The story I’m about to share isn’t flattering. It reveals a personality trait I typically try to keep under wraps. It’s my determination to stick to “the plan” no matter what. This time the “what” will stink up my car for weeks.
Like many people, I plan what to wear, meals to fix, miles to run, work to do, etc. Unlike most people, I struggle to adjust when all those little things in life happen. Instead, I keep moving forward. I’m afraid to waste time remaking decisions. So, I have a little phrase I say to myself about 87 times a day: just stick to the plan.
Last Wednesday, the plan was to complete one of the remaining items on our “Learn to Try” summer challenge: spot constellations in the night sky. Checking this challenge off the list meant taking a trip downtown to Rock Creek Park for the Young Planetarium show. (Standing outside at night would have been too obvious.)
With work meetings rearranged, I went to get the girls extra early from camp. I was particularly determined to get there because our previous week’s plan had been thwarted. Our self-imposed deadline to complete the arbitrary number of challenges on our list was quickly approaching! We MUST go. Self: “Just stick to the plan. Stick to the plan.” And, go we did despite flashing “detour ahead” signs from the universe urging us to stay home on the couch with a bucket.
Here’s what happened when I arrived at camp to retrieve the girls. I’ve included the dialog to the best of my memory. (Not that anyone would ever want to reenact the events of this afternoon.) Kid 1 is played by oldest, Marin. Kid 2 is Baya.
Kid 1: Mom, my still stomach hurts. (She’d complained earlier that morning. I’d loaded her up with two bowls of Rice Krispies and sent her to camp anyway. Because, well, that was the plan.)
Do you have to go to the bathroom?
I’ll try. (A few minutes pass.) No and it still hurts.
Does it hurt hurt or just hurt?
I don’t know what that means.
Can you still go to the planetarium or should we go home? (Kid 2 starts to wail.)
Um, I don’t know. I guess we can try to go. (Clearly, she didn’t want to disappoint Kid 2 and me.)
Okay. I just need to make 2 quick stops. Maybe 3. You only need to get out of the car once.
Are you okay, really?
I said I’ll try. (She proceeds to wince in pain, closing her eyes, and readjusting in her seat.)
We then stop at the library, UPS, and the drive-through window at the bank. She falls asleep. For a moment, I feel less bad. As a precautionary measure, I add a pitstop at home to get Pepto and another snack for Kid 2. Kid 1 wakes up in the meantime and comes in the house. She heads for the couch saying she just needs to rest. I start feeling guilty while I steer her back towards the car.
I do a quick Google search for the kid’s dose of Pepto. I then then dig through the liquor cabinet to find the lone can of Coke and pour it over ice. She’s never had a soda but I remember my sister saying that it was good for stomach aches. I’m desperate so I'm going with it.
I then buckle both kids back into the car and head downtown.
38 minutes later, we’re in Rock Creek Park and about a quarter mile from the planetarium. And that’s when I hear the dreaded sound from the backseat.
BLEH. BLEH. BLEH. Moooooommmmm……..
Kid 1 is now wide awake and puking. Partially digested Rice Krispies are flying. I pull over and frantically search the car. No bags, no bags, no bags?! How do I not have a single bag in here?! I then offer her her raincoat. The deluge finally stops. She looks at me and says so sincerely, “I feel a lot better. It really stinks in here.”
Now, I know kids have limited experience in their human bodies. But, why do they all comment about the smell immediately after throwing up? Do they not make the obvious connection? Ugh! I want to get loud and sarcastic but resist.
Not knowing what else to do, I turn the car around. Kid 2 starts to cry as we get further from the planetarium.
Thankfully, there is an empty parking lot. I pull in, open all the doors and windows, cover my hands with wet wipes, and start flinging piles of soggy Krispies onto the pavement. They splat. Meanwhile, Kid 1 is soaked and stinky, of course. I remember that there is a bag of Goodwill clothes in the back… in her size. What luck! I find an outfit, use all the remaining wipes in the diaper bag, and get Kid 1 and her seat mostly cleaned up. Kid 2 is still crying. I assess the situation and think things aren’t looking THAT bad now.
Do you think you’re feeling well enough now to go to the show? I ask again. Hoping.
Um, I guess.
I take that as a firm yes and we turn around and head back towards the planetarium. Kid 1 quiets down.
We park. I leave the windows down, go in, and get the girls seated. I then go into the bathroom to wash my hands. There is plenty of soap and water but no paper towels. I accept my drippy punishment (as if that was it) and head back into the theatre in time for the lights to go down.
Kid 1 can’t get comfortable and wants to stretch all 4 feet of herself longways. Her back now hurts.
For 45 minutes, we sit in the cool, quiet whizzing around the sky learning about the Big Dipper, Polaris, Jupiter, and Venus. Kid 2 and I are mesmerized.
The show ends and we head back to the car. More than a few bugs have moved it. I don’t care.
Now, I’m not proud of what I did next.
In sticking with the plan, I start driving towards Dupont Circle. Our plan included a final stop to meet my parents, sisters, and glam family friends from the State Department who were in town for dinner. I hadn’t mentioned this part until now. It was part of the reason I really wanted to go despite having a sick kid. I hadn’t made it to dinners in previous years citing family obligations. I felt bad- like this couple might think I’m lying to get out of seeing them. (They only care in my mind.) I also like to think I’m still cool enough to have dinner and drinks in the city. I further rationalize the decision by telling myself it’d take us more than 45 minutes to get home in rush-hour traffic.
So, I take one sick, tired kid and one happy kid to the restaurant. We get an amazing parking space. (I should have known this was the universe showing a little mercy on me for what was about to happen.) I leave the windows down again. I figure anyone inclined to steal the car can have it. They’ll regret it a block later when the smell hits them.
We proceed into the restaurant and sit down. Kid 1 keeps saying, “I really hope Grandma knows what to do to make me feel better.” (The subtext here is obvious. Mom sure doesn’t.)
Grandma prescribes a couple glasses of ice water. Kid 1 drinks them and then puts her head down and falls asleep.
The rest of us are happily chatting and sipping rose while we look at the menu. Luckily, the young, kid-less, beautiful, diplomats haven’t yet arrived.
Then out of nowhere, Kid 1 sits up, looks around, and BLEH, BLEH, BLEH. She pukes all over the table. The near-by diners put their forks down in disgust and disbelief. “What kind of mother would be so stuck on her plan that she’d bring a sick child to a restaurant?” I imagine them saying. Or maybe that was the self-talk.
The wait staff is swift and gracious and they bring piles and piles of napkins. In a second stroke of luck, all the Krispies were apparently evacuated during the first bout. It’s now just water. But still. My dad picks up Kid 1 the moment the heaving stops. She grabs a piece of bed for the road and we head home.
Once back, Kid 1 takes a quick bath, gets into jammies, and proceeds to sleep the rest of the night. I pour a glass of wine and reflect on the afternoon’s events.
We all have systems that work for us- at least for the most part. Mine is making a plan and sticking with it. However, it’s clear from this day’s events that it doesn’t always work. Most times, the stars align and I can stay on track. But when the universe suggests an alternate route, I should take it—or risk driving a stinky car for weeks.