Picture a 12-passenger van filled to overflowing.
Every nook, cranny, and crevice utilized.
Stuffed animals, pillows, parkas, and parcels disappear into spaces we’ve created out of nothing.
We even have an impressively large Nesco cooker stuffed between the front two seats, the inside accommodating snow pants.
Where are we headed?
Onward to Massachusetts, for the second leg of our journey, to visit some of our favorite peeps.
The short jaunt over a single state border is rather therapeutic following the frenetic pace of Christmas Day.
The van is quiet, children content.
I reflect. I process. I bask in the solitude of uninterrupted thoughts.
We arrive safely a short time later and enjoy 48 hours of sweet togetherness with Duff’s side of the family.
I must have been recovering from overload.
Or perhaps my gluten-free diet had sent me into a crazy state of carb craving.
Whatever the reason,
I totally lost my mind, failing to take a single worthwhile photograph during my visit with some of the most adorable nieces and nephews ever.
The only thing I have to show for this precious time spent with loved ones are the following pics…
What is wrong with ME?!?!
I was apparently just drooling over all the foods my diet denied me.
My stomach enjoying vicariously through pictures…
or something like that.
I think my biggest excuse is that I just felt so relaxed…my camera was forgotten.
Forgotten…while I interacted with the cutest little personalities.
Forgotten…while Uncle Duff played ‘Ticket to Ride’ with a table full of excited children.
Forgotten…while I was demolished in a game of ‘Ants in Your Pants’ by my 5-year-old nephew.
Forgotten…while I gorged myself on kale and sausage soup, fudge, and some sorta delicious antipasto salad.
Forgotten…while I caught up on life and enjoyed interesting conversations with some pretty great people.
I slept so soundly those two nights and felt so refreshed, I should have suspected something was up that Sunday when we planned to head home to North Carolina.
Even after breakfast, when Keag complained her tummy was bothering her, I still had no premonition of things to come.
I left her taking it easy on the couch, so I could run upstairs and shower.
It was then, when I saw the text from Mimi-
“How is everyone feeling??!”
I thought nothing of it.
I assumed it was just her way of asking how everything was going.
I realized how wrong I was, when I saw her response…
We had left her 48 hours earlier.
Don’t panic, I told myself.
I returned to Keagan still lying on the couch, when Luke announces he’s going to take a nap.
He’s exhausted, he declares.
Must be the fact that the air mattress deflated half-way through the night, he reasons.
Auntie Colleen, Nana, and myself look around at each other wide-eyed.
We think about all the close moments of bonding that occurred the previous day.
We consider the fact that Maddie slept with the host during our stay in CT.
We reflect over how we just finished sharing bowl-after-bowl of popcorn .
Bowls we dug our eager hands into, grabbing fistfuls of delightful buttery, salty goodness and shoving it into our mouths.
Wow, we marvel, the perfect medium for the spread of pathogens.
We reminisce over past sickness horrors.
Oh, there have certainly been some doozies.
Auntie and I even begin to feel a bit ill. A little green.
Is this the hypochondriac in us, we wonder, or the power of suggestion?
Luke wakes up. He ascends from the dark abyss of a finished basement. His eyes struggle to adjust. He looks at us.
Nana remarks, “Well, he’s as white as a sheet.”
Suddenly the vomit flies.
It covers couch and carpet.
The room becomes a flurry of activity as we quarantine kiddos, remove couch coverings, and clean carpet.
Uncle Jeff grabs the steam cleaner and begins singing as he disinfects…
It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas.
We are hysterical.
Nana jumps up and runs from the house screaming.
We have never seen her move so fast.
Sadly, she was running home to another house full of sick people, unbeknownst to her or the rest of us.
We are paralyzed with indecision.
We don’t know what to do.
Do we make a run for it before the rest of us fall ill or set up an infirmary, postponing out return trip indefinitely?
Can we beat this bug home?
We cannot consult those around us, knowing they don’t have their own best interests in mind.
We don’t wish to infect our gracious hosts and we have no idea regarding the incubation or recovery time.
We decide to flee…hoping to get home before the entire family is stricken.
We grab bags, children, and miscellaneous stuff.
We hit the road.
We may have forgotten a few things. Maybe.
We make it a couple miles before the first car-puking episode.
I would call that a victory, no?
Almost two hours later, Logan explodes down the front of himself and his new stuffed sea turtle, “Squirt”.
Makinley, certain that a gold medal for synchronized puking was within her grasp, joins in on the fun.
A Walmart stop becomes necessary. We gather supplies…
Gallon Ziplocs, wipes, paper towels, and scented trash bags are acquired.
Meanwhile, there are people in the front of the van boasting about how perfect they feel.
They request food.
They stuff their faces…
My stomach becomes increasingly convinced that nothing can make one feel queasier than the combination of these odors…
Febreze, vomit, and french fries.
Child #5 falls.
Child #2 is next.
Yours truly, succumbs.
Our firstborn follows.
The scene inside our Chevy Express is sheer madness.
I’m moving from one child to the next catching cookies.
A Hefty bag hangs from the side door, already filled to overflowing.
Duff however is on a mission. Home is his goal. He doesn’t comprehend the state of things from his perch behind the steering wheel, that has become very clear.
He still believes we can somehow pull this thing off.
He is wrong.
Mama Bear is officially down and she was the glue holding this absurd juggling act together.
I think we may need to stop for the night, I suggest.
We only have 359ish odd miles to go, he encourages me.
I begin praying that God would impress upon him, very clearly, that this feverish, aching mommy cannot carry on her assignment as “lead vomit catcher”, for a moment longer.
I continue to expect a sudden exiting from the highway when my message is delivered.
We approach another exit ramp…
I drop status updates.
I watch his eyes catching glimpses of the madness in the rear view mirror.
I give him the most pained, distressed, tortured look I can muster.
I admit defeat and resort to begging-
“Duff, I can’t do this all night. I’m in pain. I’m vomiting. I can’t stop shivering. I cannot go on. I must get out of this van!!”
Yes, I was admittedly the weak link…the one who eventually cried mercy.
We got a room somewhere in Delaware.
I shivered my way uncontrollably to a bed where I slept for hours under many layers of warmth.
Duff was on duty for the remainder of the night, catching vomit as it flew from the three youngest.
I got up once to use the bathroom and that was a mistake. I dropped to the floor and crawled back to my designated spot.
I dreamed of crushed ice and occasionally my beloved would drop a spoonful into my mouth.
Morning came and neither Duff nor I could move.
Well, that settles it then. We’ll stay another night, we decided.
We snoozed and watched Food Network and Myth Busters ALL DAY.
Nobody really moved. We were reduced to a zombie-like state. All of us. Never before had our family been this quiet. Spooky.
Late morning, Gavin seemed most well, therefore he was chosen to represent.
We sent him on a special ops mission to procure drinks and ice for the family.
We armed him with dollar bills, change, and the ice bucket. We explained to him that our livelihood depended on the success of this assignment.
We sipped sweet tea and chomped on ice for the remainder of the afternoon.
By dinner time we managed a pizza delivery, each of us putting away one slice before turning in for the night.
We slept so soundly, the nine of us all in that small room, yes we did.
We were strewn all over the place in the most haphazard of ways, surely breaking every fire code known to man, yet somehow it worked.
A new day dawned.
We assessed our strength and concluded it was time to mobilize.
We would hit the hotel’s continental breakfast and then head for home.
We took inventory, once the reality of actually having to leave the room sunk into our clouded minds.
I assessed and evaluated my people, and let me tell you, it was a sad state of affairs.
I don’t mean to frighten you, but we hadn’t changed our clothes, bathed, or brushed our teeth since the sickness began.
We had two kids without shoes. We had one kid without undies.
It would take forever to find anything or to undo everything and bring it all inside.
Our van was packed extremely tight, the carseats were doused in vomit, and there were way too many individual bags.
We just needed to get home…as quickly as possible.
And so we set off as we were, in search of the small room boasting free breakfast.
As we entered through the glass door, intense heat assaulted my face accompanied by the smell of coffee and waffles.
I’m immediately convinced that I’ve mistakenly discovered the hotel’s sauna.
Queasiness creeps up.
I’m wearing two shirts
The one underneath should never be worn by itself
It’s essentially sheer.
I care not.
I’m so nauseated by the heat that I’m going to be sick.
I tear off my outer shell, comforted only by the fact that I will never see these people again in my life.
It was then that the familiar face came into focus from across the room. Okay, I’m kidding! Totally kidding.
Didn’t know a soul in that place. Whew!
I begin to pray that the barefoot children will fly undetected beneath the radar.
I watch as they approach the buffet.
But what is that?!
I am horrified to discover that my 11-year-old has a rat’s nest on the back of her head that screams “worst mom ever” from the rooftops.
Duff ushers her outside the room, per my request, to do something, anything, to make it more presentable somehow.
I’m really just trying to survive this meal so we can get our funkfied selves home and begin project decontamination.
I’m in disbelief, finding the present nature of our circumstance incompatible with everything I know to be true about myself.
I try my hardest to find something palatable that I might throw onto my plate and down my children’s throats.
I’m heading back to the table, eyes only on my people.
The words halt me.
“Don’t you know what causes that?”
I’m silent. There I stand in my semi-sheer shirt looking like death warmed over. Words escaped me.
But inside my head I’m thinking, this man has no idea!
Absolutely no idea where I’ve been, and what we’ve been through.
My mind quickly flashes back through the images of the past 48 hours.
And suddenly I’m laughing out loud the most stilted, sarcastic laugh you can imagine.
Yeah, i know exactly what causes that!
I can only hope that nobody judged us too harshly.
We scarfed down our food and made a quick getaway.
We could not get home fast enough.
Project decontamination began in full force…
Until everything (and everyone) was sterilized and squeaky clean, once again.
A lot can happen in a measly 48 hours.
Jack Bauer’s got nothing on us!