Despite the rising June temperatures, Beijing was dragging me into a crabby abyss of discontent. It was time to escape the city. I packed a couple of bags, picked out a few toys, loaded up on snacks, scooped up Reina and headed to Terminal 3 for a five-week “holiday” to Oregon. Just the two of us. Without mama. How much trouble could one well-adjusted, loquacious two-year-old be?
To find out before the flight, I solicited some advice from my Facebook clan, and the overwhelming response shocked me. Most of my friends with young children suggested drugging Reina during the 12-hour transpacific flight so that she would sleep through most of it – children’s Benadryl was the elixir of choice. Not being a fan of self-medicating myself, let alone my little girl, I wondered about the sanity of my friends using allergy medication to sedate their offspring. To top it off, a few parents had given Benadryl to their toddlers for the first time on an airplane only to learn the hard way that cold medicines actually stimulate a small percentage of children – so if you are considering it, don’t try it for the first time on a flight.
Instead of taking the prevailing advice from my friends, I opted for a portable DVD player, Reina’s favorite Dora the Explorer DVDs, coloring books, some toys and a few storybooks. I also tried to get as much sleep as possible before the flight – last year Reina hardly slept on the plane when we flew to the USA.
One misstep was having Savvy, Reina’s mother, see us off at the airport. Sure, it was helpful that she kept Reina occupied while I dealt with the check-in process, but when it was time to part ways, I was forced to march through immigration, customs and security with a sobbing child calling out for “Mama!” all the way to the departure gate (30 minutes away). But when she saw the planes, Reina promptly stopped crying and pointed out which plane she would fly on. Then she pointed at another plane and told me that one was mine. Crisis solved. No, we did not take separate planes. Strangely, she made almost no other mention of missing mommy for the rest of the trip.
Though she remained silent on the matter, Savvy’s absence during the initial three weeks of the holiday clearly weighed on Reina’s mood and behavior.
For starters, she would scarcely let me out of her sight. She recognized her grandparents, aunts and uncles, but she refused to allow them to hold or watch over her. Only Baba would do. This was compounded by jetlag, which had permitted Reina only eight hours of sleep in over 48 hours since our trip began in Beijing. That meant about four for me. I looked haggard, and the dark circles under Reina’s eyes looked so extreme that people who gazed upon her face were also suddenly overcome by exhaustion.
Thankfully, by the third night we both began sleeping better. When my family all gathered two weeks later for the July 4 festivities in my hometown, it was my teenage niece and nephew who cracked Reina’s trust code and captivated her long enough to permit me an hour here and there to myself. It seems most adults, no matter what their previous experience with toddlers, forget how to relate to the toddler mindset.
Embarking on this adventure earned me a great deal of respect and admiration from people, especially mothers. We fathers are in the minority when it comes to taking solo trips with our children, especially 2-year-olds. I know this, because many mothers made a point of telling me this.
I shrugged it off as an exaggeration, but when Savvy arrived at the airport to pick us up three weeks later, Reina and I breathed a
collective sigh of relief. Reina’s spirits were raised and she returned to her outgoing self. As for me, I drank a bottle of children’s Benadryl and had a well-deserved nap.
Christopher Lay, from the US, is the father of 2-year-old Reina. He is a freelance photographer and writer in Beijing. Visit his website at www.alivenotdead.com/chrislay.