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When The Daddy Is Away …

… the mice are not out to play. Or are they?

Daddy has to go away sometimes. Travel for work as they call it. Boss says go for a 3 day conference, daddy goes for 5 – conference plus travel time plus reaching home in the middle of the night. 8 pm on the first day of his absence and you can see the child waiting for the bell to ring. Papa will come in a little while, you say. Dinner is had on the bed. Who will dip my roti in the daal, he asks a little perturbed.

When The Daddy Is Away

He senses that something is different. By bed-time, when the lights are dimmed, papa’s pillow rests unused. His eyes widen, sleep is knocking but curious questions abound. But I want to give good night kissy to papa! What do you say? It’s not even one down, and there are 4 more days to go!

Between answering some and keeping quiet on others, the days pass. As the morning sun rises on the 4th day, daddy’s absence has become a given now, no matter how incomplete the picture at home may be. Children accept it I think, or do they?

So, what do I do when my child’s father has to travel for work? Here’s a peep.

  • Packing the point in:

I let my son “help” with daddy’s packing (at 2 and a half, help comes in double quotes). He is told who is going and for how long. That daddy has work to finish. An office to go to, like every day, but this time for a longer period of time. So, since he has to do nhai-nhai elsewhere, he needs to carry his clothes in a bag with him. Packing then becomes a shared activity, much to daddy’s relief who doesn’t have to rely on his own skills alone for that. Hand the boy a cloth and let him “clean” the bags, open the cupboards, hand over the kerchiefs and generally feel more useful than he actually can be. I do repeat daddy’s coming back many times over, for then he has to “help” unpack. Something to look forward to, already! And who else can do a better job than him, right? Certainly not his dad! The boy knows daddy is going, is coming back. But both happen later. For now, let’s just play with all the zips and locks and maybe sit in the bag itself. The site of the bag is joyful, and keeps the image of impending separation away.

  • Plan a day out:

The 1st kiss is the sweetest. But I digress. The 1st day of daddy’s absence is the toughest. It is not like he would have been home all day, but one knows he will not be in the evening. Take your child out, along with all the money you emotionally blackmailed out of your husband’s wallet before he left. Buy him and yourself stuff. Blame it on depression due to his absence. Why, buy a little something for daddy too, why not! Have fun. Mommy and baby. Come back home tired but full of things to talk about. The empty pillow is noticed, but there is much else to speak about in its place too. Of course, the big teddy or the new pumps may not really give you a good night hug as nice as daddy’s arms, but they can be quite helpful under the dimly lit circumstances (On second thoughts, doesn’t sound like a bad idea for days when daddy is around too!)

  • Toy party:

This is something that holds my fancy, and can be used in the direst of circumstances. Yes, the boredom from daddy’s absence is a circumstance dire enough. Invite his friends from around the colony with their favourite toys. Like a toy exchange, albeit temporary. And believe me, you will know not where the time flies. No extensive array of snacks or return gifts, obviously. Just a bunch of little bums drooling at another’s toy, and making a wish-list to hand over to daddies soon as they set eyes on their respective ones. McDonald’s the savior (Dear God, forgive me my sins!), an afternoon well spent, another day down and hardly a thought spared for the missing link. Alright, maybe just a mention here and there, but that is all, I am sure. Sorry daddy!

  • A surprise for daddy:

I do mean the one along with your child. What did you think? I also mean more than just gift-wrapping item picked in point no. 2 and handing it to him strategically and just before unravelling the shopping-under-depression collection. Spend the day cooking something special, making sure the child gets to beat the coffee or mix the raita, arrange the salad on the tray or make rotis (to be used for birdies later!) – the safe ways of contributing to food in the house. Some artwork with hearts and ‘Welcome back’ works wonders on the home-coming dads. Top it with a new rhyme learnt, or jig mastered and what have you? A daddy beaming with love, wondering why he did not get more presents for his loving family from the country that claimed him for so long and promising to get even more the next time around. The latter most being the most important fruit of all the labour, of course!

We smile now. But those are difficult days.

The thought of not having my husband around makes me do everything about my child with caution and utmost care. With the best support system missing, I don’t want him hurting – within or without. I tolerate whims, I spend more time with him, an extra chocolate is good for health and doing new activities together helps. I don’t want him to miss his daddy, knowing that he is going to miss him anyway. And then, what naughty pleasure to tell daddy – Oh! He barely asked after you, you know. He was so happily occupied. The expression on daddy’s face? Priceless!

If only we could peep inside their tiny heads with big brains inside and know what they are thinking, the thoughts they often keep hidden from us. The thoughts that keep them talking to themselves, inside. But we cannot. We can only guess. Make things easier for them, even as we make things easier for our own selves.

And then, daddy arrives after all. And soon it’s as if he was never gone.

Sakshi Nanda went from studying Literature to serving the print media and finally settling with two publishing houses who called her editor for a couple of hard-bounds, no more! She writes as a work-from-home mother to realize herself as well as to be read, both – with her 2-year-old boy and her sarkari babu beau as the greatest source of ideas and inspiration. She believes eating baby food is therapeutic and that the pen is man’s best invention, after diapers that is! Meet her at: