Preparing for an extended separation
I had known for 9 weeks the day was coming. My husband was leaving for a 24 week assignment on the East Coast. We live on the West Coast. We wouldn’t see him at all during that time. I knew it would be good for him both personally and professionally. I also knew it would be hard – very hard – for the rest of us. For 24 weeks I would get to be a single parent to our 7 kids while Daddy helps with the new hires in the company – a very low stress (dare I say relaxing and perhaps even sometimes boring?) job.
The day that we planned to take him to the airport he moved our other car down to a more prominent location so we (translation: I) could sell it. While he was gone our oldest son, then 12, said something about Daddy’s plane leaving at 5:00am. I really thought the plane left at 9am, which meant we would get the kids up early, drag everyone to the airport and have a teary eyed goodbye at the curb. But at least we would be able to say goodbye.
A plane leaving at 5:00am changes everything! I’m not taking kids to the airport at 3am. And when I asked if he couldn’t get a later flight his answer was something about not wanting to arrive at his destination late at night and having to get to the hotel so late. I was, let’s just say, not happy. This was going to be a long – perhaps even terrible, horrible, no-good and very bad, day.
And in the midst of a text conversation back and forth while he put signs in the car so people could call me and buy our little Subaru, our youngest puked. I tried to convince myself he just gagged on mucuos and he didn’t really puke – but really, he puked.
What could I do?! You shouldn’t put a sick baby in a car for 90 minutes, you shouldn’t take a sick baby to a hotel, and when the airport is 90 minutes away and Daddy is leaving for 24 weeks you can’t just tell him to take the other car that he just parked in town so I could sell it and leave it at the airport for 24 weeks. We really had to get in the car and take him.
After trying to discuss the option of changing his ticket (not an option at this late hour) or why on this lovely earth did he have to choose a fight that left at 3am, and finding that there was nothing to be done about it, I told everyone in my most loving Momzilla voice to get their stuff and get in the car.
As I buckled the toddler in, he puked.
Well, crap!! Everyone out of the car. “You’ll just have to call a cab!!”
I sat on the driveway wall holding my sick child and sobbed.
After all the people got inside we ordered Dominos and turned on Donald Duck. And I sat on my bed and cried and cried. This was a stressful, awful, tearful, gut-wrenching day. And I wasn’t in Australia.
A few hours later I realized that we really were in a bind. The hotel reservations we had were for 2 rooms as near to each other as possible but that hotel – the one nearest the airport – didn’t have connecting rooms. You can’t have an adult walk out and leave children ages 15, 12, 10, and 8 in a hotel room alone. We either had to call a cab, change a ticket, or change hotels. The kids had been looking forward to going swimming in a hotel pool and spending the night in a hotel for weeks and I really didn’t want to disappoint them. I also did have a child who had just puked – twice.
A cab would be expensive. And a lousy way to send Daddy off. We needed a change of scenery. And there was the sick child. What to do? (All the while I was imaging writing a book on The Importance of Leaving Well.) We needed to send him off and have an official good-bye.
I called Hampton Inn (it was not near the airport but they did have a shuttle and would happily take him to the airport at 3am) and found that they had connecting rooms (available tonight), and they had a pool, and they are next to a big playground (thank You Lord!), so I booked those rooms and got the people in the car. If we were going, we had to go now. Puking or not. And saying goodbye to Dad was important.
So off we trekked to our hotel. Daddy and 6 kids swam while I took the youngest for a walk by the river. We relaxed a little. We went out for dinner and we watched cable TV. Eventually, across 2 rooms, 4 queen beds and a roll away, we fell asleep. And at 3am Daddy kissed us goodbye and slipped away into the darkness.
The Moral of the Story
At the end of the day, this is what I know. When someone in the family is leaving for a time, it is important to really think through how and when people will say goodbye. Especially if you have young children, they need to see the person leave. As hard as it would have been to drive everyone to the airport at 6am or 7am and unload Daddy’s bags and give him hugs and wish him safe travels and tell him we love him and all of that, even as hard as that would have been, it would have offered the kids some kind of closure on his leaving. Some of the kids don’t remember him hugging them before he left that night. How we did this is not what I would call an awesome example of how it should be done. I call it something more like a failure to communicate what everyone’s needs are and how at least most of them can be met. Had we talked it all out and known what everyone’s issues and dreams were, we would have done this differently. My advice for someone preparing for a separation like this:
- Let the kids know soon enough that they aren’t totally shocked but not so soon that the separation looms over their heads forever.
- Figure out what the travel options are for the one leaving. Are there different departure times? Different flight routes? How many layovers would be involved?
- How will the family say goodbye? Will you take the person to the airport? Will the person leave from home? Similar to how a funeral gives closure to a grieving community, saying goodbye gives closure to those who won’t be going.
- If the time apart is significant in length, mark the passing of the months. We decided that on the month anniversary of Daddy’s leaving, we would ice cream sundaes. Nobody argued with that one!
- Face time can be a wonderful thing – but use it wisely. For us, we were 3 time zones apart, so when Daddy could talk I was in the witching hour. He was hanging out in the hotel watching TV while I was cooking and serving dinner. Doing Face time with him felt like he was rubbing in how relaxed his life was. I quickly said I could not face time at that hour of the day. For us, texting worked better.
A lot of this you won’t know until you go through it, but with a little bit of planning ahead of time you can make it easier for everyone. In retrospect I wish I had made some sort of calendar (like paper chains maybe) for the youngest children so they would better understand the passing of the time. I really wish that Daddy and I had talked about how the day would play out and what he expected. But we made it, and we learned, and while I hope we won’t have to go through this again, I’ll be better prepared if we do.