When mama goes away, the kids don't always want to play. Sometimes they're upset and distraught, though they may not even realize it.
In the seven years that my son has been on the planet, I have been lucky to be (mostly) around. Working from home, I never suffered the cruel, sudden separation that some moms have to go through when they head back to the office.
And I counted my blessings. My son always parted ways easily for drop-off activities and later, school, safe in the knowledge that I would be back in a few hours to collect him.
But life happens. Recently an out-of-town funeral called me away for several days. I didn't want to pull him out of school. The upheaval would be too much, so I left and my little guy stayed behind with daddy. A boys weekend. It was exciting for them, and my husband had a list of fun things planned for them to do together. I wasn't concerned in the least.
Almost immediately after my departure, though, my son got preoccupied with a new project - not unusual since he's in that industrious phase and is forever creating his own little books. Except this time felt different. He started creating labels for the objects in our home. My hubby mentioned the Project to me over phone, but it wasn't until I got home that I realized the extent of it.
My son had labelled everything - from pillows and drawers and lamps, to his dog! There were literally labels in every corner of every room of the house (yes, even the bathroom).
Though exasperated, my husband didn't stop our son in his tracks. And while the labelling bordered on obsessive-compulsive behaviour, he saw that the Project served a function: it was helping my son cope with the anxiety he felt during my absence. It gave him a feeling of control at a time when his routine had been disturbed.
I realized this when I came home and my son gave me a guided tour. I admit I was taken aback by all the labels. I complimented him on his handiwork, and we agreed that we would gradually remove the labels - one room each day - leaving his bedroom for last.
Kids feel so much anxiety. Even older kids don't always have the means to fully grasp or express those hard feelings. Yet they are more resourceful than we imagine. They find ways to cope, and even though those ways may look odd, we shouldn't necessarily discourage or undermine them.
At bedtime that first night back, my son told me how much he missed me. I snuggled with him for a long time and carefully removed the "pillow" label.