Remember that ancient computer game called "The Oregon Trail" that we played in elementary school? I think I just lived it: Pa is dead; Ma is dangerously low on supplies; and the young'uns are all sick. These were the hard cold facts of my 1,000 mile trip to Nebraska and back. The plan was simple enough--the kids would visit Jeff's parents for the week while I stayed behind to work and Spring Clean. I would meet up in Lincoln with Jeff's parents and the kids on Friday and I would then take the kids to Hastings, Nebraska to attend my baby nephew's baptism (Aubrey and Regan had starring roles as his Godmothers). We would then return to Milwaukee. Well, man plans; God laughs. Here's how the plan unfolded . . .
It started out well enough. The kids left Monday with Jeff's parents. They drove all day to Branson, Missouri and spent two full days of fun and excitement seeing and doing everything Branson has to offer. The Chinese Acrobats were a big hit with Jack. Regan liked Silver Dollar City and Aubrey liked the huge outlet mall. Meanwhile, I was in Milwaukee working late and doing all the things I can never seem to get done with the kids around: washing and organizing all their winter outerwear; cleaning out the closets and delivering several bags of donated items to Goodwill; etc. Then at midnight on Wednesday, Jack called. He had started throwing up around 10 pm and hadn't stopped. He wanted to go home. He wanted to go to the hospital. He was miserable. I thought it might be a combination of nerves/anxiety (he was anxious about going on the trip to begin with) and all the excitement of the roller coasters, entertainment, and funnel cakes coupled with the usual exhaustion that accompanies a 10-hour car ride. He threw up all the next morning, but then things subsided mid-day and he rode to Lincoln on Friday without incident. However, after meeting up with me at Jeff's brother's house in Lincoln, he threw up again. He looked pale and glassy-eyed. I still wasn't convinced it was the flu and thought maybe another long car ride had agitated him.
We stayed in a hotel in Lincoln Friday night intending to go to Hastings on Saturday morning. Finn has been working diligently on his comedy routine and was intent on doing his nightly 9:00 p.m. performance. He raced and chased and acted silly and played until it was time for lights out--but then he got nervous and clingy and would only be reasonably quiet if he was laying directly on top of me. Now, for those of you who don't know--For reasons science cannot yet explain, a sleeping toddler radiates the heat of a thousand Suns. So, Finn was laying on me like a 10-inch thick, 98-degree, 30-pound heat blanket. He was apparently almost as uncomfortable as I was because he spent most of the night maneuvering into different positions on and across my chest, mid-section, back, legs--whatever was exposed to his assault. He occasionally yelped in frustration at his discomfort but woke up twice to chat happily with no one in particular. Meanwhile, Jack was also in the bed with us and I was constantly on high-alert for another puking episode. I was sure that every little wince or moan was heralding more projectile vomiting and I wondered which part of me would be at Ground Zero when it hit. So, I was sandwiched between Finn and Jack in a queen bed all night with one or both of them treating my various body parts as a pinball to be batted back to the other one. I am confident you have gotten more sleep reading this blog entry than I got all night last night. Ugh!
But then, at 6:30 a.m. Regan started throwing up. All over herself. All over the bed. I was impressed by Aubrey's ninja-fast reflexes as she flew out of a blissful slumber and into full gross-out mode. I helped Regan (and the bed) get cleaned up while Aubrey built a nest of sleeping bags on the side of our bed because there was no way she was going to subject herself to the slightest chance of getting puked-on by Regan. After that, Regan rested comfortably. Me, not so much. I was still in the middle of the Finn-Jack sandwich. At one point Finn fell out of the bed onto Aubrey. He decided to loiter down there for a short visit before pulling himself back onto me. It was approximately 7:00 a.m. at this point which is Finn's usual wake-up time, so he started asking for "apoo joose" (apple juice) and a "snack" all of which I interpreted to mean "breakfast." So, I told him to go back to sleep. To my amazement--he did!
When everyone woke up again at 8:00 a.m., Regan threw up on cue and I made an executive decision to abort the mission and to return home to Milwaukee immediately. At this point, I was sure It (whatever "It" was) was contagious and had a short incubation period (I figure I've got about 8 minutes to finish this blog before "It" hits me). I also knew I did not want to get stranded indefinitely in Hastings while we succumbed to the illness in turn, nor did I want to go hole-up in another hotel room 2 hours away only to miss the baptism anyway. And finally, my kids (in their present state) would not have been able to even see their cousins in Hastings because my 6 year old nephew has a rare autoimmune disorder that makes even pedestrian viruses life-threatening, so he cannot even risk being exposed to something as menacing as my kids were experiencing. So, I called my sister and told her we were not coming. She was actually glad--she didn't want her son (or her other kids, for that matter) getting sick and she knew we wouldn't have any fun and would likely miss the baptism altogether. She was very understanding and encouraged my decision to head home.
So, we loaded up the wagon and hit the trail. The kids slept for the first two hours of the trip and Regan only got sick a couple more times. We were to Des Moines by lunchtime, but no one wanted to eat. Not even Finn. He just wanted to lighten the mood and entertain everyone by "spanking" his toy baby doll and telling us it was "stinky" and laughing hysterically at himself. (Editor's Note: Finn has never been spanked in his life--even though he has on occasion endeavored to deserve it. He was only spanking the doll for comic relief). This game didn't last long though and as I watched the minutes tick by, he cried and screamed for one hour and fifty minutes solid. He simply wanted out of his car seat (he had ridden over 1,200 miles already this week and had about 350 more to go).
Shortly after we crossed the Illinois border, Finn was at his wits end--he had intermittently cried and fitfully slept for nearly three hours. (Amateur--I can cry and fitfully sleep for at least five hours when the conditions are just right . . .) I decided he needed to get out "for real" to walk around but it was still raining (oh yeah--we drove the ENTIRE trip--every square minute of it in the rain), so we could not go to a park or playground. The only suitable option in Dixon, Illinois was a Super Walmart. So, we piled out of the car and then Aubrey _______. (She threw up, but Aubrey wouldn't let me write that she "threw up" because it offends her delicate sensibilities. :P ) We went inside to clean her up and as we approached the automatic doors I caught a glimpse of our reflections. We looked like we had escaped either a circus act or a mental health facility. All except for me, of course, because I can really rock a pair of hand-me-down yoga pants and brown leather clogs. (Tee hee) Finn looked the funniest--he had on a pair of pajamas with various stains down the front and a pair of camouflage rubber rain boots that are a size too big (but he LOVES them and wants to wear them everywhere). Aubrey was also conspicuous with the big bowl of vomit and napkins she carried in with her. I was afraid a greeter was going to try to stick a pink "Walmart" sticker on it and usher us to the return counter.
I let Finn run around the aisles while Regan and Jack shopped for the treat I had promised them for being so good. Aubrey rested in the car. Luckily for everyone, Finn chose as his treat a little Hannah Montana keychain piano that plays "The Best of Both Worlds" really loudly. It was the gift that kept on giving . . . it gave Aubrey a pounding headache anyway. We finally wound our way back to Milwaukee around 7:00 p.m. this evening. As I type this, the little kids are finally in bed--no one else has gotten sick, yet--and Aubrey is resting and putting a damper on my special brand of hilarity which would have given you far more detail and entertainment value than she will rightly allow. At least one of us has a sense of propriety.
So, all's well that ends well on the Oregon Trail--or at least on I-80. And it could have been much much worse. It could have been dysentery instead of the flu.