The millipedes are longer than my fingers. The mosquitoes can easily fly through the unfettered gaps in the walls. The mirror looks like someone had once or twice set it on fire; I haven’t clearly seen my face in a month. The water never gets hot, the air never gets cold, and a week ago I spent 10 hours painting my bathroom with vomit as I battled a nasty case of Thai-Tummy
. My sandals broke the first day I arrived on this island, and I’ve been barefoot now for 5 weeks. So yeah, it sometimes sucks here and the misery can be exhausting, but at least I choose this misery and that makes it a little more bearable. So why am I sitting in the bathroom? Because there’s nowhere more comfortable in this bungalow then on this tile step.
After destroying a few relationships in fantastic fashion, I found myself living in limbo, and pain, with no real direction to go in life. My self-entitled attitude had finally come back to bite me in the ass and my righteous sense of victimhood finally made me a victim, which makes me feel shitty about myself even more for thinking I’m again a victim.
This is what having shitty values does to you. You fuck up, then torch yourself for fucking up, then torch yourself for torching yourself, and so on and so on until you implode and decide to book one-way tickets for you and your daughter to the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.
Thus begins The Single Dad Nomad. I packed up a wheeled-backpack I got at Goodwill for $10 and off we strolled to the train station when I realized I forgot my daughter’s stroller. With no opportunity to return to retrieve it, I lugged my wheeled backpack, and a 3-year-old munchkin who thinks it’s funny to pretend burp in my face, through a 5-hour train ride, a 14-hour flight, a 5-hour flight, a 6-hour bus and a 2-hour boat ride. Things aren’t always peaches, but I’m the one who taught her to burp so that one is on me.
My daughter’s name is Auburn and I’ve hurt her in a way that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive myself, I forced away the woman she called ‘Mom.’ This wasn’t her ‘real’ Mom, but to Auburn, it was her Mom–a sweet girl I have known for over seven years and had previously dated–who came into Auburn’s life not long after I first got custody of her at 18-months-old. This girl eventually took on a massive role in Auburn’s life, and I forced her away last winter.
Auburn’s birth-mom and I separated right before Auburn turned 1, she was a breastfeed baby and stayed with her mom when we separated. I left Hong Kong and went back to the States and didn’t get to see Auburn for 6 months. I cried every day for the first 3. Then a little less thereafter, but I still missed her so much all the time. My body would have a physiological reaction to other kids crying, a boost of adrenaline that would overwhelm me with sadness. You can imagine how elated I was to get custody of her at 18-months! But can you imagine how unhappy Auburn was to be losing her mom and primary source of food?
She wouldn’t eat enough formula, so she couldn’t sleep, and her heavy bond with her birth-Mom at that point was a devastating loss for her emotionally, psychologically, and physically. She could only sleep on my chest, the same way she napped as a baby on the weekends when I didn’t have to work. Every single night she would wake up every hour to remind me how much she was hurting by crying relentlessly and screaming for her Mom in a language I couldn’t understand (hint: her birth-Mom had spoke to her in Cantonese for the last six months).
By the end of the first week, I was a zombie. After 3 months, a ghost. She was sleeping 2-3 hours at a time and crying for an hour or 2 in between at night. After 6 months, Auburn didn’t remember why she was hurting anymore, but she was still waking up crying every few hours, every night. The only thing that helped her sleep again was picking her up, pacing, and singing to her and rubbing her back. She was usually inconsolable for at least an hour, but different methods worked at different times. At first it was having to let her sleep in my chest and stomach. After a few months I could slowly roll her on to the bed, but dare not leave it. A few months later, I could creep out of the bed, but not every time. A few months after that, I could get her to sleep by reading her books and often sneak out of the bed without waking her, but she would eventually always wake up and cry. A few months later I could get her to sleep in her own bed, but she would still wake up 2-5 times a night crying. If you want to time travel, don’t sleep for awhile. Because when you wake up, it’s two years later.
Two years from getting custody and my sleep schedule is not the 9-10 hours I was getting in college, but the 4-10 hours I’m likely to get as a parent. Auburn rarely suffers night terrors which are difficult to deal with. She doesn’t always get to bed when she is supposed to, and she grinds her little teeth which worries me. But sometimes she giggles when she’s dreaming and my eyes get watery and I giggle right along with her.
Two years from getting custody and I’m finally starting a blog, alone in a sheet-metal bathroom, next to a sink that literally just drains right out the wall and into the nearest bush. Why? Partly because a part of me has always wanted to share Auburn’s story but I’ve been too afraid to. But mostly because my values were so trashed that I thought it was a better idea to cheat on my now-ex-girlfriend, rather than talk to her honestly about what was upsetting me. My pride became more important than my sense of dignity. I hurt her greatly, and I left my daughter without the female role-model who had been her Mom for the past year.
Now my daughter cries for her, she tells me how she misses her and talks about things she remembers doing with her. I say the only thing I can, ‘I miss her, too.’ I do my best to remind her it’s okay to miss people and that not every family has a Mommy and Daddy all the time and some have neither and some have two of each and some have probably more than that. It’s a truth about society that helps me keep her from thinking she is a victim. God forbid my trashed values wear off on her this young. So, I’m doing what I can now to reevaluate my values and improve my relationship with my daughter. She’s the most important thing to me and I want to raise her to be a strong and open-minded person.
Occasionally traveling outside of the United States is how I see best fit to do that. I’ve traveled with her before, but never solo. Removing myself from the judgment and social pressures of American values isn’t always easy. It forces me to live in a shitty bungalow, to have to dodge ants when I take a piss, watch where I walk so I don’t cut my bare feet on glass, and occasionally projectile vomit because I eat some rancid meat off some nose-picker’s charred BBQ grill.
It’s worth it because I’m getting more time than ever with my daughter. In just over a month we’ve become closer than ever, she misses her ‘Mommy’ less, and as a massive bonus, she’s been sleeping through the night regularly! Curious about how she does that here? Yes, we live in a shitty bungalow, with one bed, so yes, we co-sleep, and no, I don’t care what your opinion is on the subject, co-sleeping with my toddler is awesome. She’s snuggly and I love her to pieces and if she sleeps well then I’m good. And I know where to draw the line, I don’t let her use me as an all-night footrest, not always.