How to stay 'connected' with my daughter while away from home?
February 11, 2008 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for ideas for things to give my daughter before I go away for 3 weeks.

Late next week I'll be travelling to India & Bangladesh for 3 weeks. My daughter is 9. I've been away for 4-5 days on occasion in the past, but this is obviously a much longer period. I'll be trying to email whenever I can and will try to call at least once a week, but the time difference and a pretty hectic travel schedule will make that a bit challenging.

I have a new stuffy toy that I'll give her before I go away, and I know she'll appreciate that as something to connect with me when I'm not there, but I'd like ideas on what else I can do. They need to be positive and not likely to upset her in an 'OMG I'm never going to see daddy again' kind of way while she's getting ready for school in the morning! I've thought about a map of the two countries with some sticky arrows with which she can track my travels, but I'm not sure if that will mean much to her. Maybe in combination with emails every couple of days and some pictures it would be good?

When my wife did a 10-day trip a few years ago she put together a big poster with an envelope for each day containing a poem specific to that day. I'm neither crafty nor poetic.

What have you done to enable your kids to feel a daily connection while you were away?
posted by valleys to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When I was about the same age, my father went to the Phillipines for a couple of weeks. He left me his Willie Nelson cassette -- the one that had "On The Road Again". To this day, I can't listen to that song without getting a little moist in the eyes and my father is alive and well. I may never be able to listen to it again, when he finally passes on.

So... a cd or mix of your favorite music.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:28 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: bring an old stuffed toy of hers with you, and email her photos you've taken of it wherever you are at the moment—nice way to show her what you are up to, and that you are thinking of her wherever you are. internet cafes are everywhere in india and bangladesh, you shouldn't have any trouble getting online and downloading photos from a camera. alternately if you have a gsm cellphone with a camera, unlock it here, get a prepaid card when you land and moblog photos of what you are doing straight to flickr for her to see whenever she wants.
posted by lia at 1:29 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about a book? I'd think that 3 weeks time would be a nice time to read a book. And you know what? Give yourself the same book, read it, and when you return you can have your own little book club - just the two of you. You can take her to a small cafe, or whatever and have a nice daddy daughter discussion of the book!

Book ideas:
Paint the Wind

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
posted by Sassyfras at 1:36 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

A clock set to local time?
posted by Leon at 1:41 PM on February 11, 2008

I love lia's idea of bringing a stuffed animals of her with you and taking pictures of you with it, especially if she's getting another one before you leave - trading things is always fun for little kids.

I don't have much in suggestions to offer, but I just wanted to say that reading this question made me smile. You're an awesome dad :) my parents went on extended trips all the time, and we never got more than a day or two's notice and a local trinket after they got back from said trip.
posted by Phire at 1:48 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: For my kiddo (who's 11 now but was 9 when I first started traveling), the challenge seemed more to be the distance and time; when I'm gone farther and/or longer, it's harder for her to normalize the absence.

I also find that the frequency of calls isn't quite as important as pre-scheduling the time for the calls. I set "phone dates" with my daughter and we put them on the calendar in advance, and it gives her something to look forward to. We also make heavy use of the household calendar to let her process the amount of time, so it doesn't feel like I'm gone forever. She can mark off dates or even just remind herself when I'll return. If I had a three-week trip, I might make a calendar of that three weeks on a posterboard, and note funny things on each date (whatever the goofy "national such-and-such awareness" dates are), and also give her a place to write in something interesting to tell me on the next phone call. You say you aren't crafty but I bet your wife could help -- it's just a month drawn on a posterboard!

I do notes and mail. I hide notes before I leave, in places that I know my daughter will find them -- under her pillow for her to find on the first night I'm gone... in the pocket of her coat... taped to her breakfast cereal box... bathroom mirror... on her juice in the fridge... in her sock drawer.... anywhere that it's a bit of a surprise. They don't have to be obvious locations -- if it takes a few days, all the more likely that the fun lasts longer.

I also mail little notes -- not always from the destination because international post can take so long that sometimes I'm home before the postcards -- but the postmark doesn't matter as much as the frequency. I'll mail one the day before I actually leave... then drop another in the outgoing mail on the day I leave... then drop another in the outgoing mailbox at the airport, then another in the outgoing mail at my connecting airports, etc. It staggers the arrival. For a three-week trip, you might also give your wife a few to drop in the mail on later dates. This might sound like a chore if you're not really a note-writer (I happen to be anyway so it works for me), but bear in mind that all kids love to get mail, and it doesn't have to be fancy paper or Hallmark greeting cards or anything. A silly note from Dad on a piece of notebook paper in a #10 envelope is just as good.

You might also get her a couple of books about India (on preview, adding some title ideas to Sassyfras' suggestions: here, scroll down), so that she can get a mental picture of where you are while you're away.

And you might have your wife sit down with your daughter one day and do Google Earth to "find" you while on your trip.

