Let’s set the record straight: I’m a horrible husband and a terrible father. Who else drags their 3-year-old daughter to the US for three weeks without Mama on the false pretense that it is the beginning of a two-month holiday? Believe me, the holiday began after Savvy’s arrival. Those first three weeks sans Mom were rough.
My first mistake was planning to stay with my brother in San Francisco. In hindsight, this was a colossal error of judgment as, by chance, we arrived the day before they moved house. Who knew? So on top of jet lag, sleep deprivation and a mama-starved toddler, I had to help with the move. Sounds awful, but I actually enjoyed it. Reina’s teenage cousins kept an eye on her while I helped with the packing and moving. By the end of each day, Reina and I were both too worn out to keep our eyes open. Reina still woke up at 4am each morning, but at least we were getting some solid sleep.
Seeing how well Reina bonded with her cousins, I hastily arranged for the 13 year old to join us on the train ride to visit the grandparents in Oregon. She stayed a week, and it was a huge help to have someone around who adored Reina and had enough energy and stamina to entertain a toddler all day. I hope to incorporate this strategy in future trips back to the States; possibly even extricating myself from the equation.
Compared to last summer’s two weeks in the US without Savvy, this year’s three weeks passed by much smoother. Last year, Reina wouldn’t let me out of her sight, but this time she was happy to be with other family members and let me use the shower by myself. She still pined for Mommy, but she knew Savvy would arrive soon enough and the daily phone calls were fun rather than traumatic.
Once Savvy was safely on the ground with Reina wrapped in her arms, we set out for the coastal mountains of southern Oregon to attend Badasht, a Baha’i summer school. For the Lay family, this week-long camp is a childhood rite of passage that goes clear back to my own generation. For the kids, there are stories, nature walks, art activities and games, all with an emphasis on acquiring virtues like sharing, patience and humility – something I’m particularly good at.
As Reina is going through a bug phobia, I was not certain how she would take roughing it for a week in the Oregon wilderness. Okay, technically, we were not roughing it. We stayed in Grandma and Grandpa’s 36-foot-long motorhome. About the only thing it has in common with camping (most attendees were in tents and rustic cabins) is that it was parked in the woods and we didn’t turn on the furnace until morning. Oh, and we slept on an air mattress on the carpeted floor.
Despite the hardships, Reina loved the camp and being outdoors – free of cars, high-rise buildings and a population that outnumbers the entire pacific northwest of the US. While walking along a stream with her uncle, Reina caught salamanders and frogs, pointed out spiders (without screaming) and even touched a snake. Watching her wading in the stream, I realized how special moments like these are for a child of the city and how similar my childhood camp experiences had been; minus the cushy trailer and the international lifestyle.
Christopher Lay comes from the small town of Ashland, Oregon, US. He is the father of 3-year-old Reina and husband to Savvy Him. He is a freelance photographer and writer in Beijing. Visit his photo blog at www.alivenotdead.com/chrislay.