The Universe Tries Again

When you fail to learn a lesson, the universe tries again. After the unfortunate travel potty incident and subsequent sleepover from hell described in my last post, one would think I could have kept both my butt and my family at home for a while. Instead, I took us camping.

The rest of our summer is already booked, and to be honest, most of the fall and winter. It’s a sickness that has an easy fix, but given my inclination toward fun and friends and family and food, I have (up to this point) refused to remedy the problem and just say “no.”

Last week, all of the signs, every single last one of them, pointed to this elusive word “no,” but I kept pushing, full steam ahead, the little engine that could. And I did. And I kind of regret it.

Sound familiar? Sound exactly like my last post? The universe thought so, too, but the grand plan had been outlined and I would not yield. My parents were coming down for the weekend, and the boys and I would head back with them to spend the weekdays at the lake until the following weekend when my husband would join us for his family’s annual camp out. It sounded great – had we not been running since the first of June – but surely, we had one more week left in us. Then the wheels on my trusty little train started falling off.

On Sunday, I noticed a weird spot on my son’s ankle, a blistery bulls eye. If you live in an area with ticks carrying Lyme disease, you will understand this warrants a trip to the doctor. Monday morning, I hauled my little guy to the clinic where he was written a script for a giant dose of antibiotics. They thought it looked fishy, too.

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The doctor also noted that the additional blistery bumps on his thighs and ankles were from hand-foot-and-mouth, a virus my kids catch every summer. I cried in my car. How could a tick have been on him for 36 hours without me noticing? How could he have this other virus for the third time? What kind of mother was I? And what about our plans?

I went home to find spots on my other two kiddos, and there they were. A nice long nap would help…until the carpet installers showed up and started tearing apart our second floor with what I assume were chisels and jackhammers given the incessant pounding coming from above.

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This home improvement project (which seems ludicrous now) was actually scheduled that day on purpose. My plan was to haul the kids north and leave the mess for my husband…until my husband got called away for work. Light bulbs busted on our main floor. Staples pinged off walls and windows. Sawdust showered down from the pine planks above, coating our living room and kitchen in a beige cloud of dust.

We would stay until Tuesday. Maybe Wednesday. The clean up from the carpet was substantial, and I had three sick kids to contend with. Thank God my mother and her Type A personality were visiting. She buzzed around the house with the vacuum and a bottle of Pledge until every last speck and staple were gone. We only snapped at each other once over the foiled plans, plans that I knew should be canceled altogether, but nixing a weekend with my in-laws fell outside my jurisdiction. I needed my husband. He was somewhere in Massachusetts.

With three grumpy, sick kids, I loaded our vehicle with camping gear, sleeping bags, snacks and coolers, beach bags, life jackets, suitcases, hand-me-down clothes for the cousins, and a stinky 70-pound dog. I crossed everything off my packing list…except for the bikes, a camping staple. Would we survive 48 hours without them when I knew all the cousins would be cruising on theirs? We would have to. There was no room, and I still had to finagle a spot for my husband’s golf clubs on the way home. We would go bike-less this time, and my kids would loudly remind me of this every seven minutes until we returned.

This was one of many “reminders” that came over the next four days, little pokes to reinforce that I should have said “no.” We arrived at my parent’s house late Wednesday night, and the kids tossed and turned until 2 in the morning, the baby crying and uncomfortable from the blister-inducing virus. Thursday brought a trip to the local clinic for a second opinion on my middle man’s suspicious spot, and the rest of the day was spent trying to keep the kids occupied on a muggy afternoon. Friday opened with punky, tired toddlers and while their moods perked up once we hit the campground, the sourness of the past week had taken root inside my head, and I counted the minutes until we could go home.

Having married into a very large and loving family, I look forward to these camp outs as much, if not more, than my husband and kids. Their traditions are everything I remember from my own extended family but have watched fall by the wayside, the glue that once stuck us together washed away by death and differences. I like being part of a loud, laughing band of relatives again. It dilutes the bitterness over lost years with my own.

But not this time. This time, we were supposed to stay home. The current state of disarray within that home told me this. The multiple doctor’s visits told me this. The antibiotics I was supposed to keep cold at a campground with no electricity told me this. The crying, tired babies told me this. The three-year-old with diarrhea in an outhouse told me this. The tent with a hole in the corner that let droves of daddy long legs in told me this. The 90 degree weather inside that tent at 3 a.m. with a sweaty, itchy baby thrashing on my chest told me this. The 57 bleeding bug bites on that baby’s head told me this. That voice inside my own head had been telling me this for a solid week, and I ignored all of it. I didn’t want to disappoint anybody, and in doing so, I disappointed myself.

There were highlights, for sure: happy hands chasing frogs, toddlers catching slippery fish, racing borrowed bikes up dirt roads, boys jumping off boulders and tumbling down into inevitable tears.

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My husband spent time with his grandma, moments that become increasingly treasured with every passing year. And I got to hold our cousin’s sweet baby girl, sway her to sleep in that gentle rhythm all mothers have. I got to remember for a few minutes how precious and small they all start, how important it is to protect them, put them first.

But I hadn’t put them first, and I detached myself from the joy of the entire weekend because I knew this was true. I hadn’t acted as their mother. I put my own fears and insecurities about being liked over what was best for my children. I put my desire to relive my own childhood ahead of theirs. That is not parenting, and I hope I’ve learned my lesson this time.

I’m working on my “no” and for people-pleasers like me, it’s a tricky task. It does not come naturally. I bend toward socializing and party planning and traditions. I bend toward things I really want to do, like last weekend, and I’m being tested already to see if the lesson has actually stuck as new to-do’s keep popping up.

A meet-in-the-middle road trip to Minnesota to see my adorable nephews and new baby niece? No. A girls’ weekend at a lake house with my best friend in the whole world who I miss like mad? No. A suite at the Lion’s game in Detroit with a great group and lots of beer? No. Labor Day weekend up north boating with my family? No. No. No. No. No. No.

It feels weird, and I don’t love it, but I love those three little nuggets more than I love being liked. It’s time to start guarding our time, to start protecting it in the same way that I am called to protect those kiddos. The minutes and hours, days and years are precious and small, too, just like those tiny babies that grow so quickly into rough and tumble boys who get scratched and bruised, tired and sick, who need their mother to let the voice inside her head speak up and put them first.

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