One of the life lessons that I’ll probably have to keep learning for, oh, the rest of my life is to not over-anticipate future events. I have a tendency to tell myself stories about what’s going to happen as big events approach. I tell myself these stories until they take on mythic powers. As a result, I go into major events (vacations, parties, conferences, births of babies) with an expectation of the unfolding of that event that is never, ever realistic. Since life rarely meets these expectations, I’m usually left reeling in the middle and deflated and saddened afterwards. And, at this point in my life, I recognize this pattern of behavior well enough that I also usually go into the events fearing the worst and dreading the outcome. Fun times, huh?
I think I’m getting better about avoiding this pattern, but it’s tough. This Christmas break was a particularly tough one. The holiday was set to start with gift opening at our house with the kids on the morning of the 23rd. That evening we were heading to my parents to celebrate with them and a few friends before Erik, the kids, and I departed to spend several days with his family in Pennsylvania. When we returned, we were planning on spending a day or two at home before dropping the kids off at my parents for a 2-day visit. During that time I was going to finish all of my prep for digital storytelling, clean my entire house, do all the laundry, find homes for all the new toys, and spend some great one-on-one time with Erik. We’d finish it all up with New Years and a dinner on the 2nd to celebrate by grandparents 65th anniversary.
Everything was going swimmingly at first. Erik and I got all of the shopping and wrapping done on the 22nd. The morning of the 23rd the kids came downstairs and excitedly opened presents. Madigan is in the throes of believing in Santa and bought the story that he came to our house two days early since we’d be traveling on Christmas Eve. Erik got me a new iPod. I snapped a few photos.
I spent the next two hours packing, finishing the laundry, and cleaning. I pictured myself coming back to a relatively clean house. The laundry all folded and put away. The presents neatly arranged under the tree. Erik took a shower. I packed a bag with snacks for the road. As I put the ice pack in the cooler, Graeme vomited all over the kitchen floor.
“It’s okay,” we said. He probably just got too excited. Ate too many pancakes. “He’ll be fine in an hour.”
Instead he spent the next two hours offering up repeat performances, every 10 minutes.
We bagged the trip to my parents. We called Erik’s parents and told them we’d probably be delayed by at least a day. No more than that, though — it had to be a 24 hour thing. After all, he had a stomach bug two weeks ago. How could he possibly have another?
Eventually, he stopped throwing up. Then he seemed fine. He cried for pizza for dinner. (We didn’t give it to him. We’re so mean.)
The next morning, my parents decided to come down and do their gift exchange at our house. By the time they arrived, Graeme was running a low-grade fever. He slept through most of the visit and generally declined to open a single present.
Hour by hour, I had to acknowledge that I needed to throw all my Christmas holiday expectations out the window. This wasn’t going to go as planned. I needed to roll with it.
Ironically, my Santa-obsessed five year old was rolling with the punches much more easily. She patiently watched Christmas movies. She fawned over her sick brother. She expressed disappointment over not getting to go north, but quickly moved on. We decided to reward her patience and understanding. On Christmas Eve I drove her up to my grandparents where my extended family was collecting for a celebration. It wasn’t our year to attend this event (we were supposed to be in Pennsylvania after all), but since we were around and Madigan was fine, I took her up. She got to spend the evening running around with my young cousins and singing Christmas carols.
About an hour before we left, she started to get a bit moody and lethargic. I chalked it up to the time — it was past 11:00.
I took her the bathroom before the hour-long trip home. “Mama, I don’t feel well.” Next thing I know, several handfuls of M&Ms had reconstituted themselves in my grandparents toilet.
My mom ended up riding home with us, so that I could hold the bucket for Madigan in the car. The trip to Pennsylvania was delayed for at least another day.
Next morning, Madigan happily traipsed into our room. “I was just CANDY sick, Mama. Not real sick.” Hooray.
Graeme, meanwhile was still running a slight fever, but it was Saturday, Christmas Day. We weren’t heading to any pediatrician anytime soon.
By Sunday both kids were fine. They spent the day running around the house, playing with toys. Erik and I finally decorated our VW camper gingerbread buses.
Sunday night I called my mom and asked if she’d mind watching the kids on Monday and Tuesday. We’d still get a few days in to work and then we’d head up north on Wednesday night to spend the New Year’s holiday with Erik’s family. Perfect. My mind started building the new story of how the rest of the holiday would unfold.
Monday, we drove the kids to my grandparents to meet my mom. We stayed for about an hour and then headed home. Traffic was terrible, but we were able to avoid it. We spent the trip discussing what we’d do the rest of the evening. Build a fire. Have martinis. Watch a movie or a few episodes of Sons of Anarchy.
We got home. I walked in the door and noticed three messages on the machine. The last one was from my mom. Half an hour after we left, Graeme threw up all over her.
We turned around. Met my mom halfway. Retrieved the kids. Held the bucket. Traffic was terrible. We didn’t avoid it this time.
Home again. Graeme in bed. Madigan in bed. At midnight, Graeme woke up crying. He’s sick again. I stayed up with him for two hours as he SCREAMED about. . .everything. He wanted water. Water made him throw up more. Throwing up made him want more water. He wanted to sit. But not really. He wanted to watch TV. But he also wanted to scream about watching TV.
Finally, I coaxed him upstairs. Rocked him for 30 minutes. Coaxed him into his crib. Then I collapsed for three more hours of sleep.
The next day, we headed to the doctor bright and early. There was a name for Graeme’s misery. It was strep. In fact, it had probably been strep for two and half weeks! It was great to have an answer, but why couldn’t we have found out two weeks ago?!
That night, Madigan wrote notes to everyone in the house. She left them on the floor outside our doors. Here is what they said:
To Graeme: “Dear Graeme. I wish you were not sick. I wish you were better today. Love Madigan. To Graeme.”
To Herself: “Madigan, I am glad that you are not sick like Graeme.”
To Erik and Me: “I wish you were not such a mean mama and papa.”
Terrific. Feel the love.
After a day and a half Graeme was much better, but both kids were stir crazy. My mom offered to watch them for two days. (We had, by this time, bagged the trip up north entirely. Erik and I were too exhausted and shell-shocked to make a five-hour trip with the kids and the dog.)
Yesterday, I deposited the kids with my mom again. Traffic was horrific. It took me three hours to get home. The WHOLE way I was waiting for the call telling me to turn around. Someone was going to vomit again. I couldn’t escape the vomiting! The vomiting had eaten Christmas!!
No one called. I got home. We had martinis. Erik and I both woke up in the middle of the night, though. Our stomachs didn’t feel so good. . .