Saturday, November 28, 2009

Road Rash

This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful…

to be back home.

I should have known we were doomed to failure before we even left. Tuesday afternoon I still had a head cold, and looked so tired and sick and pitiful, my friend and neighbor (and new pharmaceutical rep) pressed two Tylenol Cold PMs into the palm of my hand and closed my fingers around them, whispering, “Don’t leave tomorrow without at least one good night’s sleep.”

She was right.

Sadly, the residual benefits didn’t last long. Our three-day trip (which ended up being a whirlwind two days) was a string of disasters with a few gems in-between. No one’s fault. Sometimes it just ends up that way, traveling with kids. Through mountains. In November. In an imperfect world. But with a perfect spouse. (I’ll get to that.)

On the plus side, we had a lovely stay in a luxury hotel, caught up with friends (one of whom decided it‘d be fun to take me to an exercise class that would have had Jillian Michaels begging for mercy…and she was right…it was fun), and Charlie’s family hosted a delicious dinner. There’s something truly satisfying and joyful and simply soulful about filling a hall with thirty-plus relatives who are all talking and cooking and laughing and playing and beating each other at ping-pong and pool, while kids run underfoot and spill sparkling cider and sneak olives off the table.

But we had to leave early, and to explain why, I have to backtrack to the day before: we hadn't reached our first bathroom break on the drive down when Charlie’s work texted him with the message that he needed to be present and accounted for early Friday morning. Which meant driving five+ hours on Wednesday then jumping back in the car to do it all over again right after eating dinner the next day. Doable, but not ideal.

But we hadn’t had long to mull this over, because before we’d reached our second bathroom break, we had something to distract us. Calvin had a rash. It had started out looking like a pimple on his cheek before we left, but by the time we’d pulled into Reno Nevada, it looked more like he’d engaged a swarm of angry wasps and lost. Seriously.

We tried to ignore it. In our defense, this kid is prone to breaking out, whether it be hives or allergic reactions or what have you; we’re used to shrugging at these mysterious afflictions. So we applied hydrocortisone cream and hoped for the best.

It got worse.

He tossed and turned that night, it itched so terribly. The cream wasn’t working. Neither was Aloe Vera gel. We debated running out to buy a pair of those tiny mittens they put on newborns to prevent them from scratching their little faces, and if Babies R Us had been open at 2 am, we might have.

So no one slept.

By the time we’d joined all these thirty-plus relatives, his face was a swollen, angry red and the rash had spread to his neck, his arms, and his legs. And it still itched. Even more terribly. And so he scratched it more, despite our begging him not to, making it redder and angrier.

On a shallow note (because I am shallow, ultimately), I can’t tell you how enjoyable it was to greet people we haven’t seen in years with a kid in tow who looks like an extra from Outbreak. We got a lot of “Hi! How are you all--OH! My!” reactions.

Followed by a swift step backward.

No, actually everyone was very nice about it, as family has to be. And Calvin really enjoyed everyone staring at his face, asking him to turn left, then right, then tilt his head into the light as they made their best guesses as to what the hell was wrong with him. (That’s sarcasm, people.) But it was as good a parlor game as any. Likewise, I’m sure the older kids (and some adults) thoroughly appreciated the trips down memory lane as older relatives remembered past afflictions and illnesses. “Remember when Danny* had that thing on his face? What was that? Didn’t that last all through 8th grade, Danny?”

Meanwhile, Danny is trying to disappear into the couch cushions while giving his grandmother a searing look.

But wait, it gets better (or worse). We ate dinner and said our goodbyes, putting the kids into pajamas and tearing them away from their cousins and second-cousins (or whatever the kids of our cousins are to them).

We pulled out at about 7 pm with our five hour drive ahead of us. With no sleep the night before, remember. And Cal itching. And myself coughing. And Charlie stoically driving.

But the kids fell asleep in the car hard and fast, sleeping bags tucked around their seat belts, the glow of the dashboard casting the only light. And we love driving at night. Talking, listening to music, ghosting through the darkness.

It began to rain. And we continued down the remote highways, passing through familiar mountains, pine trees lining the road, small towns all quiet and sleeping off turkey dinners. And Charlie slowed down, saying, “If we’re going to see deer, it’s going to be now.”

But we didn’t. And then we finally merged onto I-5 with its better lighting and larger towns, and Charlie sped back up.

And we hit a deer.

As with all deer, it was not there, and then it was there, directly in front of us. And we collided with it dead on, without time to even think of braking.

And it’s like hitting a boulder. If you’ve hit a deer, you know what I mean. The whole car shook with the heavy BAM of impact, and then it was still shaking…as our entire fender dragged along the road.

And so we stopped and assessed the damage. The deer? Definitely dead. The car? Not dead, but not looking good, either. And we had 50 more miles to go.

And then we get to the part where we regretted not having a better tool kit in the car. Flashlight? Where was that thing? Screwdriver to remove the last of the fender? Nah, but we did find Nate’s souvenir pocket knife we’d bought at the Grand Canyon for $1.99. It totally saved the day.

We got the scrap metal removed from the car, but one sharp shard was still digging into the front right tire on each rotation of the wheel. Not great news, considering that we didn’t have a spare in the car. I know. We’re cheap. And always strapped for cash. And just plain wrong, and we’ll remedy that. Probably around the same time we get a new tool kit.

So we needed to find a store that was open (at 11 pm on Thanksgiving night in a small town), so we could get some wire to tie up the shard we couldn’t remove with the $1.99 pocket knife or our bare hands. (This development may have caused my mind to wander briefly to a certain immortal who could simply pop dents with his bare hands, but I didn’t think articulating this thought would have been considered helpful. It may have even been considered hostile.)

We finally found a Chevron gas station open. Did I mention it is now 11 pm on Thanksgiving night? Yes? And still raining? Hard? And that now the children are stirring in their upright sleeping bag beds? And Toby is plaintively crying because why is the dome light on and where is he? And Calvin has commenced itching?

But this is where Charlie totally rose to the occasion. Because had he not been there (as he fairly often is not while I travel with the kids, so it bore consideration), I would have held my breath, put the car in Drive, and prayed the tire made it the final 50 miles. And it probably would not have. But Charlie used what he had at his disposal at the gas station, which, it turns out, was only duct tape. He taped the front bumper together, in the pouring rain, while I shushed the kids and kept my hands warm in the front seat. He then drove the rest of the way home never once griping about the unexpected deductible we now had to face or the fact that he’d spend the first few hours of his work day the next morning taking care of insurance and dealing with body shops and car rental companies. He’s not one to cry over spilled milk, and that’s a very nice quality to have in a spouse. It comes in especially handy on the side of the road in the rain and the dark with a shredded fender and a sick son.

And so we made it home, and laid the kids--sleeping again--in their beds, and the next morning, they awoke and looked at the car in surprise and said, “What happened?!”

It’s good to be a kid.

(But not good to be Calvin. We finally got him into the pediatrician late yesterday: it’s poison oak. Where he found it, especially at this time of year, I have no idea. His face still looks like it sports a rosy-red map of Asia, but we’ve been assured that it will be cleared up by the time he returns to school on Tuesday.)

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
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