Strictly speaking, Brazil is not Little Chick’s word of the week. It is mine.
I write this from my hotel room, overlooking Copacabana Beach. Having attended a friend’s wedding, I am now enjoying a week in Rio with my best friend. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler is solo parenting and Little Chick, despite my best efforts to explain the situation, thinks I am on an extended shopping trip. He will be expecting some stellar presents upon my return.
To prepare him for my absence, I started laying the groundwork early, drip-feeding information without panicking him that I would be leaving at any minute. Additionally, I compiled a few bits and pieces for Mama to use, as she sees fit, in my absence.
Little Chick and I both love Miffy (Dick Bruna’s sweet little bunny) and the character is special to us and our relationship. I bought a special Miffy plush toy for myself, partly because it is adorable and partly so that I could leave it with Little Chick whenever I am away. I am away far less often than Mama, who leaves for work several times a week (but always comes back), so we haven’t had the need for anything before now. I kissed and cuddled Miffy with Little Chick before departing so that he knew she was special to me and that she could pass on my love. He also has Tag, the cuddly dog we gave him during introductions, which is a link to both Mummy and Mama and affirms our status as a family unit.
Although we share responsibilities and try to alternate who does activities with Little Chick (so that he doesn’t become dependent on or detached from one of us in a particular circumstance or setting), Mama takes the lead during bathtime and I am in charge of bedtime stories. I love stories and reading to our child was one of the things that most excited me about becoming a parent. In my absence, I have recorded some stories onto the Kindle so that I can still share stories with Little Chick and be involved in the bedtime routine (if appropriate).
I have promised him some small presents upon my return. These will include a replica football shirt and sundries from the hotel. I cannot give him toiletries because of his sensitive skin, but I think he will enjoy having his own comb (in its own special box), writing paper, and pen. I have also swiped some honey from the breakfast buffet, a mini jar that will be just his, which he doesn’t have to share.
The physical stuff is important, serving as tangible reminders. But I also want to remind him of the less tangible, such as me coming back. Since introductions, I have reiterated to him that while we sometimes go away, we always come back. I have emphasised this message over the past weeks and given myself more opportunities to prove that I always return. This has benefited both of us. It has reinforced my reliability to Little Chick and has forced me to focus on myself more.
For the past six months or so, Little Chick has been the sole focus of our attention. It is right that he was our priority, but sometimes we have focused on him to the detriment of ourselves; ultimately, that hasn’t benefited him either. Until I took this break, I didn’t realise how much I needed it. OK, a fortnight in an exotic location is good for most people, but I had underestimated how much I need a change of scene, some time for self-care, and adult company.
The weather in Rio is unseasonably poor for this time of year but it is still considerably warmer and more uplifting than back at home. Different sounds, sights, smells have all invigorated me. I have been excited for things for my sake, not because they thrilled Little Chick or given me five minutes’ peace. I saw a Toco Toucan and squealed with delight; the magnificent frigatebirds and black vultures have captivated me from the rooftop terrace; Sugarloaf Mountain was breathtakingly beautiful.
Adult conversation has been tricky. I left the UK feeling poorly and arrived in Brazil with full-blown tonsillitis. Over the course of the first few days I gradually lost my voice until I was no longer audible. I was finally in adult company and I couldn’t talk. Initially, I was gutted, knowing I would be even more on the social periphery (being amongst chiefly strangers and not struggling with social anxiety). But as time passed, I realised that I didn’t know what to say or have much worth sharing. Perhaps my ailments were a blessing in disguise.
I knew that I would miss the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and Little Chick – that was a given. But I didn’t appreciate how much, or how silly moments would make me yearn for them intensely. Chilling on Ipanema Beach was blissful, but I became bored more quickly than I expected and looked around for my playmate to build sandcastles with me; I also knew that my wife would have loved this opportunity and especially enjoyed the fresh coconut water and cocktails being brought directly to her.
Focusing on Little Chick’s preparedness for me leaving, I overlooked my own readiness. I hadn’t steadied myself for the time apart, for the time difference, for the disrupted communications. I knew that it would be a fantastic opportunity for my wife and Little Chick to bond, having spent less time together without me. But now I’m worrying about where I will fit in on my return, whether I will be welcomed or shunned.
So, this trip has been somewhat bittersweet. I have had an amazing opportunity, but I haven’t embraced it like I would have previously. I haven’t been the fun travel companion that my best friend hoped for and has come to expect (that is something I do need to think about and try to remedy). It has been different because I have changed. I am a mummy now. And I hadn’t fully appreciated how much I love the changes until I had some distance from them. It isn’t always easy – sometimes it is downright painful – but I love my life, I love my family. And Brazil will always remind me of that.