DH recently went on a three-week business trip, from which he returned home a few days ago. Prior to the trip, I wanted to write about it here but opted not to because it wasn't information I wanted to make my occasional narc-readers aware of. My original motivation for wanting to talk about the trip was that I thought it would be a great way to illustrate the ways in which healthy, loving families behave during emotionally stressful times. But, since a member of DH's NFOO attempted to contact him during his absence, I now have other motivating factors for writing about this recent trip as well. [I have decided to write about it in two separate posts: With this first concerning the sometimes surprisingly positive effects the trip had on DH and our FOC, and a second post to address the unwanted contact DH received from a member of his NFOO].
This was not a trip that DH volunteered for, and in fact, he attempted to have the travel directive waived until a time that might be more convenient for our family. But when it became obvious that he was fighting a losing battle and that he likely would end up being sent on a trip in the near future that would be even more inconvenient for our family, we both decided he should bite the bullet and just get the trip over with. During his absence, he missed both DD's and DS's last days of school, our niece's birthday, father's day, and his own birthday. But, as I had wanted to point out when I originally thought about writing this post, I did my best to let him know that we were still thinking about him everyday here at home, that his physical absence was not evidence of an emotional one, and that we could still celebrate those special occasions with him even though he wasn't actually present for them.
We wrote each other lengthy daily emails, chronicling the details of our days: On my end, I jotted down notes during the day about interesting things that had happened, funny or thoughtful things that the kids had said or done, and various thoughts I'd had about any of the many and varied things I tend to think about on a daily basis. I took pictures of things that I wouldn't normally take pictures of - my (second batch!) of failed cucumber plants, our toothbrushes "hugging it out" in their jar by the sink, drawings that the kids had made during the day. I also took lots and lots of pictures of the kids (and some of me) and included those as well. I titled my daily emails, "Daddy Journal Day X" and introduced each email with a variation of the same line, "Greetings and Salutations from this, [our shared whatever], on this [Nth] day of June in the year 2015 on the [Nth] day of your extended absence." DH titled his daily emails "Travel Diary Day X" and he too included pictures and interesting notes of all the things he had seen and done on that given day. The best part about these emails was that they were spontaneous and neither of us had known that the other planned to do it. I actually hadn't thought up the idea to do a daily diary of sorts (though I had known we were mostly going to be in contact via email) until the first day of his absence. The time difference was such that we were on nearly-exact opposite schedules, which made talking on the phone very difficult (and damn near impossible during the first week, when he didn't have access to WIFI in the hotel and the apps we had purchased for our phones that relied on WIFI were useless).
DH sent his emails to me, my Mom, my Aunt, and my oldest brother (whom DH calls "Best Friend [Oldest Brother]") and we all responded to him. My oldest brother shared his fishing exploits with DH, my aunt shared news of her daily activities and Major League Baseball happenings, and my mother kept him up-to-date on the goings-on of the rest of the family. It was fun to wake up to an email from DH and a pleasant way to end my day by uploading the day's photos and share my stories and thoughts with DH.
Prior to DH leaving, my mother had suggested that we make some videos of DH for the kids, where he could talk to them, leave them messages, or read them stories. We loved the idea and it proved to be very valuable when it turned out that talking to them on the phone during his absence was next to impossible. We made the videos a few days before he left and I planned out which ones I would play on what days. In them, he talked about how many days were left until he could come home (to help the kids visualize this, we talk about time in terms of "how many sleeps" until an event arrives), he sang songs to them, he read them stories, or he talked about what the kids were going to be doing that day (one day, it was going to their cousin's birthday party; another day was talking about what kind of donuts they were going to eat for our weekly 'donut day.') Even though DH has been back for several days now, one of the kids still asks to watch these videos everyday.
I also arranged for their to be small "prizes" for a few of the days that DH would be gone - these were small gestures but meant to be thoughtful ways to show the kids that Daddy was thinking about them. One day, Daddy left them bouncy balls that light up when you hit them. One day, they got a bucket of sidewalk chalk. Other days, they got a package of Mentos candies to share, purple nail-polish (because purple is Daddy's favorite color), a new book (Harold and the Purple Crayon) to read along with Daddy in that day's video, and purple tic-tacs. All of these prizes were small but, I think, meaningful to the kids. It was a way to keep Daddy present in their lives, even though he couldn't actually be here with us. I also made each of them a calendar, with the days of his trip blocked in purple colored pencil, on which they could put a sticker each day so that they visualize how long he would be gone for and how many days (or "sleeps") were left until he would be home.
