“When are we ever going to use this?”
I remember thinking that about Greek mythology stories. Now, remember this was high school Beth and I was likely wearing my too-tight shirt that had tie-dye JESUS FREAK emblazoned across my chest and I found pagan theology distasteful. I probably even judgmentally snuck my pocket Bible out on to my desk in silent protest of my teacher’s adherence to secular norms. But still, even if I hadn’t been all judgy-judgy, when do we need to know Greek mythology?
I think I found a reason. To me, it is no mistake that the humans caught up in the mayhem of the Greek Pantheon always find themselves in a bit of a pickle when they’re one the road (or in a boat, so to speak). Think about it. Poor Jason and his Argonauts encountered murderous wives, six armed beasts, man-eating nymphs, boat-crushing rocks. Odysseus? Well, there’s a whole book about him and his mishaps while traveling. Charybdis, the treacherous whirlpool, was a foe in both Jason and Odysseus’ road trips.
Why would the Greeks want to document how hard traveling was? What was the purpose of their writing these stories?
I’m going to write a thesis and my hypothesis will be that the Greeks were writing allegories to demonstrate how hard it is to travel with children.
Think about it. How could you not compare the sirens’ song to “Baby Shark”-catchy yet annoying enough that it would drive you mad? A quick stop for a bathroom break means you must first run the gauntlet of brightly colored cubes of sugar that beckon to your young ones like the hypnotic illusionist Circe. Those murderous wives Jason encountered? They had neared the end of their trip but the stress got to them- the stress of having one child continually kick the back of your seat and ask, “HOW MUCH LONGER?” (even though they are perfectly capable of telling time) while the other alternately moans loudly and screams his new sound- DADADADADA- and refuses to drink his jello water. Yes, the stress of road travel with children drove them to fight with their husbands and, well, you know the rest of the story.
Last summer, we went to Colorado with my family. My sister and I grew up going there every other summer and we had such fond memories. This was not one of those times. After a hike that resulted in a tantrum literally 50 feet from the parking lot and almost having to take The Baby to the ER because the pollen in Colorado was trying to MURDER HIM, my sister and I went to my mom and said, “What the hell, Betsy? This sucks balls.” And she smiled her little smile that told us that it had sucked balls when we were little, we just didn’t remember.
We went to Nashville for Christmas this year because my sister is pregnant with twins and they are due any day now. Wanting to spare us the horror of having to drive for 10 straight hours in a car, I booked us an Airbnb in Little Rock, which is about halfway.
We’ve done hotels with the kids and…well, the last time we did it, literally no one slept. The Kid stayed with my parents and yelled in his sleep and The Baby, who was with Alex and I was wide awake, screaming with laughter, at 2 am and it took him several hours to settle. Also, even when he’s sleeping, The Baby is a very noisy, gaspy breather and his CPAP machine is as bright as the sun. We need bedrooms with doors that we can shut so we usually get an Airbnb.
This particular listing was a fantastic price and perfect for travelers who want a “Motel 6 experience”. I didn’t really know what that meant but we’re not fancy people so I didn’t think much about it. After 5 hours of driving, rolling up on the little old house was a welcome sight. We brought inside the giant medical machines that took up most of the back of our cars, my dad brought us pizza, we ate dinner and passed out.
If you’ve ever stayed at an Airbnb, then you’re probably familiar with well-stocked ones- the ones that have baskets of teas sitting by the tea kettle, fancy tea towels to wipe your fingers in the bathroom, throw blankets and comfortable furniture.
This was not that. Apparently, “like Motel 6” means it’s like a Single Dude Palace with no amenities. There was not a scrap of decoration on the walls, except, strangely a wall decal above the toilet that said, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” There were no throws, no extra sheets or blankets. The pillows were terribly flat. In the fridge, there was a bottle of ketchup and a jug of distilled water.
I had been itching to blow my nose on a Kleenex (and not a Lysol wipe) for five hours but there was not a box of Kleenex in sight. I told Alex, “This is a Dude Palace and I’m going to Walgreens because I want Kleenex.” “There’s toilet paper!” Alex yelled behind me on my way out the door. “That’s what a dude would say!” I yelled back.
