Leaving Levi: What I’ve Learned about Preparing to Travel Without my Little Boy.

LeavingLevijpg

If you read last week’s summer travel plan post, you might remember the part about my traveling alone with Luke, and how that has been a little challenging as far as Levi is concerned.  I hoped to put my thoughts together to share here, knowing that many of you either have faced something similar, or one day might.  Let’s see if i can do this…

CHAPTER ONE:  Making the plans.

Making our plans to travel for Luke’s surf contest season was challenging.  We were figuring a lot of our trip out as we went.  I have already learned so much, so no doubt next summer will look very different.

As for the trip, Dave had strongly urged me to plan a full month away with Luke, so we could do that whole “focus on surfing” thing.  I knew that Dave had a 10 day chunk in the middle available in which I hoped he and Levi could join us.  I also knew that our ex-nanny, Sandra, was interested and available to fly to Hawaii to help watch the other boys…It seemed that the whole month would fall into place, it was just a matter of piecing it together.

I started by booking the flights for Luke and I.  I updated the older boys as I made each new flight or arrangement. I didn’t sit Levi down specifically and tell him the plan, but I also didn’t keep it a secret.  I wasn’t sure how much of the itinerary he would even understand.  And of course things started to come up, like Luke excitedly saying “I can’t wait for CALI!” and the other two boys occasionally asking “How long will you be gone, Mom?”  I don’t think I even realized that Levi was tuning in…

And that is where I was clearly mistaken. Hindsight-You know.

It wasn’t long before Levi’s behavior got weird. He didn’t bring up travel or California, or anything like that, he just got clingy, and whiney, and weird. He didn’t want to go to Preschool. He cried at bedtime. He would just sit and hold my leg and…well, he held my leg a lot.

One day,  I brought Levi to his little Montessori Preschool which has only three students and a wonderful teacher who has been teaching out of her home for thirty-plus years.  I pulled the teacher aside to let her know that he was going through something weird.  I also told her how MAYBE, it had something to do with the fact that I had planned some travel, and that he might be realizing that I will be going away for a while.
The teacher very directly told me that she thinks parents “these days” tell their kids way too much. (She’s a wise woman, and that did make some sense.) She suggested I should have waited and let him know that I was going much closer to the time of my departure.

Well, that’s all good to know. But it was a little late.
And honestly, with a house full of excited brothers whose main subject of conversation for the month of May is anything and everything SUMMER and what to to look forward to….I don’t know if keeping it from him would have even been possible. 

But if it was, I had already screwed up.

My bad.
But…
Now what?

Teacher and I agreed that we should keep it light and happy, and not talk about the trip in front of Levi any more.   When it did come up, I should focus on the fun and positive part of summer, and all that he had to look forward to.  Like Sandra coming.

I began to hush my boys when they started to slip and talk about travel, and I did all I could to tip toe around the topic of travel or Cali, or anything remotely related.  If and when the summer travel came up, I was quick to switch the topic to “Sandra will be here—How much fun!! Fun fun fun!” leaving out any details of when or how long, or why…

And still his clingy, whiney behavior continued.

Levi began to even scowl at the name of Sandra (who he really loved,) clinging even tighter to my leg.

The Mom guilt grew thick.

Chapter TWO:  Facebook advice.

Just for kicks really, I thought it would be interesting to run things by my Facebook friends.  (sometimes, but not always a good idea, haha.)  I mentioned on my personal Facebook page that I had this little scenario—that Levi figured out that I was leaving and that I could use any advice or tips on those who have been there done that.
In the comments, I received both some great suggestions, and some empathy, which at that moment might be what I needed most.

In the comments, and in a few private emails that followed, I was reminded that many moms have been through this before.  Some mothers shared their experience with having to leave clingy, crying kids at daycare while mom went to work…and some moms shared how they helped their kids deal with Mom having to travel for work.   I was reminded that some mothers even have to go away on Military missions—for months at a time, and (God bless them,) they have to face this sort of thing on a much deeper level.  I am definitely not alone here.

There were a lot of suggestions: A few moms suggested planning some special dates with Levi before I left town. (so I did.) Some suggested spraying my perfume on a t-shirt for him to hold on to when he misses me (I did that too, and he said “It smells like lemons. and a doctor’s office. *time to reconsider my perfume.*)
A couple moms suggested I leave little surprise gifts for each day I was gone. (CHECK. Bagged and ready. and he’s LOVING them!)

But what struck me was how many moms suggested that I be “straight out” with him. Sit him down and tell him exactly what the plan was. Let him know it, and prepare for it.

Now THAT was different. Could he, at barely four, understand? Would the Montessori teacher be oh-so- disappointed with me? 

I wasn’t sure, but I was desperate.

