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How This Family Learned to Navigate Long-Distance

A family separated by 2,000 miles learns that love knows no distance.

Illustration of a laptop with angel wings; By Jesus Sotes
Credit: By Jesus Sotes
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Fast food wasn’t what I’d planned for our Saturday night dinner, but I wasn’t feeling all that inspired. “Hurray!” eight-year-old Olivia cheered when I loaded her and five-year-old Evan into the car to go to the drive-thru.

It was just the three of us, as it had been for the past three months in 2011. When our family had moved from Puerto Rico to Texas to start the new school year, my husband, Mike, stayed behind to oversee the sale of the company he managed. He visited as often as he could, and we kept in touch on the phone, trying to bridge the 2,000 miles between us.

By now, I was more than ready for us to be a family again 24/7. I didn’t like the idea that Mike wasn’t around to experience the ups and downs of our everyday life. If I didn’t report on it, he’d never know about it. I missed his daily five o’clock shadow and the spontaneity of a compliment out of the blue. It was especially hard for the kids. Hearing his voice on the phone just made them quiet and shy. Mike had suggested setting up some sort of video feed, but I was old-fashioned. I hated screens. Our cell phones didn’t yet have video calling capabilities, which I couldn’t imagine ever using anyway. Hang on for just one more week, I told myself as I turned into the drive-thru. That was the latest end date to our temporary arrangement. I hadn’t told the kids, just in case plans changed. We’d been there before.

My cell phone rang as I pulled in behind the other cars. “Hello, my love,” said Mike. “Am I on speaker?”

“No, but we’re all at a drive-thru,” I said.

Mike sighed. “We need to talk.”

My heart sank. There were problems selling the business. He wouldn’t be home for months. I hung up the phone and wanted to cry. I’d only managed this long on my own because I knew the separation was short-term. Now there was no end in sight.

“When will Daddy be home?” asked Olivia as we waited for our order. She asked the same question at least once a day.

“He’ll visit next weekend,” I said, trying to sound cheerful.

“Then he’ll fly away on a plane,” said Evan. Every goodbye was harder on them than the last.

Back home, the kids ate their hamburgers while I stared at Mike’s empty chair. This was not what I signed up for, I thought. I have a lot of praying to do in church tomorrow.

That was another plan that fell through. I woke up late. Olivia couldn’t find her shoes. Evan had a meltdown because we were out of his favorite cereal. I threw in the towel. “We’ll skip church today,” I said. “Mommy’s not feeling well.” I turned on the TV and let the kids sit in front of its flickering screen while I went to a private spot. I’m sorry, God, it’s not like me to use the television as a babysitter. I’m worried about our family, and I don’t know where to turn. Help us stay connected somehow.

I muddled through the week until Mike got home. Together we told the kids that we weren’t quite at the end of our temporary arrangement.

“So you can’t come to my Pee Wee football games?” asked Evan.

“I’ll make as many as I can,” his dad said, “and you can tell me all about the others on the phone.”

“Talking on the phone is boring,” Olivia said. Mike gave me a look.

“I know you don’t like screens,” he said when we were alone, “but can we please try it? I’ve got what we need if you’ll just go along.” What choice did I have? I left Mike tinkering by the television set and returned to find that he’d hooked up something through a couple of video game consoles. “Tell me when you’re having dinner tomorrow night, and I’ll call in,” he said before heading to the airport.

Mike’s contraption didn’t fit at the table, so the kids and I moved to the living room for our first dinner with virtual Mike. His face popped up on-screen. “Hi, guys!” Was that a hint of five o’clock shadow I saw despite the two-hour time difference?

“Daddy!” the kids squealed.

“What’d you do today?”

I expected the kids to get shy like they did on the phone, to look to me for a hint about what to say. Instead, Olivia piped up with a joke she’d heard at school. Evan jumped in while his dad was still laughing. “Guess what happened at football practice today!” Mike caught my eye and winked, just like he would have done if he were here in person. The kids wanted to see him every night.

“I’m sold,” I told Mike on his next visit. “But we can’t keep eating in front of the TV. What kind of message does that send?”

“No problem,” Mike said. He’d done some research and downloaded the Zoom app onto my laptop. The computer was small enough to fit at the dinner table. The kids and I set it up right where Mike usually sat. We could even see Mike’s plate.

Pretty soon we were connecting with Mike for more than just meals. “Olivia’s struggling with her math problems,” I texted him after school one day. “I’m no help. Can you jump in?”

“I’m on it!” Mike texted back. He led Olivia through her homework step by step. We took turns reading bedtime stories, and Mike often joined in for our nightly prayers.

Of course it wasn’t the same as being together in person, but technology was a big help. I sometimes texted Mike just to say hello. Or to tell him something funny before I forgot. Or simply that I loved him. We were texting like a couple of teenagers who couldn’t stop. We typed “I miss you” so often that the phone started filling in the phrase for us—including the heart emoji.

After nine months away, Mike finally came home for good. We no longer needed cyberspace to stay close. But the texts? That’s become a loving habit, LOL. God had given me a high-tech answer to an old-fashioned prayer, a stopgap for a family separated by 2,000 miles. Love didn’t care about the distance.

For more angelic stories, subscribe to Angels on Earth magazine.

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