When I got back from Walgreens, both boys were asleep so Alex and I laid down too. Not 10 minutes later, the Kid came out of his room and said a scab on his elbow had come off and he had gotten some blood on the sheets. Nothing we could do about it so we sent him back to bed. 15 minutes later, he came out breathing funny and said that his chest felt tight. We’ve had too many close calls with The Baby to mess around with breathing issues. We gave him his inhaler and some Tums to no avail. It was getting worse. He was inconsolable. He and I threw clothes on and I had google maps guide us to the closest hospital in Little Rock. We got to the hospital about 9:45pm.
When we got there, the three and a half parking spots they had reserved for the ER were full and so I parked directly out front and rushed him inside. After going through the medical detector, we got to the front desk and I told the woman that my son was having breathing difficulties. I also mentioned that my car was parked out front and she told me that wasn’t allowed. “I figured,” I said, “but there are no more spots in the ER parking.” She told me that I would have to go around to the other side of the hospital and then find my way back to the ER on foot. I told her that The Kid couldn’t walk in his current condition. “Do you want me to leave him here while I move my car?” She gave me her most disinterested look and in a deadpan voice said, “Well, that’s not ideal.” At that point I blacked out, either from anger or panic, but I did move my car while a nurse sat with The Kid.
Breathing difficulties get you into a room pretty quick so we landed in a large standard ER room. Thus far in my parenting journey, I’ve been able to avoid most annoying children’s television programming but he was feeling poorly and Disney was on so…when in Rome. I did have to lay my head in my hands and close my ears when a shrill voice said, “Do you know where the name mistletoe comes from? It’s because Santa has missiles for toes!”
While blowing my nose, I noticed that there were vials of blood sitting by the sink and when I went to the bathroom, there was a urine sample sitting on top of the toilet paper dispenser. I immediately told The Kid to wash his hands and not touch anything else. The doctors came and went. The Kid got better and then got worse again. He threw up. No one really knew what it could be. They checked his heart out and it was fine. They could do a chest x-ray but there was something weird about sharing medical records with the children’s hospital down the road so they were hesitant.
About this time, I saw on facebook that there was a salmonella outbreak in ground turkey, which we had force fed him the week prior. When the doctors came in and said it could be asthma, I said, in my best Maybelline make-up voice, “Well, maybe he’s born with it. Maybe it’s salmonella!” When I told the Kid about the tainted ground turkey, he narrowed his eyes at me and accused me of poisoning him.
Long story short, we did go to the children’s hospital (the second ER of the evening) but by the time we had gotten there, he was feeling 90% better (vomiting will do that). We were thirsty but the vending machines were out of water so we sipped Fanta (gross) while we waited to get into our second ER room of the night. They quickly pronounced him fine and told us to come back if the breathing got worse again.
So, we returned to our Dude Palace at 2:30am, shuffling in like zombies. I got The Kid settled in bed. He asked if I wanted to sleep with him, but I just pictured our limbs all akimbo, stacked like a game of human pick-up-sticks. I also remembered he had mentioned blood on his sheets and I’m a germaphobe so I politely declined. I changed into pajamas, a shirt, capris patterned with cheerful hot air balloons, and socks and crawled in bed next to Alex. Unfortunately, The Baby was sleeping in our room and, while he was sleeping peacefully, he was unusually noisy. Even with earplugs, my mom ears wouldn’t let me rest so I took my pillow and made my way out into the living room.
Now, remember this is a Dude Palace. There are no chenille throws adorning the back of the couch. There’s nothing. I’m shivering in my pajamas and wondering what to do. The closets in the hall and bathroom yielded nothing, not even dry towels, as The Kid had apparently used the only towel in the house and discarded it on the floor of the living room.
So, I put on my jacket and hood, used The Kid’s jacket and damp towel as a covering for my abdomen and I stuck my stocking feet through the arms of Alex’s hoodie. That’s right. I was so cold and so blanketless in The Dude Palace that I wore my husband’s jacket as pants. When I got up to go to the bathroom, I had to hold the jacket against me and shuffle my feet like some bizarre potato sack race. My extremities get cold when I sleep and, while I had my socks on, my hands were left out in the open, so I had to sleep on my back. Instead of crossing my hands over my chest, like a corpse, I wedged them into my armpits. The couch had a support bar right in the middle of my back which meant I slept in the shape of bridge.