When my kiddo was 8, 9 and her dad would travel, she really liked to have a framed picture of him by her bed, so she could "tell him goodnight."

And, echoing what Phire said: you're a good dad for thinking about this!
posted by pineapple at 1:55 PM on February 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I like the map idea, especially if her Mom can help. You're a better judge of whether it would mean anything to her; you could start by just looking at a map with her and see if she gets it.
posted by amtho at 2:00 PM on February 11, 2008

Response by poster: Great ideas so far, thanks! I love the idea of having one of her stuffy toys and taking pictures of it to email to her ... I think she'll love that - thanks lia! Also love the hidden notes idea - thanks Pineapple. Thanks also for the book suggestions.

I'll have a laptop but no cellphone. Hmmm ... should I be looking at Skype or something? Would that be easier than calling on a regular phone? Scheduling phone calls will be next to impossible as my work/travelling schedule is kind of crazy.

I will be doing postcards, but from what I recall of my last trip to India, I was back long before they got here! I'll send one from Heathrow on the way there.

And we will be having fun times before I go, both this Sunday (mom will be off skiing all day, so I'm planning all kinds of stuff) and the day before I leave ... her class is going snowshoeing late morning so I'm going to volunteer to help out with that, then take her out of school to play hookey for the afternoon.

Keep the ideas coming ... this is great!
posted by valleys at 2:27 PM on February 11, 2008

skype is great, especially if one or both computers have video cameras because then you can do video chats!
posted by lia at 2:50 PM on February 11, 2008

When my Dad was in the Navy my parents filled a jar with a stick of gum for each day he'd be gone, and I got to chew one a day... The last on the way to meet the ship at Norfolk.
posted by Jahaza at 3:00 PM on February 11, 2008

When you do email, try to make it about all the cool things you've seen and attach pictures if possible.
posted by Anonymous at 3:04 PM on February 11, 2008

My kids are much younger than yours but what I've done is make something together. e.g. the night before leaving my son and I made a big castle out of megabloks that he could play inside while I was gone and remember that Daddy loves him.
posted by winston at 3:17 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: Write a note for her to read every night before she goes to bed. It can be just a few sentences, or it can have a silly poem or a riddle, a joke, a drawing, just something special from you to her. Your wife can dole them out one by one. Maybe every 4th one can have something special on it like a sticker or a trinket.

Check the phases of the moon and if there's going to be a full one while you're away, make a "date" with her that you'll both look at the moon on the night that it is full. Remind her you'll both be looking at the exact same moon at the same time (conveniently leave out the time difference conundrum this once). Tell her if it's cloudy that night she should still go outside at the appointed time and send you a wish and a thought because you'll be there on the other side of the moon waiting to catch it.

I think the routine of the bedtime note will be soothing to her and will give her something to look forward to. I bet she saves them up. You could even give her a box to keep the notes in. A handwritten daily note from you would mean a lot more than something you'd buy in the store (but I do like the special stuffed animal idea). Just make sure the notes convey the message that Daddy loves you, Daddy is thinking about you and he'll see you soon.

Safe travels to you!
posted by Kangaroo at 3:41 PM on February 11, 2008

I travel a lot for work. When I go for an extended trip, I secretly place several gift envelopes for my daughters around the house.

As my trip goes on, I call in and sometimes reveal the locations of the envelopes and then run and grab them.

I put in all kinds of things, candy, stickers, origami paper, comics, small toys, dollar bills, magazines, pretty much any kind of small thing in the envelope. I also put things for my wife. For my wife, I out in a few nice things like gift certificates to a spa and other surprising things.

I also Skype them daily from wherever I am. Just a few minutes over the webcam does wonders for them feeling OK about me being gone. The video aspect is the key here. It can be tough with timezones, but usually they get bored after a few minutes.
posted by Argyle at 4:49 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: When my husband used to travel when the kids were little, we would put together a special calendar, that we'd mark with a big red X before bedtime each day. What if you put together a segmented box, or a series of envelopes or something, one for each day you're gone, with things that your daughter can put on the calendar? They could be completely silly pointless things, or they could actually pertain to where you expect to be on any given day. You could neatly work some bribes into this-- Day Ten, studying local markets. Here's a $20 gift card to Border's.

You should also definetely keep a hand-written travel diary. Doesn't have to be daily, and it can range from the mundane to the exotic in content. I absolutely treasure the diaries that my husband kept during those trips. They are magic.

Oh, and god bless you. My father spent more than 3 YEARS of my childhood (anywhere from 3 months to 12 months at a time from the time I was 3 until I was 14) abroad, and barely wrote, let alone took the time to bridge the absence like this.
posted by nax at 4:58 PM on February 11, 2008

When my parents would travel when I was young, they would make a few tapes of their voices, just talking to us like they would normally at the dinner table. Things like "hope you had a good day at school, what was for lunch?, did you do your homework yet? we love you very much," etc. It was really nice to have a recording of their voice and be able to pretend they were home.