So, the next time the older boys mentioned Sandra coming (they were really excited,) and Levi frowned and said “I don’t want Sandra to come!” I took a deep breath and sat down at his level. I decided this was my moment to change my approach, and there was NO going back. I was officially diving in to the “level with him, and shoot straight” theory.
Head first.
What i said was “When you say you don’t want Sandra to come. What are you saying?” Then I said, “Finish my sentence….’I don’t want Sandra to come, because when Sandra comes….” and I waited.

Finally, Levi said “Mommy is leaving.”

Ouch.  I then swallowed the fist-sized lump in my throat.

But it was progress. I knew then that my four year old was ready for some straight-shooting. 

So, one more deep breath later, I followed up with, “Levi, are you confused about all of our plans? Would you like to hear the WHOLE PLAN?”

He looked down and nodded.
So, in the most four-year-old appropriate way, I told him that I would be going away with Luke for “a few days,” and because I loved him and I knew how much FUN he and Sandra used to have, I planned to fly her over so that she could be with him.  (Side note: I said “for a few days,” because as smart as this kid is, I really don’t think he knows the difference between “few days” and “a week.” A few days sounded much better, and my gut told me that this was the right phrase to use.)

“THEN,” I continued, “You and Daddy will be flying over to join Luke and I in California.” Then I carried on about how much fun that would be and so on.

I saw the heavy burden lift from Levi’s shoulders. He smiled and said “OK!”  He really did need and want to know what was going on. He simply didn’t know how to tell me that he needed to know.

I would like to say everything was better after that, and indeed, his night-cries and clinginess did improve. But I know he was still dealing with things, and that is ok.  He had questions (a million of them, and that’s another post,) but I did my best to manage it all. His demeanor changed for sure.

CHAPTER THREE:  A confession.
Now…if you read the post about my travels, you might remember that AFTER Dave and Levi come over to California, they will be going back to Hawaii, and Luke and I will have a full TEN days left on our own.

As far as Levi knows, that part doesn’t exist yet.

I just couldn’t do it.

I may be wrong, but I simply don’t think his little brain could map out that much travel and time into the future. It was too much.  One thing at a time, right?  (Looking for a friend here.)

And yes, now I need to face up to this, and find the right time to shoot straight with him about that part of the trip.  I’m thinking I’ll choose just the right time while he is here in California.  (pray for this.)

Now, here’s the thing: I sort of do regret that part of the trip. I probably COULD HAVE kept Levi with me for the last ten days of our trip.  It wouldn’t have been easy, but it would have been more do-able than this first part (just because of the surf break, and all of the details of where we are staying, etc.)

And because of this, I went online and began to search for flights, thinking maybe I could skip a whole bunch of drama by simply booking Levi with me on MY flight back.  Yes, I had already bought his ticket, but maybe losing a couple hundred dollars would be worth it.

But when I went online, I saw that the one way flight that I originally purchased for $300 was now coming up as $1150 dollars.

And that’s a whole lot of money just to avoid some toddler drama.

CHAPTER FOUR:  Wisdom.

And this is where, once again, the wisdom of a friend came in.
The day I was searching for flights and realizing that this was not going to work, I spoke with a woman who had raised four children of her own, and was now a Grandmother.  I told her the whole story, and here is her nugget of wisdom for me (and maybe for some of you, too.)

She said “Every one of your children have a different set of parents. You are different, your life is different, and how you raise your children will be different. Do not try to raise any of your kids exactly how you raised the others. You can not protect the fourth from growing up different from your first.”
  She went on, “What Levi will gain from the experience of having you away—will in some way be how God shapes His character to be the man he will one day be. He will learn to rely on Dad more, on the brothers more, and he will probably be more independent.”  
And finally, “The fact that the prices of the flight have changed so dramatically shows you that you should not try to change things. God was with you as you made all of these plans, and He will take care of Levi. TRUST HIM.”

And those were some really good words.  Even when my emotions don’t feel it, I know deep down that she was right.

CHAPTER FIVE: Conclusion.

So, here I sit in California. Levi is home, with two brothers and a today’s sack of goodies…and one of Mom’s t-shirts that smells like lemons and a doctor’s office.

He may cry himself to sleep tonight, but he will wake up tomorrow and find that he is ok. I will be with Luke, who has NEVER had me to himself in his ten years of life, and I will treasure every single moment of this incredible kids personality and companionship.

And I will miss my all three of my boys at home very very much.  (and their dad too. :))

Looking back, would I handle all of this the same way if I could do it again?

Probably not.
Maybe I would do it the Teacher’s way, and wait to tell Levi until a few days before we leave. Maybe I wouldn’t. 
I definitely would shoot straight with him, whenever I chose to tell him. 

Most of all I would trust God to take care of each of my kids because really—He’s got it all figured out.

