Dan, my husband, is away. Forget about what this sometimes does to me: mentally, physically, emotionally. What I’d rather discuss is the impact on my daughter Elyse who has Down syndrome. I should preface this by saying Dan has no choice as to whether he travels for work or not. It comes with the territory.
In Dan’s absence, Elyse’s behaviour changes. The change is remarkable to the extent that her school has requested I notify them of any dad departures in advance, so that they may adjust her day accordingly. They incorporate more rest, smoother transitions. In short, they demand less of her. She is a creature of habit, and her daddy is an integral part of her day. She relies of him for obvious help, but also subtle cues, subtle cues I’m not necessarily even aware of, which Elyse makes clear to me in our interactions.
Elyse sees us as a family of balloons, a colourful bunch, and with her dad away, it’s as though she is cut adrift, left wandering up into the sky of beyond. I reach for her string, try to grasp it, bring her back down, but she’s too high, too far gone.
But I have my tricks, by necessity. What mother doesn’t?
She is floating high high up in the sky, away from me, and I remember how to get her back down. I lay flat on the ground in the living room, cheek planted on the plush carpet looking right in the direction of our new windows, clear and shiny. In my field of vision, I see the bright glare of sunshine through the glass, clouds passing by, the bare winter branches reaching high, and our tropical plant, Urma, with her lush leaves in the foreground.
I lay there, ribs compressed, prone, and attract the living creatures.
Elyse is the first to take the bait. When words fail with her, I’ve learned to communicate with my body. This laying flat is an offering, you see.
I hear the pounding of her footfall approaching. Elyse straddles my torso and peeks her little face down into my field of vision. Her hands work across my back like a kneading cat.
The dog arrives next. His big wet tongue trails across my face, and Elyse defends me, bats him away. My youngest lounges across the backs of my calves. The laundry will have to wait. I am the one being draped with bodies.
I stay there, motionless, pressed into the earth, without talking, and Elyse claims me. I surrender myself to her completely. She lowers her little body completely on top of mine, squeezes me tight, and flashes her shark teeth close to my face with another big cheeky grin. She lets out a laugh. She is delighted to have me in her grasp.