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Aug 18, 2009

Waiting for papa

My husband has been traveling this week, and I have been wondering how Daniel would take it. It's not the first time his dad is out of town, but it's probably been 9 or 10 months since my husband was gone for a full week. Since the last time it happened, the relationship between Daniel and his dad has become much stronger. I expected Daniel to miss his dad a lot. At the same time, I didn't expect Daniel to be old enough to clearly understand the concept of business travel. Recipe for potential disaster, I thought...

I have been surprised at Daniel's reaction so far, and at the level of maturity he has shown. As we came back home last night (first night without his dad), Daniel asked for "papa". I explained to him that "papa est parti, il a pris l'avion pour aller bien loin. Mais il pense beaucoup a Daniel et va revenir dans quelques jours" (Daddy is out, he took the plane to go far away. But he thinks of Daniel and he will be back in a few days).
As Daniel was processing this information, he repeated a couple of times "avion" (plane), demonstrating a plane taking off with his hands, and "gone" (he used to say the French word "parti" before, but since he learned to say the sound "g" "gone" has become the new word....the way he says it is so sweet, I don't mind). It happens somewhat regularly that my husband comes home late during the week, so I didn't think that spending an evening without dad would be the issue. And sure enough, the evening went well. Daniel didn't ask for "papa" any more.

As he woke up the next morning, Daniel asked for "papa" again. Usually "papa" is always back in the morning, even when he wasn't here in the evening before. So, I had to explain why "papa" wasn't here in the morning this time. I pretty much repeated the same explanation as the night before. "Papa est parti, il a pris l'avion pour aller bien loin. Mais il pense beaucoup a Daniel et va revenir dans quelques jours". And this is where Daniel's reaction impressed me. Beyond saying, "avion" and "gone" again, he just looked at me, with his resigned expression, hands open, and just said "wait".
That's right: we have to wait and daddy will be back. There is nothing else to do. No crying, no arguing, nothing... Just the mature response of a 19-month old who just started to understand the concept of waiting.

Yes, Daniel, be prepared, this notion will become very handy for the rest of your life. Glad you understand...

UPDATE: As the week progressed, Daniel did quite well, dealing with missing his dad. He seemed to understand what was going on at some level. However, his daycare teachers mentioned that he kept pointing at the family pictures hanging in the classroom and calling out "papa". This wasn't his usual behavior, and a sign that he was still processing the fact that his dad was gone.
When I put Daniel to bed last night (a few hours before my husband came home), I explained that "papa" would be back home when he wakes up in the morning. He seemed to happy and relieved. I think he understood. This morning, it was so great when they saw each other again! Everyone was so happy!

1 comment:

  1. John and I have had quite a bit of travel away from Amy (one at a time, mainly) over the years. One suggestion that was given to us for the time period from about 2-3 years old was to do a little photo album storybook about the trip the parent was going on (to help soothe their separation anxiety). The day before the trip, the parent who's leaving would read the book with the child. Then, after the parent leaves on the trip, they can read it as much as they want with the other parent (or other caregiver). It helps provide a narrative (such as your verbal explanation), but also the storybook format helps reinforce.

    We got quite creative with ours over about 18 months of doing these books. The first was was super simple ("Papa goes on a plane. Papa is going to Africa. Papa is going to see animals. Papa is going to... Papa is coming home on the plane). Then, they turned into rhyming books, then activity books all based on where we were traveling. It was fun for us, fun for her, and they made great keepsakes for the future.