I've been blaming my blogosphere absence on the No Dumps Days Rule, but I think I've put off writing an update for as long as I can without upgrading "Dumps Days" to downright wallowing. And nobody likes a wallower, so here goes:
A combination of distance, crazy travel, crazy work, and general mayhem have made for a stressful first quarter of the year for the Hicks household. Here's what I can tell you for sure: long-distance (or longer distance, really) is WAY harder with a toddler. Howie has little understanding of time and space, except he understands what Friday means: Daddy. It always has. The poor kid is having serious difficulty with the fact that his definition of "Friday" has been revised without his permission. With no clear demarcation in his week--"three days til Friday" or "tomorrow is Friday!"--he wakes up every day asking for some guidance about when his family will all be together again. That's my fault for hanging so much significance on Friday to begin with, but we had no way of knowing that everything would change on us. So now the big question is: what do we do about it?
Right now we are trying a method I like to call "Attempts at Normalcy." Here's what that looks like:
Step One: Up the Technological Component. We've been trying to integrate Daddy more into our evening routine. Howie talks to Daddy over Facetime while he has dinner (captive is really the only time Howie will pay attention to the screen long enough for actual conversation). That way, the boys get some quality time, and Daddy can reinforce Mommy's assurances that we will be together again as soon as we can, but sometimes that is hard because Daddy is far away right now. We've resisted the urge to explain that our time apart will be over soon (a relative term to a toddler anyway), and instead focus on things happening now that are good. I've also taken to reading Howie some of Daddy's texts, and he responds as though they're having an actual conversation. Which I relay over text back. I'm becoming the middle man in a virtual game of "Telephone," but I really don't mind.
Step Two: Mommy & Me Time: On the weekends when Howie and I are in Houston without Jake, I've been trying to mix our ordinary chore-type activities with some "just the two of us" fun. For instance, we'll go grocery shopping together on a Saturday morning (after a stop at his favorite cafe for pancakes; this is a must with or without Daddy). When we do, I let Howie help me pick out foods (within reason, of course). And I have been trying to let him "help" me with other things too. A few weekends ago, we had two firsts: Howie helped me cook for the first time, and we made his first homemade pizza. He had a blast! I might have a little chef on my hands. Jake loves to cook too, so the kiddo comes by it honestly. All I can say is, if he opens a restaurant one day Mom better get to eat for free!
Step Three: Routine When We Can Get It: There are certain things the three of us have always loved doing together. Going to the Humble City Cafe for the aforementioned pancakes is one of them. Going to the zoo is another. We have been trying, as much as we can, to spend the time we do have together doing our "normal" things. Howie likes to help me find my brick on the zoo grounds, see the animals, and ride the carousel with Daddy. Our sweet baby is a child of routine (how weird is that to say for people with lives like ours?), so we have been giving him as much of the "routine" as we can in our time together.
Step Four: Photodocument Religiously. I'm sure it's driving Jake nuts, and probably Howie too since both my boys hate smiling for the camera. But I have been making a concerted effort to take pictures whenever we are together. Even when there's really nothing worth photographing. Howie loves looking at pictures of us together, and it really seems to make him feel better in the in between times. Soon, we are going to have some giant, cavernous in between times while Jake is in Afghanistan. I want to be ready with as many pictures as I can get my hands on to make him (and us) feel closer together than we actually are. This is really the only way that we can plan for an absence of this magnitude: identifying mitigating factors.
So that's where we are right now. We are making it work the best we can, doing our darnedest to minimize the impact this season in our lives has on Howie. Of course, we are also counting down the days until it is over (our Friday, if you will)!
But I'm actually trying to cut down on my counting. I think counting down the days makes me impatient with the now. It makes identifying today's blessing a lot harder when today is just a means to another day. I can barely contain my excitement with the idea of being done with being apart all the time, but I'm going to try. Howie doesn't know there's an end in sight. He just knows about now. He needs us in the now, so that's where I'm going to be, as much as I can. And I'm accepting any and all prayers to help me keep this perspective, because it's a doozie.
One thing I have really appreciated during this time when things have been stressful and hard, and full of heartache, is the moments of levity. Sometimes life just makes you laugh. Like last week, I had to be in Memphis for mediation (God bless the Dyniewski family, who not only took care of Howie while I was away, but have actually volunteered to do it again!). My team stayed at the Peabody Hotel (if you've heard of it, you might know what's coming), and did most of our prep work in the hotel lobby. At 5pm that evening, this is what we witnessed:
I sent the video home so that Howie could see it, and brought home one of these for him, which he LOVED:
Sometimes, you just have to laugh!