The other day Julia and I were driving somewhere (I had the con) and The Sphynx came up. The reason it came up is not important, but as we were talking, it occurred to ask me ask, “…hey, have you been to Egypt?”
“No,” she said. And after a moment, “Have you?”
I thought for moment and said “No.”
“Hmm,” she said, “I thought maybe you had. Maybe that was Ethiopia I was thinking of.”
“Not officially.” And we dropped it there.
One might think, why would a 13 year old kid and her father have to ask each other if they’ve ever been to a particular far away and, by American standards, somewhat exotic place? Well, the answer to that is simple. We have both traveled a lot. Some of that travel was together, some not. Since Julia has traveled to West Asia with her mother countless times, and I’ve traveled to East and southern Africa without (and with) Julia countless times, the idea that either one of us might have ever stopped in Egypt along the way is not extraordinary. Indeed, I’ve spent literally months in Kenya but never went there. I’ve only been there en route to other places, but with one or two week long layovers. Julia’s been to Turkey and (I think … I’ll have to ask her) Armenia a number of times for the same reason.
I remembered this conversation in connection with an only vaguely related conversation going on at DrugMonkey’s blog in which the history of travel in my broken yet somehow functional family came up. It is the case that between Julia’s biological mother (we’re divorced but work at the same institution and live roughly on the same side of town, sort of), myself, and Julia, some combination of us have been away overseas for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months each year. This has not been easy, but one of the outcomes is that Julia is a very well travelled kid and as far as I can see this has had only positive effects on her.
The first of these separations (don’t worry, I’m not going to make you read about every one of them) was probably the most difficult. Julia was just under a year old, and her mother went to the field for two months. So, Julia’s mom was stuck without her child who was not even walking yet, Julia was left motherless, and I was a single parent for a while.
Clearly, I won out on that deal. Being a single parent is nothing close to easy, but it beats being a non-parent.
One of the things we had heard and/or read (we sought advice from a number of quarters) is that little kids sometimes resent the separation, and that this can have long term consequences in the relationship between said child and the missing parent. So one suggestion we got was to videotape mom, and show kid the mom videos now and then so that she would stay connected, not forget, etc.
So we made the videos. And a few days after we had dropped mom at the airport, I showed one to Julia, and Julia freaked. She was a kid who hardly ever cried, but she was crying now. So I distracted her, flipped off the video, and we went to plan B. A few days later, same thing. And again a few days later. So, I stopped with the video.
So over the next couple of months, Julia and I coped, learned, grew, got roseola, had fun, and so on and so forth. Then it was time to go back to the airport.
This is when I learned two things. The first thing was that Julia was not mad at her mom, nor did she forget her. When Julia spotted her at the airport, she lit up like a shop light in a dark garage and everything was fine. The other thing I learned was that Julia had been under the mistaken impression that her mom was in the airplane the whole time.
That made me laugh.
PS, I’ve never been to Ethiopia. Officially or otherwise.