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We didn't think it was right to leave off today without a nod to the travels and travails of being a dad. But as our contributor, Fritz Burke, wrote us, sometimes being a dad means realizing that there's one woman whose advice you can never leave behind...

Postcard: Bangor to Bangkok

By Fritz Burke, 6/15/2001

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Dear Rudy,

"Bangor to Bangkok, such a long flight," my mother warned me. "How are you going to manage the kids?"

I reminded my mother that we'd done other flights with the kids. I told her about the bag of books and puzzles and crayons my wife was putting together. But the truth is, I didn't take her concerns seriously. Mother is a chronic worrier, for whom the monthly trip to the county seat is a major ordeal.

So I didn't tell her that the flight was the least of my worries. On the flight, our family wouldn't have to wedge four to a seat on reincarnated American school buses as we had in Guatemala. On the flight, I wouldn't have to coax her youngest grandchild to squat over the crude latrines of Moroccan train stations. On the flight, we would be served meals free of dangerous germs, food that would not necessitate searching the dark streets of Guatemala City for a broad-spectrum antibiotic. Little did my mother know; the flight would be a piece of cake.

The flight was terrible. By the end of the seven hour hop to Vancouver, the kids were sick and tired of the bag of fun activities. By the time we were over the Pacific, they were throwing them at the neighboring passengers - who were sick and tired of my children. My wife, who was also sick and tired, was huddled under a blanket in a fetal position, emerging only to snap at the flight attendants who, since we were constantly encountering turbulence, kept checking to see that her seat belt was fastened.

When my son vomited on the carpet by the first class curtain, I suddenly remembered being sick on an airplane at about his age, which in turn caused me to remember my cavalier and patronizing attitude to my mother's warning. Though I tend to forget it, my mother is no stranger to third-world travel with children. Before the first hippie trekkers ever wrote a guidebook, she dragged my sister and me all over the globe.

My mother must have known the fear that every child's fever is an onset of malaria, must have worried about losing sight of her children in busy marketplaces, must have changed diapers in crowded bush taxis. Still, it was the flight she warned me about.

Months later, after we recuperated from our return flight, I drove over to visit my mother.

"How was the flight," she asked?

"Terrible," I admitted. "Deb was airsick and Jonas's ears hurt."

"Your sister's ears hurt on our first flight out to East Africa," she told me. "She cried most of the way. I remember your father wanted to drug her for the return flight."

I got the story out of her. The route was Geneva--Malta--Cairo--Karatoom--Kampala. The aircraft, the twin-prop DC-3. The trip took three days - or possibly four, my mother can't be sure. She does remember struggling to change my diapers as the plane lurched and labored across the Sahara. And she remembers banging about the Egyptian and Sudanese roads in rattletrap trucks in order to arrive at hotels barely in time to check out since it took forever to clear customs back at the airports.

Perhaps this is why mom sticks close to home now - one too many long flights with children. She rarely leaves the island village she moved to over twenty-five years ago - not long after my sister and I cleared out. I wonder if, after these years of exotic travels with my kids, I'll end up, like my mother, dreading the small journeys life necessitates, content with a daily walk to the post office.

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