steve was recently home for an extended weekend, his first time back after departing at the end of june for a new job in the d.c. area.
we were all so very, very glad to be together. diana commented after just one day that it felt like he'd been home for a lot longer. i noticed how quickly his presence felt comfortable, not intrusive, and how smooth the transition was to having him here in our daily lives again. kind of like he never left.
one might assume that i run things here so well without him that he's not really needed. that would be entirely false. as a wife i still am a whole person in and of myself, but i am a better person with my husband by my side. as a mother i am a capable caretaker and nurturer and teacher of our children, but i am a better parent with my co-parent next to me.
rather, i see it as a sign of our connectedness as partners and our flexibility as a family that we can take this incredible upheaval of our routine and physical rift without falling completely apart; some aspect of each of us understands, even if it is not always spoken aloud, that we are in this together, no matter where we are.
i think there is an unshakeable trust and a steadfast belief in each other that we do - and will continue to - support and provide for each other what we need individually and as a collective family. that balance is a moving target that demands consistent, continual attention and mindfulness.
while it is difficult to be apart, the kids and i have some routines we can count on to make the separation tenable. steve and can i text each other during the day and email each other in the evenings; he is available to take calls from me or diana at just about any hour. (it's made a huge difference since he was able to switch his cellular provider to one that reliably gets messages and calls through. beforehand i was nearly ripping my hair out when i couldn't reach him and it wasn't much happyer for him to be in a black hole of non-reception.)
and then there's skype (with video). watching the kids and how they interact with their father on skype has been quite eye-opening, even for a veteran of observing human behavior (i was, in a former life, a person with several advanced degrees in psychology.) the kids often do battle with each other and compete for his attention, just like they do when he is here. ander usually wins through sheer force of will. diana has recently begun studying aikido but has yet to consistently apply the principles she is learning to negotiate pain-free physical space interactions with her younger, smaller, more persistent sibling. he also has figured out how to ram his head into her center of gravity, knocking her off-balance. good for him, not so much for her.
(i need to insert a note in here. i've been working on this post over a number of days, and even in the span of a week i have noted changes in how the kids behave toward each other during these skype sessions. in the beginning of steve's departure period, it really was a challenge for the children to behave anywhere near civility when it came to sharing space and time. they were unhappy, i was frustrated; steve was, fortunately, tolerant and patient with all three of us and the terrible connectivity online. in the past few days, though, i have seen a politeness and gentleness emerge from both children.
picture this: i let the kids know the time. ander sits at the computer, checks to see if daddy is online, and then initiates the call. he says hello to daddy and begins his demonstration of the day. diana and i are around in the room, mostly, and say a quick hello and wave to let him know we are there. when ander is done he gets off the chair; after a question from me he lets diana know that it's her turn. it goes back and forth between them like that, with me sitting and chatting with steve when both kids are away working on preparing the next thing they want to share with their dad. when it seems like the call is winding down, we all say good night and wave and confirm our next skype session.
i'm not sure what has caused this change, but i know it's a welcome one. maybe ander feels more secure in the knowledge/feeling that he will get the time he wants and needs with his dad, so he doesn't push his sister away. he's feeling more certain. maybe diana is able to be more patient and generous in allowing ander time with dad first, knowing that she'll have plenty of opportunity if she holds back and lets her brother indulge his desire to be in front. she's showing maturity. maybe it's because steve and i are permitting a more open-ended skype session and putting the focus on the kids and concentrating on separate phone calls or messages to connect with each other so that i'm not entering the competition for face time. we are being flexible. maybe we all sense a lack of scarcity now and see, through experience, that expressing loving kindness toward each other and focusing on what someone else needs actually does allow our own needs to be fulfilled even more. ok, end note.)
diana appreciates the face time with steve, mostly to be silly with the video camera, i think. she also enjoys the little text messages and emoticons they can send to each other during the call. in between the times she has a chance to talk, she usually wanders to the lego table and tinkers with her city (a work under construction, much as cities are in real life) or sits at the other computer and explores, occasionally calling out an interesting fact about giant microbes or quarks or something cool her papou sent to her via email.
ander craves his dad as an audience for his current projects. he demonstrates tutorials on how to build something he has fashioned with legos or shows how the extension ladder on a fire engine works or replicates how an airplane changes sounds as it moves down the runway and takes off into the air. and he likes to just sit and play while dad is there, quietly watching and just being with him.
what steve is able to offer to the kids using skype is actually very similar to what he provides when he is here - his presence. he watches, listens, asks questions, responds, reinforces, and interacts with them. he can be even more attentive, as he described to diana one evening, "i have nothing more important or better to do with my time right now than spending it with you." it can be difficult to provide that exclusive attention when he's here and in the middle of doing something else, like working on the computer. skype time is protected time, scheduled time, know-you-can-count-on-it time for dad and his kids. and it's video, an important distinction from phone calls. conversation really is different when you can see the person with whom you are speaking. those non-verbal cues are so important.
of course, what we cannot have across the miles is physical interaction. both children made up for it in spades with him while he was here, snuggling and climbing and jumping and holding hands and just being in close proximity. ander uses his dad as a jungle gym, standing on steve's shoulders while steve is sitting down. the boy balances quite easily and comfortably, though the rest of us wonder if he's going to fall. he doesn't. steve helps ander flip over, too; i'm not strong enough to do that with ease for my ever-growing boy.
and there's something else about steve. as much as diana trusts and loves me, it took the bond she has with her father to convince/persuade her to try out particular rides at six flags. diana is not fond of the spinning/twisting/oscillating rides like ander is; she looked at some and flatly refused, despite my coaxing/questioning/offering. the next thing i know, while i am off with ander, steve texts me to say that my daughter tried out the rides that she said she'd never do. twice. ????? she explained to me later that she had confidence in steve's opinion of what she'd like and not like because he would try the rides first and then tell her about the experience. his descriptions to her were based on something he tested and observed firsthand, not on assumptions or guesses. and he was honest with her; if there was a motion he knew she did not care for, he let her know and recommended against the ride. the trust they have built up, painstakingly, over time; his willingness to encourage and urge but not push too hard; the foundational belief that diana knows best what she can handle and will do it in the time and space where she feels ready - all are crucial elements of their relationship. the experience at the amusement park left her feeling exhilarated and pleased with herself because the choices she made were hers.
we are a unit, our little family. we're doing ok while we stretch ourselves to span the country; we will be happyer at home when we are all living under the same roof again. there's just something about steve - husband, father, companion to superheros...