Unbeknownst to DH, I also created a package of "Open When" gifts and envelopes for him to open during his trip. I spent a lot of nights prior to his trip working on this, including games for him to play, pictures of us, funny jokes and anecdotes, and things to do if he got bored. I'm currently still toying with the idea of doing a post (maybe with pictures) of some of the envelopes and their contents. I definitely plan on making a scrapbook or a smashbook of DH's trip, containing entries pertaining to both DH's side of the journey, as well as mine and the kids. The trip, which was initially something I was completely dreading (and honestly, it was very challenging at times for what are probably very obvious reasons) ended up being something that, oddly and perhaps stereotypically - you know, all that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" crap - brought us closer together. I remember, sometime during the middle of his trip, pointing out to DH how much I appreciated his efforts to write me a daily email because I thought they were really an exercise (for him) in seeing the world in a way that he doesn't normally see it: He had to really open his eyes to the world around him and notice details that he normally would overlook, in order to offer me something from his end that would keep us emotionally connected and show me that he was capable of putting forth an attention to detail that would satisfy my needs even while we couldn't be together. I was impressed with his efforts and I told him so.
I mentioned before that DH "missed" both Father's Day and his own birthday during this recent trip, but I made it a personal goal of mine to let him know he was being celebrated and appreciated, even in his absence. Included in his "Open When" packages were envelopes specific to these two occasions - in his "Open When it's Father's Day" envelope, I included two cards (mostly because one was funny and one was serious and I couldn't pick just one). And in his four "Open When it's your birthday" envelopes, I included two cards - one each from me and from the kids - a "birthday boy" pin (because HaHaHa), scratch-and-sniff stickers that smell like birthday cake, and, my personal favorite - "portable hugs" from each of the kids. [Note: A portable hug is traced cut-outs of a person's hands attached together by a length of string]. For DH's part, he took a picture with all of his birthday goodies on, including his hugs, and sent it to me in that day's daily Travel Journal. And at home, as surprises for when he returned, my mom came over to watch the kids so I could clean out the inside of DH's (disturbingly filthy, hadn't-been-cleaned-since-it-was-MY-car) car, and the kids and I could wash and decorate the outside of it. The kids had a blast helping wash the car and decorating the windows with purple window paint, and it took us nearly half a Saturday to accomplish the project. They were, true to form, genuinely excited to help.
I can't take credit for the idea to decorate DH's car, (the initial idea was my mom's - inspiration struck when she found a pair of purple fuzzy dice, which she said she "saw immediately and knew exactly what to do with") but I can take credit for expanding on it (cleaning the inside of the car and including baskets inside, one containing useful items - all of them purple - he might want or need; and the other containing activities or objects specifically for the kids). But the whole endeavor was definitely a joint effort, with my mom spending more than half a day at my house to help me with the kids while I meticulously (probably obsessively) cleaned the car's interior, both of my parents picking up various purple items to "decorate" the newly-cleaned vehicle, and the kids pitching in to do their part in "making Daddy's car so beautiful" as a fun surprise when he got home.
I think DH also genuinely appreciated the "Welcome Home" sign that the kids and I colored for the front door, as well as the many purple balloons we blew up and "decorated" the house with to celebrate his long-awaited homecoming a few days ago. I will say that, though I sometimes felt like I was just barely maintaining my sanity while DH was gone, this was the first time I have felt so emotionally connected to him during an extended absence in the six years that we have been together. I see our personal connection to each other strengthening daily, as a direct result of the hard work he has been putting into his own journey of self-discovery and due to the difficult situations that we have chosen to face, fight, and deal with together. And, as a final note, there is something to be said for the fact that DH's personal achievements and emotional-growth directly correlates to the amount of time he has chosen to genuinely disconnect from his toxic FOO. Keep that last thought in mind as you read my next post about DH's recent contact from the Dark Side.