Vacation blues

For the first time since Achi’s birth in 2007, the hubby and I are going on a long-overdue vacation. Since I am presenting a paper in the Asia Pacific Children’s Museums Conference on Oct. 19-21 in Hawaii, we decided to hit the beach as well.

Who’s having the blues? Shobe is now experiencing a severe case of separation anxiety.

Shobe has had gastric distress since early this year. I noticed that her tummy ache periods coincided with my teaching stint at De La Salle University.

On the three days per week that I have class, I would arrive home at around 6 p.m. This is not a usual experience for her because I am normally home before she is, or at least while the sun is still out.

The pediatrician told me to find out what is worrying Shobe because gastric troubles for a 7-year-old is not normal. Chances are there are psychological reasons causing the stomach pain.

Since western medicine is not working, I brought Shobe to a Chinese doctor who gave her teeny tiny tablets (1 mm diameter tablets) to take. It so happened that her Chinese medicine intake schedule coincided with term break. Shobe believes the Chinese medicine made her tummy aches go away. I think the combination of the two worked well enough to relieve Shobe of her troubles.

The tummy aches started again after we told the girls that we were going on vacation. Shobe found out the exact date of our departure because the broken iPhone she uses for playing games has a calendar that still syncs to our calendar schedule.

We have to calm the separation anxiety blues before we leave.

The guidance counselor is helping me. As soon as Shobe started complaining about her tummy again, I sent an SOS to her teacher. I asked that the guidance counselor chat with Shobe about our pending vacation.

At home, I had already spoken to the girls about why we were going. For one thing, since I am a speaker at a conference, I get a travel stipend. I also get a small grant from the university to help with accommodation and meal costs.

Thus, this vacation entails only one plane fare expense for hubby and his meals. The kids and I listed down all the vacations we have taken as a family and they saw that we take at least one vacation per year. Achi understands her parents’ needs to get away a little better. She told Shobe, “They need their time alone. We’ll be here with Ahma.”

The guidance counselor reports that Shobe’s worries are “consistent with separation anxiety but it seems to be the normal separation anxiety kids experience with their parents. It doesn’t seem to be far deviant or excessive.

“It also doesn’t seem to affect her day-to-day functioning apart from the headache and tummy ache in the morning.

“In our session, we talked about dietary habits that may be causing her tummy aches and we also talked about some ways to ease her worrying when her parents are away on trips.

“For her worries, she says verbatim, ‘I only worry when they don’t tell me where they’re going and when they’ll come back.’ She also narrated finding out about the vacation – she was surprised when she read flight to Honolulu in their calendar.

“It is unordinary for her for both parents to be gone at the same time. With that, we came up with things she can do while they’re away all suggested by Z herself.

“1. Play with Achi
“2. Play with dogs
“3. Bake muffins with Achi
“4. Schedule a play date for Z”

Shobe plays with her dog.

I am very happy that the school takes an active role in helping parents deal with children. While our inputs in our children’s lives are extremely important, sometimes, children need an outsider’s perspective as well. I like the agenda setting exercise and will work with Shobe to extend the list.

Ahma confirmed that Shobe is having a difficult time dealing with both parents going away.

I think though, that we should have spent a longer time preparing Shobe. We already knew early on that she has trouble separating from me. From 2013 to 2014, I conducted a series of training workshops in public schools around the country. For those two years, I was away for a weekend almost every month.

Shobe was always tense and anxious, constantly asking me when I was returning even before I left.

During those years, I always asked Shobe if she was worried that I would not return. Often, she said “yes.” So I made it a point to remind her that I have returned. “Remember before I left, you were worried I won’t come back? I told you I was coming back on Sunday, and it’s now Sunday!”

These conversations helped a little because my trips in 2014 were less anxiety-ridden. However, after that, I rarely took any trips from 2015 to 2016. And Shobe went back to the secure knowledge that Nanay is always present.

Meanwhile, Ahma said every time I was away, I should have held off from calling the girls at night. Normally, during the day, they are busy with their own concerns and do not look for me. When I call them at night, we would chat a bit and say goodnight. What I did not know was that after each phone call, Shobe would begin bugging Ahma, asking when I would come home.

I am not sure though if I could hold off from calling the girls. Who said it’s only children who experience separation anxiety? — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 10 (October 18-31, 2016): 11.