I'm glad my first wife and I separated the year Al Gore got "Supreme Courted" rather than the year John Kerry got "swiftboated."
But it wasn't America's political landscape that made separation better for me in 2000 than it would have been in 2004. There were two other reasons.
Firstly, it's almost always better to end a failed marriage sooner rather than later. Secondly, the earlier timing of my separation was important because of the "Internets," as Gore/Kerry nemesis George W. Bush called the Web.
What's digital have to do with it? Unless the current Supreme Court squashes this blog post for not being corporate enough, I will now explain.
When we separated, my first wife and I agreed to joint custody of our 10-year-old daughter. She would stay one week with me, the next week with her mother, the next week with me -- well, you get the idea.
Anyway, I was working as a full-time magazine writer back then, and wondered anxiously how I could get from New York to New Jersey each afternoon of my custody weeks in time to meet the school bus, take my daughter to her gymnastics classes, and not watch soap operas. Then the numbers "25" and "55" popped into my head -- as in, I wished I could work 25 hours the weeks I was with my daughter and 55 hours the weeks I wasn't. After all, five 10-3 o'clock days followed by five 8-7 o'clock days at the office would still equal 80 hours each fortnight.
The big question: would my editor go for it? Heck, how would a cop react if a motorist caught exceeding a 60-miles-per-hour speed limit said: "Sorry I was doing 90, officer, but I did 30 this morning. Could we average the two?"
But I'm happy to report that my editor, Bill Gloede, did agree to my flexible-scheduling request -- immediately! And Steve Yahn and J.J. McGrath were among the other editors at the magazine who graciously consented to the arrangement. Three enlightened males who understood how hard it can be to juggle work, family, and a weird request from a divorcing employee.
One reason why my supervisors were amenable was that the magazine had a fairly sleepy Web site in 2000, which meant much of my writing was for a print edition with relatively forgiving deadlines. In contrast, Web deadlines for breaking stories were so unforgiving that I think my articles were due before I began writing them (which confused the heck out of my computer's save function).
But when the magazine's site was revamped in 2004, staffers had to update that bottomless cyber-pit many times a day. That meant my 25/55 office schedule (in the era before widespread telecommuting) became history. Luckily, my daughter was old enough by then to do things like walk home from school alone (which confused the heck out of my car's pick-up function).
I won't even discuss the way post-2000 "downsizing" at my magazine and elsewhere combined with the online revolution to make 25-hour weeks even less possible for overworked layoff survivors.
Still, I'm grateful I had those precious pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter years of a flexible schedule. My now-21-year-old daughter turned out great, and I learned a little-known fact that may shock you: commuter trains are less crowded when it isn't rush hour. Who woulda thunk it?
While the 24/7 nature of today's wired world may make joint-custody divorces harder for full-time workers, I can't conclude this piece without emphasizing that the digital age also has many good points. For instance, there's this thing you might have heard of called blogging. And I met the wonderful woman who became my second wife via ... the "Internets"!
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