As a wee lad, I would bid my father farewell several times a year as he set off on a business trip for unknown regions of the planet. They were actually major metropolitan areas of the USA, but as a kid all I knew was that Daddy was gone. Though I recall him going on trips, I don’t recall there being any particular trauma involved. Dad went to work every day; having him gone for a few nights at a time didn’t seem to alter the universe all that much. As long as Mom was home, nothing really mattered.
One thing I did look forward to was getting a treat from Dad whenever he returned from a trip. The prize was always the same: a lollipop. Not the ordinary ones, but the giant ones that other parents never bought. Oftentimes, the lollipop was emblazoned with the name of whatever city he had visited (no doubt procured at the airport). I would lick the thing for a day or two, but I don’t think I ever actually finished one of them. It didn’t matter; they were something special from my dad that showed he hadn’t forgotten me while he was gone (even if I didn’t think that much about him in his absence).
In my own household, it is my wife who frequently gets pulled away for week-long business trips. I’d like to report that these absences go unnoticed, but they don’t. Despite the children not mentioning her absence all that much, I can feel them pining for her. Reina is now old enough that she totally gets it. She knows why Mama is gone and when she will be back, but she is still not keen to talk to her on the phone. Day after day, the boys ask me where she is and seem to get clingier as time passes. It is as if their sun has been stolen away and they worry their moon will disappear too.
Like my father, Savvy also comes home with treats for everyone, but with one minor difference: her suitcases are bursting with treasures. On a recent trip to the USA, she brought back books, toys, clothes, and winter boots as well as food and medicine. It always looks like the aftermath of a birthday party, but instead of wrapping paper the gifts are in retail bags. Much of the “loot” are items we ordered off Amazon, but often Grandma and Grandpa use her trips as a means to get gifts to the grandkids too.
At times, I wonder if this explosion of presents will create undue expectations on the part of the kids. Do we want Mama’s return to be associated with presents and toys, or do we simply want to be grateful to have her back? Unfortunately, living the expat lives that we do, it is hard not to take advantage of the opportunities that her business trips provide. No doubt we are creating certain memories for our own children about what a business trip is and how it impacts their lives. I’m not sure how it will compare to my own childhood memories, but I cherish the simple gift that my father always brought home with him.
This article originally appeared on p44 in the January 2015 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here (will send link later) To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illustration: Crystal Liu