intense periods of work without the distractions dreamt up by three extraordinarily active children. We miss him like crazy when he leaves, but the kids and I get busy with the school/work/sport routine and after a while it feels kind of normal.
We slowly drift apart and every time we are separated it take a little longer to come together.
Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but in some ways life is simpler when the husband is in the U.S. What I say goes, because the kids can't play Mom against Dad. The boys enjoy having my undivided attention. And when I have everyone relaxed and ready for bed, no one bursts through the door, announces it's time for over-the-top play fighting and then wonders why everyone is too overexcited to sleep. It’s an efficient version of family life.
That's not to say we don't miss him and want him home. We all get incredibly excited when he comes home—even if it does take some adjustment. I sometimes forget that my way of running the family isn't necessarily the only way. Just as Fergus needs reminding the family isn't as efficient, or obedient, as the sprawling production team that has been tending to his every need. And the kids need to remember to include their Dad in things again, and get used to TWO people telling them what to do. Then we all find a happy medium and he packs up and leaves again.
In any case, we realized we can't continue this way long-term. We are lucky enough to have a family we love and we need to live like one. The boys need their Dad. Sometimes my 8-year-old misses him so much he cries himself to sleep, clinging to the ragged, stuffed dog his Dad loved as a kid. They all try to be brave, but no one likes it when your dad misses your birthday, or the day you shot that impossible goal that clinched an all important match, or the school concert where you forgot all your lines but charmed your way out of trouble and stole the show. And of course no parent likes losing those fleeting, beautiful moments that make up a childhood.
Of course, it’s easier to stay in touch these days. We talk on FaceTime and WhatsApp. The boys hug the iPhone goodnight. We prop the iPad up against the water jug on the kitchen table so the family can have dinner together.
But, needless to say, it’s not the same. As the kids get busy they get used to an everyday life without their Dad. Times between calls grow longer and sometimes when he calls and we are rushing out the door, or in the middle of something, they just can’t talk. While Fergus understands, no one feels good about it. Then when the boys do want to tell their Dad something important, he’s sound asleep and the moment passes.
We slowly drift apart and every time we are separated it take a little longer to come together. I don’t want to reach the point where the rift is simply too wide.
The thought of the inevitable challenges (my kids) will face does, at times, break my heart.
And while I know many single parents do a brilliant job, I take my hat off to them because it’s no easy task. When I’m on my own I let the kids get away with things I probably wouldn’t if I knew someone was watching. That extra hour on the play station that turns into two while I get things under control in the house or finish some work. And I appreciate some backup with a 14-year-old who towers over me, especially as he takes on the man-of-the-house role as soon as his dad leaves, which isn’t fair in itself. In many ways, our oldest has grown up too fast. The parent/child lines blur and I remember, yet again, why the boys need their dad.
So now that we’ve decided we need to take the plunge and live together as a family, I try to ignore the moments when moving feels like a fast track to insanity. I’m focusing on the good days, when I can hardly wait to start a whole new way of life in one of the world’s most exciting cities. And this is the sentiment I’m trying to pass on to the boys.
I’ve read the studies about how tough moving is for kids, but I’m working on the “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger” approach. Sure, the kids will have to make new friends and adjust to new schools, new neighborhoods, new everything. They will miss their lifelong friends and the Barcelona’s unique way of life they made their own. The thought of the inevitable challenges they will face does, at times, break my heart. But I’m guessing they are going to learn some incredible life skills along the way. And in the meantime, we will be lucky enough to be together as a family.
As I plan our trip, I have been watching families risking their lives to as to escape war in Syria and violence in Afghanistan. This puts everything into stark perspective. This is the reality of the modern world—so many people move and for so many reasons. Our shift from a European city to the thriving hub of Los Angeles in a cozy family group doesn't justify complaint.
Photographs by Amy Antill Egan