Scene 1: It is July 5, and Jean and I have brought Sasha to our trendy neighborhood pediatrician for her 18-month checkup. The kid is in fine shape: 89th percentile for height, 49th for weight, and also screaming and crying with terror at the prospect of being examined. Then the nurse practitioner walks in, and since she’s an Asian woman, Sasha instantly calms down. The N.P. asks if Sasha’s speaking, and we tell her all the words our little genius would say if she wasn’t too freaked out to open her mouth. Then the N.P. asks, “Where’s Daddy?” Shyly, Sasha raises a quivering finger and points it… at Mommy. Thanks, kid.
Scene 2: A few days later, I’m in Austria for work, and convinced that Sasha, who probably only considers me the boyfriend who occasionally sleeps over, has already forgotten who I am. But then I call home and Jean tells me this story: That morning, the first without me around, Jean was getting ready for work, and Sasha, as usual, was wandering the apartment, saying “Daddy… Daddy…” Meaning, of course, Mommy. Except that when Jean tries to correct her by saying, “Daddy’s not here,” Sasha actually seems to understand! “Where?” she asks, making the ASL sign. “Where?” Progress!
Although now this brings up another worry. Before, Sasha didn’t realize I was gone, and the resulting sadness was now mine. Now, if she knows I’m gone, Sasha may very well be the one who’s sad—which is even worse for me. But I guess this is what I wanted…
Scene 3: Last night I called my mother, who’s helping take care of Sasha while I’m away. It was almost Sasha’s bedtime, so I asked to speak to her. My mother held the phone to Sasha, who was sucking away on a bottle, and I did that thing that parents of young kids do on the phone—ask a lot of questions, say Sasha’s name, never really expect a response of any kind. And I didn’t get one—Sasha had a bottle in her mouth, and wasn’t about to take it out—until the very end, as my mother retrieved the phone, and I heard, in the background, a very, very faint “Da-dee?” Now, if only I can make her cry via Skype, I’ll really have succeeded as an absentee parent. Wish me luck and cross your fingers—I’ve got two weeks left on this trip!