Texas family keeps in touch with father in Africa by drawing him driveway chalk messages during coronavirus pandemic

Austin and Shellie Callaway have been leaving precious chalk messages to husband and father, Robert, who is stuck in Central Africa due to coronavirus travel restrictions (Photo: Shellie Callaway)
Austin and Shellie Callaway have been leaving precious chalk messages to husband and father, Robert, who is stuck in Central Africa due to coronavirus travel restrictions (Photo: Shellie Callaway)

A Texas mother and son have found a creative way to send sweet messages to a loved one who is a world away during the coronavirus pandemic.

Shellie Callaway, who lives in League City, Texas, is on a different continent from her husband Robert at this time. Robert, who works as an integrity management specialist in the oil and gas sector, is currently in Equatorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

This is not the first time Robert has been away from his family for work, and Shellie tells Yahoo Lifestyle that his absence never ceases to be felt.

“We always miss him when he's traveling, though this has definitely felt different, given the amount of uncertainty all around us,” she says.

Still, Shellie and the couple’s 14-year-old son, Austin, have found a way to communicate with Robert, writing messages for him with chalk in their driveway so that he can see them from their home security cameras no matter where he is in the world.

According to Shellie, Robert has been in Africa since the first week of March and was scheduled to come home around the end of April. But with travel restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is unclear when he will return home. Austin tells Yahoo Lifestyle that though he finds himself concerned about his father, he also finds a sense of comfort in his dad being away from the U.S. at this time.

“I feel worried and sad for him because he can't be home with us, but I also think he may be safer there since the virus isn't spreading as quickly over there as it is here,” he admits. “Plus, he's on a platform and everyone is healthy, so it's like he's extra protected.”

Austin and Robert Callaway enjoy father-son bonding when Robert is not traveling for work. (Photo: Shellie Callaway)
Austin and Robert Callaway enjoy father-son bonding when Robert is not traveling for work. (Photo: Shellie Callaway)

While in quarantine, Shellie and Austin have been finding creative ways to not only pass the time but to also keep in touch with Robert. Though they talk to him daily through texting, Shellie was inspired by a friend, who is “an extremely talented artist,” who posted pictures of some art projects she had been doing with her kids.

“Coincidentally, others in our neighborhood also happened to be encouraging residents to decorate the sidewalks to spread a little joy to those getting out for walks,” Shellie explains. “Rob checks the security cameras when he wakes up each day and it occurred to us that he might enjoy little messages letting him know that we're thinking about him.”

Shellie remembers that the first time she and Austin wrote a message to Robert, he had not watched the security footage right away, but after doing a bit of prodding on her end, he responded with a few crying emojis.

“[He] said that it really meant a lot to him that we were taking time to do something special for him,” she continues.

Every day, Austin and Shellie leave chalk messages in their driveway for Robert to tell him how much they love and miss him, in addition to creating whimsical drawings that Austin says gives him and his mom extra family time.

A shot of some of Shellie and Austin's creative chalk messages they left for Robert to see on their security cameras. (Photo: Shellie Callaway)
A shot of some of Shellie and Austin's creative chalk messages they left for Robert to see on their security cameras. (Photo: Shellie Callaway)

Another special message the mother-son duo left for Robert was to let him know that he was a match to donate a kidney to Shellie’s mom, who had gone into kidney failure last year. Though she was put on a transplant list, Shellie explains that her mother had no luck with finding eligible candidates, at first.

“She was told that it could be several years before a donor is found. Rob and my mom are the same blood type and he signed up the day she was placed on the list. He was called in for screening at the beginning of this year and we happened to get the results the day that Austin and I had drawn the first messages in the driveway,” she says. “My mom ...asked if I could make the announcement in our next chalk greeting, so that's what we did. [Rob] has teased from the beginning that he wanted to be a donor so that he could call her ‘kid’ and bring kidney beans to family meals.  That's why we used dancing beans and ‘Hey, kid.’” 

Shellie says Robert was excited to learn that he is a match and though it is uncertain when he will return, the earliest the procedure can take place is in mid-June.

Although Shellie says that Robert’s years of traveling for work has prepared the family for something like this, she and Austin are taking it day-by-day. She advises others that have loved ones stuck thousands of miles from home during this difficult time to stay positive.

“Communicate your love and good news as much as possible,” she says. “It may take a little longer than planned and there will likely be difficult times along the way, but this will eventually end and the homecoming will be that much sweeter.” 

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides. 

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