Giraffes and the Costs of Leaving

I’m sitting in the international terminal of O’Hare airport right now, in transit to Nepal, and while I have been looking forward for weeks to being able to be back to the country I love so much, right now I am mostly thinking about the costs of being gone.

Mostly, I am thinking about my son. He only just turned three, and I have never been away from him for remotely this long. I have been working to prepare him (and myself) for my trip for about as long as I knew I would be going — I set up a calendar with stickers for him to count the days until I left and then until I get back, and I even ordered him a little pillow with my photo on it in case he got lonely and needed a mommy-hug, and I know Daddy is going to take excellent care of him — but it still felt terrible this morning to go.

What I think has helped, though, is that we have been reading a lovely book called Meet Me At The Moon, about an elephant mother who has to leave her elephant baby. The mother talks all the way through how much she loves Little One, and how he can feel loved when he can’t see her, and then they reunite at the end and snuggle. So night after night, we have been saying together, over and over, “You are in my most secret heart, Little One,” and “I love you like the sun loves the earth. Whenever you feel the warmth of the sun, you will know that I am loving you from where I am.”

So I’ve been thinking a lot about how fiction can help you rehearse feelings before you’ve had the experience — how thinking about a wise mother elephant walking to the mountain has helped me practice feeling like a human mommy getting onto an airplane, and how hearing about a baby elephant missing its mommy will (hopefully) have helped my human kid watch me go.

I think the best way that my son has rehearsed our separation, though — the most constructive lesson he has drawn from our book-reading — has been that when the mommy elephant leaves, all the giraffes come to nuzzle the baby elephant and help him feel better. Every time we turn to that page (the page where Mama walks away), he invariably points out the giraffes.

So even though, by his own prediction, my son is “prolly gonna cry” while I’m gone (because of course there is no one quite like mommy when you’re little), I know he’s prepared himself to see not just his daddy elephant but the many wonderful and loving giraffes in his life.

I just hope I have enough giraffes to hep me through on my end.