In the morning (6:30am, of course), Alex shuffled in with red eyes and I looked at him with red eyes and then I told him about a tweet I had read on my phone while at the hospital at 1:30am where someone had called someone else an “uneducated potato” and then I started laughing so hard that it turned into a laugh cry.
So, after 3 hours of sleep, I sat on the uncomfortable couch in a dude palace, wearing a damp towel and jacket pants, laughing and crying hysterically while my children stared at me.
Where the Greek’s created monsters to share the pitfalls of traveling with children, I share with you this picture to burn in your brain.
Whenever any of my single and/or childless friends tell me that they want kids soon and then look off into the distance wistfully while little song birds begin to fly around their head making a nest out of their hair, I want to reach across the table and slap the shit out of them.
Do you know what you’re saying, girl? Look at your life! Tomorrow is Saturday! You could sleep, uninterrupted, in your bed all day if you want. You want to text another single and/or childless friend and plan brunch last minute? You can! You and your husband don’t have to synchronize 6 different calendars to see if you can squeeze out an hour to do something with another adult human. You can travel and it can actually be fun, like no one shoots farts directly out of their asshole at your face on the car trip or needs you to bathe them after they climbed in the hotel toilet when you weren’t looking. Girl, kids will take those wistful little song birds you’re dreaming about right now and pop their heads clean off. You know what that leaves you with? Nest hair. That’s it.
Look, I love my kids, I do. If you want kids, I hope you can parent kids some day, truly. I’ve written blogs and blogs about how parenting has sanded my rougher edges, taught me to be selfless, and my kids are rewarding (sometimes). I know that my boys have unequivocally made me a better person.
But, kids ruin your happy slappy, carefree life. It is so hard to take little people and try to teach them how to eventually be adults. They are sick and hungry and tired all the time. They get mad at you for silly things. Once you have them, they consume everything- your time, your thoughts, your money.
I feel like I’m still having to learn to let expectations go, like the expectation that we could make it through one holiday or one vacation without someone being hospitalized. Maybe I need to let traveling go for the time being. Trips just aren’t that fun right now and usually leave me questioning whether they were worth it.
For the record, on Christmas Eve, while I sat ready for my mom to come pick me up to take me to a candlelight service, The Kid got vomitous again and I had to cancel. (We think he might have developed a food allergy to cheese). The Baby and his cousin thankfully had intersecting nap schedules, but we still spent several hours in the afternoon apart from my family so they could sleep.
Is this worth the stress?
Maybe not. I’m not saying we’ll never travel but maybe I need to give up the idea that it could be “fun” for now and, like my mom used to say when she dragged her little squabbling daughters to Colorado, I need to be okay with us just “having a time- not a good time, just a time.”
Oh, I need to finish the story.
We loaded up the car pretty quickly, ate breakfast at IHOP and high-tailed it out of Little Rock. A few hours in, I got a message from our Airbnb host that said,
“Someone have a nose bleed or something in the second bedroom? Is everyone okay?”
I cackled for a full minute. I had forgotten about The Kid mentioning his scab had come off. Apparently, he lost quite alot of blood and it looked like something horrific had happened all over his sheets. In my response to the host, I did not mention that we had spent several hours at two separate Emergency Rooms in the middle of the night because that would not lend any credibility to my scab story. I’m sure he was thinking that we got into a knife fight or something. (As an aside, on the way home, a different Airbnb host bought us a brand new air mattress and I kid you not, 15 seconds after we inflated it, The Kid’s scab popped off again and HE BLED ON THE BRAND NEW AIR MATTRESS.)
The review that our Little Rock Airbnb host, who was suspicious that something illegal had taken place in his Dude Palace, left for us is one that I’m probably going to get tattooed on my body because it’s such a good, hilarious description of our life right now.
“Great guest. Reasonably clean.”