1. Be transparent: I didn’t tell my daughter I was traveling until this morning. I had hoped to spare her the anticipatory stress. But it more likely made things worse. I should have sat her down weeks ago to tell her that I was going to be traveling on her birthday. Don’t sugar-coat the distances. Staring at their yawning presence together is much less terrifying than facing them unexpectedly, and alone.
2. Let the child be part of the solution: I created an elaborate plan to help make my daughter’s birthday meaningful, knowing that I would not be there. We went out for a special dinner with her cousins before her birthday. We’re planning a party for her friends. And her grandparents are coming for the weekend. But perhaps none of this makes her feel better today. And perhaps, had I shared with her my thought process and planning, she would have felt less bad this morning, or may have had other suggestions (likely, simpler than mine) to help her feel loved and celebrated.
3. Modelling Grit doesn’t teach Grit: There has been much discussion about teaching character development, and “grit,” or resilience, has been identified as a core character trait to develop in children. When my daughter gets emotional, I tend to become tough as nails. Chin up, I tell her. Be strong. It never helps. I need to learn to create a safe space for her feelings of sadness and anger. I need to acknowledge and help her express those intense emotions. That, rather than modeling toughness, will help her develop the resilience she needs to thrive.
4. Some days are better for business trips than others: A small note to self. Schedule better. Say no sometimes.
I gaze at my daughter each day as I did when she was born, with joy and bewilderment. I am full of biblical Sarah-like laughter, replete with a baffled gazing at the strangeness of self, with wonder that the self can create such familiar newness, and stretch us so. Soon I will be returning, and that is the endless gift and challenge of motherhood. I will have another chance. Perhaps I will grow.