We were popping our malaria pills, my wife and I, and counting down: three more days until our South China Sea cruise aboard the Odessa.
Our kids were counting down, too, but not enthusiastically. They wanted to go along. But my wife, Bobbie, and I fervently agreed with Robert Benchley that there are two kinds of travel: first-class and with children.
My wife took Natasha, 6, and Alexander, 5, to the pediatrician for their final checkup before our departure, and I headed for the office.
There, I absent-mindedly went about my duties, daydreaming of Zamboanga and Phuket, of jade and satay. Two coffee breaks later my phone rang. It was my boss, Times Deputy Managing Editor Dennis Britton. He minced no words.
"You have a problem you didn't have before."
By the time I arrived at Childrens Hospital, Natasha had tubes in both arms. One carried glucose, the other insulin.
"Don't worry, Daddy," Natasha said. "I'll be out of here real soon and you and Mommy can still go on your vacation."
I took my wife aside and said, "Diabetes? That can't be right. Little kids don't get diabetes."
How wrong I was.
Yes, kids do get diabetes, and the type they get is much more virulent than the type adults get.
The next morning our classes with diabetes nurse-educator Lee McClelland began.
Our heads were swimming.
We met with the staff endocrinologist, Dr. Gertrude Costin.
"Natasha is in wonderful spirits," she said. "But I have told her nothing. She's a very bright child and she's starting to ask questions. You should tell her the truth as soon as possible."
During visiting hours, Natasha asked me point-blank: "When am I going to get better, Daddy?"
And I answered, "Never, honey."
My wife and I told her the whole truth. Everything. It took a long time.
And when we were finished, Natasha said: "So from now on, you can't go on a trip without taking me and Alexander along."
We went to the South China Sea after all, but as a foursome.
Since then we've been to Australia and Peru, to Canada and Mexico, up and down our own East Coast and to three national parks, always with the kids. We've crossed the Equator six times and the International Date Line four.
Now we wonder how we ever managed without them. Oh sure, the two of us had experienced romance and adventure, high comedy and even low tragedy. But golden moments?
We were in the tiny village of Gianyar in Bali for a cremation. These are happy affairs in Bali, for the islanders are Hindu and believe in a beatific reincarnation for the righteous.
The islanders were celebrating the death of a princess, a prosperous woman of royal blood. The ceremony cost $25,000 and lasted for an entire afternoon.
Token of Friendship
The four of us watched from a shaded balcony, along with dozens of Balinese children.
Natasha smiled at a group of village girls who had been staring at her. Suddenly, without warning, one came up and kissed Natasha on the cheek, and then another and another.
They kissed her and they hugged her and they shook her hand again and again. They found no common spoken language, so the ringleader left Natasha with an international token of friendship: a waffle.
In Brisbane, Australia, our cab driver asked why we had come. "There's nothing to see here," he said. "Nothing to do. It's a poor man's Los Angeles."
And with a wonderful "Disneyland." Wonderful, that is, if you've brought a child. Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, a 75-minute boat ride from the city, is every child's wish upon a star, an enchanted village whose natives are koalas and kangaroos, an Oz where visitors scream for joy.
No experience we had brought to our kids had ever made them so visibly happy or had made them thank us again and again.
On a Qantas flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, Natasha thanked her steward for removing her tray. "We don't hear much of that anymore. You have no idea how good that makes us feel," he said. Then he handed Natasha a fresh deck of cards. "This is our special reward for the most polite little nipper on the aircraft."
Cocktail Pit Report
My wife said I was beaming. Our other little nipper, meanwhile, had been escorted toward the first-class section by two stewards, and when he came back, he, too, was beaming. Wearing his headphones upside down, looking like a Martian, he said, "The stewardesses took me to the cocktail pit." (He gets his gift with the language from his mother.)
On a Singapore Airlines flight he was taken to the "cocktail pit" again, and he issued this report:
"There were four pilots up there. Three of them were sleeping, and one of them was lying down. He was with a stewardess."
We were wondering whether this was a "steward" or a "stewardess." At the end of the flight a picture-perfect Singapore Girl said, "Goodby, Alexander," and then we knew.
Under intense interrogation, Alexander explained that both crew members were lying down fully clothed and at opposite ends of a settee.