Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Too good for words

Having a husband as a teacher is the best. Two months in the summer and several breaks throughout the year is a dream. It's all fun and games when Dad is home.

Being that teachers need to constantly be continuing their own educations several weeks during the summer are spent traveling to classes or speaking to other teachers. Most of these travel expenses are covered by grants so we (the other eight of us) love to tag along for a ride. I mean who wants to be home without Dad when we could be exploring a new city and swimming in the hotel pool every day?

These past few weeks have been one adventure after another, but one day in particular now goes down in my hall of fame as one of the ?? I don't know quite what to call it. I'll let you decide.

We started out the trip with a stop in Huntsville, Alabama where Sean was invited by NASA to present about how he lead his students last year in the Student Launch Initiate (too long to explain). They shot off a very large and expensive rocket. Anyway, this was a huge honor for him and he was very well received. I am so proud.

In about 48 hours we headed up to Nashville where Sean would be attending a class with Texas Instruments. Like many math teachers, calculators are a passion.

Fighting through the traffic we finally arrived at our hotel where we are expecting a King size suite, dinner in the lobby and a swim only to be informed that the hotel was overbooked and there is no room for our little flock. Oh, that's bad.

We are directed down the street where they have kindly offered to pay for our stay at their rival. God does provide in mysterious ways.

Arriving there we are given a King size bed which we quickly explain just won't work since all nine of us do need a little space. We ended up with a big bed and a pull out couch, several makeshift cots and a microwave. It works.

Getting ready to go to dinner, little Joseph (4) falls off the bed and is sobbing as he holds his skinny little arm. His usual response to physical trauma is to turn white a sheet and close his little eyes unresponsively which is exactly what he did. Broken arm?

We eat.We go to bed. We wake up early. We eat breakfast. We go.

The usual routine on one of these trips is that I drop Sean off at class in the morning, spend the day with the children out at a museum or zoo and then pick him up mid afternoon. No problem. I take them all with me nearly everywhere I go. Right?

I should begin by explaining that the weather is not in my favor. It is pouring sheets of rain and I am driving a 15 passenger van on an interstate system that is crazy. What appears to be an exit is really another interstate freeway in disguise, so I quickly discover.

On the road to our destination and creeping interstate construction traffic all children not confined in a car seat quickly unbuckle and run into the back row. They are gagging. They are screaming. It smells bad! Yes, baby John has exploded.

This is not the odor that informs a mother that she simply needs to change a diaper. No. This is the rank smell of a sour stomach gone bad. Could it be the apple juice at breakfast? Could it be the cloudy swimming pool water at the hotel? No matter. The air is polluted. I crack the window. The rain is pouring down. It is now wet and steamy in the car.

So for the next 20 minutes I drive in a ridiculous circle of freeway trying to find a true exit where I might find a bathroom. The baby is screaming. I can't see him since he is rear facing, but I can hear the terror in his voice.

Finding a McDonald's I instruct the children very specifically the matter at hand. Unbuckle. Quickly get out. Hold hands. Wait for mom to get the baby. Cross the parking lot with your buddy. Hold the door open. Go straight to the bathroom. Do not stop and look at the Happy Meal toys. Do not ask for food. Do not worry about getting wet. It is only water, you'll dry.

Opening the van door, I find baby John covered in poop. Amazingly his car seat cover, strap, buckle, and legs are smeared.

Entering the McDonald's I realize that on another day I might have chosen different neighborhood in which to unload my precious ones. There are cups strategically place on the counter and floor to catch the dripping water and the smell of the bathroom is not much of an improvement from the interior of our van. And to boot there is no changing table in sight nor is there any sign of a paper towel of any kind.

Using my other son's favorite blanket as a changing table (this did not go over too well) I strip the baby to give him a baby wipe bath. I take the car seat apart best I can and tilt it into the sink to rinse it out. Gross. People are lining up outside wanting to come in, but my children guard the door and inform them that it's probably not a good idea.

Back on the road and back on the interstate which now seems so familiar to me (Am I in a weird version of Groundhog Day?) We circle back around and find the hands on science museum that is our destination.

This museum we find is a six story building centered around an activity tower which is a child's dream. One can climb from level to level exploring and learning for hours. However, it is not stroller friendly so I decide to park myself on the bench on the second floor. Everyone has a buddy. Everything is good. It could be hours before they are done playing. No problem- until I have one of those moments. A mental siren goes off and that mom adrenaline kicks in full force. Where's Joseph? I can't remember the last time I saw him. I've seen his buddy a handful of times run by and wave, but no Joseph. In about 5 minutes I've managed to round up of six children and place them on a bench. But Joseph is no where to be found. I call. I push my way through the crowd. It's evident that I need help here.

I have no qualms about admitting that I don't have control of my children and find the nearest red shirted employee and describe my precious son. Red shirt. Tan pants. White NASA hat (a special gift from dad). Brown hair. Brown eyes.

The crew goes into action and we sit for 15 minutes. I just want my boy. It's not like him to run off. He's fairly responsible for his age, right? How am I going to explain to Sean that I have lost his oldest son?

The other kids must sense my grief because chins begin quivering and little eyes are getting wet. Just before we about melt, I hear that precious cry and running into my arms is my red eyed sobbing little boy. The employee with a blank look says in a monotone, "Found him in the boy's bathroom."

Joseph goes on in many words to explain that he had to go to the bathroom but needed help to wipe his bottom. He called for me, but I did not come. Then after a long time this man with curly black hair found him and made him leave. And now his bottom hurts. Being independent can be so confusing.

By this time the troops are crying for food. I assumed that there would be some sort of nutrition available for sale, but all that there is to be found are a few vending machines. Against my better judgement, I give them each 5 quarters and tell them to go at it. Let's see. Lunch: Pop Tarts, Grandma's cookies, Sun chips, Peanut M&M's, Sprite, Orange Soda. I myself decide to pass on these selection knowing that such an indulgence would cost me at least 5 Weight Watchers points.

We pass the last few hours together exploring the museum and are glad when it is time to leave. We pick up dad and have our eyes peeled for the nearest buffet type meal where I will require that these children have a salad and fruit before anything else.

We find a Hometown Buffet and sit down to eat. It is good to be still and I'm beginning to relax and recall for Sean this very eventful day. It's good to have a friend be a witness to my craziness and help me laugh through the tears.

Joseph is enjoying his watermelon across the table and for no apparent reason decides to spit the seed out at lightning speed. In mid sentence the seed hits me right between the eyes and bounces to the floor. Then at that very instant all the lights go out and we are eating our dinner in the dark!!

What a perfect ending to this day. And it's only 4:00 pm.


Cindy said...

OK, I laughed out loud and then I was actually crying when your NASA hat brown eyed boy was missing. I'm so thankful he was ok!

This post made me just shake my head in wonder at how you kept going and going and going. I would have collapsed in a puddle or at the very least ordered pizza, not a buffet! You're amazing. :)

barbara said...

Thank you so much for writing this down, and being able to laugh it all enough to share it!! You are one of a kind Nikki bean! I especially loved the watermelon seed in the middle of the forehead part, and then the lights go out!? I just imagine your face and laugh and laugh!!! I have to say though I sooo enjoy hearing you tell stories like these in person. I've enjoyed them all my life :) Thank you sister!