Fieldwork And The Child

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.

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0 thoughts on “Fieldwork And The Child

  1. Spain, UK, USA, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, France, Portugal, Kenya, Tanzania, Mexico, those are the eleven countries I have visited so far. Greg, are you closest to doubling or tripling that?

  2. UK, USA, Belgium, France, Kenya, Tanzania, Mexico for our overlap. I assume we met somewhere along the way.

    Netherlands, Japan, Rwanda, Burundi, Israel, Uganda, Congo, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe. Nigeria. I think that’s it. Not too many. But literally years in the Congo, Years in SA/Botswana/Etc, and months in Kenya, which is what has meant the most to me. A few days here and there in the UK has not influenced how I think, how I see things. Well, maybe a little. I’m now afraid of subways …

  3. When I was four, my Dad went to Baltimore for Customs training. Mom decided to spend two weeks out there. She set up a calendar and some color-coded presents that we could open only on the day with the matching color. I learned how to read calendars pretty quickly because of it. I also knew the day circled that she would be returning. When she came home, I was excited and happy but almost shy to hug her.

    Anyway, I didn’t think she had been in the plane the entire time. About 9 months after she got back, oddly enough, my younger sister was born.

  4. Nine month is better than six months.

    We had considered the present a day thing as well, but the periods of time were so long that this could produce a whole nuther kind of damage to the child.

  5. Whatever you did, and however much you agonized over it at the time, you produced a kid about whom I’ve heard normally child-phobic people say, “If I could have guaranteed I’d end up with one like that….”

    Even if her pop culture education has some huge gaps.

  6. Most people are thinking up what trips to take with the family. Having world travel imposed on a family is a blessing.

  7. Arlo: are you thinking of rubeoloa, aka Red Measles? There is no vaccine for roseola, but it is fairly mild. (Disclaimer: I’m an engineer, not a doctor (Dammit Jim), but I did have 2 kids who got roseola, hand-foot-mouth, possibly 5th disease, and nasty cases of chickenpox (before the vaccine was available)).

  8. Back to the point (I guess). It sounds as though the travel for ‘the child’ was well worth whatever hardships arose as a result of it.

    I have had a job requiring my travel to the exclusion of my wife and kiddos. A fair number of exotic gifts have accumulated over the years, and that is a minor benefit, but other than simply having a job (>not having a job) it has mostly been something of a cost.

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