And I (obviously) don’t.

Now that you’ve made it this far, I welcome your thoughts, suggestions, experiences, judgements (try to be nice, I’m still fragile :)) and stories.   Your comments are golden!

Much love,
Grommom

More Levi posts?  Try this one, or this one!  :)

PS  The report from home (and a LOT of FaceTime) tells me that Levi is doing splendid, and I am SO excited to be with him again on Friday!

 

Aloha, Monica

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Comments

  1. Greg says

    So loved reading this Monica. Completely nothing like any experience I’ve ever had in life, but you took me on the journey for sure.

    Thanks for always sharing so openly and deeply about your life (and your family’s). It always feels like a real honor to get to read these posts.

    For what it’s worth, I feel like what I saw of your kids gives me great confidence that you’re amazing parents, you and Dave. And in it’s own way, that just reminds me even more of how real out Heavenly Father is. As our ‘dad’, he deals with us in such similar ways – not shying away from the tough things in life, but caring for us deeply as we come to terms with it.

    Have you ever wondered how Jesus felt in te moments before his ascension? Knowing that he was leaving for a while – with prayer and his word as a kind of better version of Skype – but still knowing the trials we will face before his second coming? I bet that was heartbreaking too.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing. :)

    • says

      Thank you Greg. So many good points and thoughts in that comment, awesome! I do find so many parallels in parenting with God’s love for us as His children. it is amazing. BTW–We all miss you! When are you coming back? :)

  2. says

    Aww…thanks for sharing your heart in this post Monica! It was really from God for me to read this right now. Luke and I will be traveling to California soon, and I will be dropping him off for a week (for the first time!) with his dad. Like you said – God’s got it, and the one thing I do know is that His grace will be with us through it. :)

  3. Kendall says

    I think if you had flown Sandra over a few days early and he is having fun the separation anxiety wouldn’t have been so much in his mind. Great story and the last part about the woman who raised her kids was very moving. God’s got this Monica. You are a great mom!

  4. Melissa Boyd says

    My son was a brand new 5 year old when I left him with dad for a week to volunteer at Bible camp for a week. I think, no I know it was harder on me than him! I had no cell service in the SC mountains and worried every night. I traded snacks for minutes of phone time with someone who had service. I over paid to use the office phone just to hear his sweet voice. And he would talk for all of 30 seconds, say I love you then go and play! He was fine and loved his daddy time.

  5. Janet says

    Thanks for sharing! No judging!! Being a Mom, wife, christian, woman, friend is all hard enough without that! We live, we learn. You hadn’t had to do this before so you have learned what you might do differently next time. I really loved what the wise woman told you. What fantastic advice and soothing to the heart! I love that Luke is getting to spend some alone time with you. Fantastic. Something that will impact his life in a positive way for sure. Love that you shared with us your experience. ( What perfume is that by they way? ) ha ha! ;)

  6. Lucy K says

    I am sure you read my mind and write these posts when I need them the most. I’m taking my mom for her 60th birthday to Puerto Vallarta for a long weekend next month and been debating how to approach it with my 3 1/2 year old, after reading this I think I will hold off for a couple of weeks and not say much until right before our departure, I’m only gone for 4 days but he has no concept of time.

    I think is wonderful for you and Luke to spend this unforgettable time together, we’re enjoying your daily updates very much.

    xoxoxo

    Lucy

  7. Jess says

    I think you did great! Honestly, there is no right way to prepare a toddler for that long of a trip, whatever works. In the end he’ll have a great time with his dad and brothers, and you get some great one-on-one time with your other son. My husband travels for work about 3-4 months every year and its always hard to explain to my daughters (3 and 1) when daddy will be home. Unfortunately my 3-year-old is now starting to understand that 3 weeks means 21 sleeps. She counts them off every morning and gets sad until she can skype him and he tells her he’ll see her soon. Have a great trip!!

  8. Wendy says

    Whoops I think the comment I just tried to submit may have gotten lost! You’re handling this fabulously and it’s great for both of you to be around different people now and then! Makes your time together that much better!

  9. Miranda says

    Hi Monica,

    I really enjoying reading your story & your willingness to share the challenges of parenting. It sounds like being clear with Levi was the best way to go. I often think giving honest information about what’s going on but not too much information is helpful for little people. I also thinking making room & naming for Levi some feelings he’s probably having (eg ‘It makes you sad when Mum goes away’) is also important. Once you’ve ‘sat’ with those feelings with Levi he may then be quite happy to chat about the fun things he’ll do when you’re away.
    Xx

  10. says

    I’m so thankful that (from reading your next post…because I’m just now catching up) everything turned out as best it could. My favorite part is Chapter 4. I’m definitely keeping this post in mind, for the future. Thanks, Monica for always sharing from your heart. xoxo