A calendar with it very clearly marked when you will return helps, especially being able to X out each day at the end of the day.

You are wonderful for doing this.
posted by catsoup at 5:34 PM on February 11, 2008

Wow, you are so much more considerate than my dad was when he went on all those business trips when I was a kid. I mean, sure, I got presents when he got back, but...

Bettafish comes home from school.

BF: Mummy, where's Daddy?
BF's mum: *looks puzzled/slightly irritated* Honey, we told you. He's in Prague. He'll be back on Sunday.
BF: No one told me!
BF's mum: Yes, we did.
BF: No, you didn't.
BF's mum: Well ... now you know.
BF: *irate nine-year-old* He didn't even say goodbye!

Once he forgot my birthday, too.

Anyway, I would be careful not to overdo it, just because you want a kid with a sense of independence and all ... but I like the ideas suggested. I really like the secret envelopes idea, and also the book. Maybe when you take her out that last afternoon, you could pick out a couple of books together, and ask her to tell you all about them when she gets back? (Obviously this only applies if she likes reading - it shouldn't feel like a chore hanging over her head, ugh.)
posted by bettafish at 5:55 PM on February 11, 2008

When I was about 5, my mother went away for 2 or 3 months. I clearly remember a posterboard calendar on the door to the basement. Every day I marked a big X on the day and I could tell how much longer until she came home. I remember counting the remaining days over and over.

I think the calendar is a very visual, linear way for a child to keep track of when several months is up.

Also - how about a CD or tape of you telling some jokes, stories, singing a song, etc for your daughter to listen to before she goes to bed?
posted by kdern at 6:58 PM on February 11, 2008

My dad traveled all the time when I was little, starting his bussiness, and he always brought me back a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe of wherever he went. He would also bring back some sort of unique trinket from the area. I was sad when he left but excited about getting a new shirt to add to my collection.

Twenty years later, he still does this.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 7:20 PM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know 9 might be a little old for this (my eldest is 5, so it's a guess), but what if you were to go and pick a book with her, and make a recording of you reading it. That way, she could read it at night along 'with' you before she goes to bed. Sometimes little girls aren't too old when they miss their Daddies for stuff like this. ;)

Another thing that I did with my husband when he had to go on business trips that I bet your daughter might like - we had two small marbles that were very similar (almost identical). He kept one in his pocket while he traveled, and I kept one home with me. That way, I knew if I particularly was missing him at any given time, I could hold it in my hand and know that he had the 'same' one in his pocket. He also had the benefit of doing the same thing. We also promised to hold onto the marbles until they were back together in real life.

Kudos to you for being such a cool Dad. And Godspeed to you. I'm sure you'll be home before you know it.
posted by dancinglamb at 8:37 PM on February 11, 2008

Best answer: Be sure you have a way for her to communicate with you.

It's easy to forget that she has many important things to tell you. Make sure she can tell you about these things every day - via email or scanned art projects or skype or whatever you can rig. Always respond in a way that she knows that you read what she had to say. A child never forgets when a parent takes time to listen.

Safe journeys.
posted by 26.2 at 9:10 PM on February 11, 2008

My parents gave me all of the Anne of Green Gables books, and both the Alice in Wonderland books, when they went to Ireland for a week when I was around this age. They told me they expected me to be finished by the time they got back so I had better get reading.

I don't actually remember whether I finished them or not, but I remember thinking I was pretty cool because my parents expected me to blast through ten books in fewer days. And both sets of books were kind of about girls having adventures, which is I guess why they picked them (it really was an adventure, I slept in a bunch of different people's houses and ate sushi for the first time).
posted by crinklebat at 10:58 PM on February 11, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks for all the amazing input, and the more personal comments. I really appreciate them all. Like many of you, my dad travelled a lot and .... yeah - we didn't get a whole lot of information or thought. If we were lucky we might have gotten some trinket that he took from the hotel or found in the airport gift shop. I guess that's why I'm so keen on making an effort for this trip! I think I'll try to do:
- trade stuffy toys and take pictures of the travelling one to include in emails. (I actually really like the idea of having one of her toys with me, as well as some pictures she's already drawn for me to take, and photos, of course)
- random scattered notes
- daily notes ... if I write them on post-it notes she can stick them on a posterboard calendar that I can probably manage to draw up, which has the same effect as marking an X on each day.
- Email whenever I can. Postcards on occasion.
- And I'll look in to Skype.
.... And I'll be sure to be doing something for my wife as well!
posted by valleys at 6:22 AM on February 12, 2008

When I was little... even as old as 6 or 7 I think... my mom always wore the same perfume, and before she'd go away somewhere, she'd spray 3 stretchy sweatbands with her perfume, and knot them together, then tie one end around the post on my bed. It was just long enough to lay on my pillow. :)
posted by IndigoRain at 8:59 PM on February 12, 2008

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