Our family’s road trip to Virginia began the way these things normally do: We planned to be on the road by 7 a.m., but we were actually packed and in the car by 3. We had forgotten socks for Ford and pajamas for Owen, and no one remembered to fill the car with gas the night before.
The kids made their usual protests about the seating arrangements, planned in advance to keep a far distance between two of the boys. Trust me, no one wants to travel 12 hours in a car where Lindell can plainly see Owen “maliciously” putting his hand against his own face and “purposefully” driving Lindell crazy.
By nightfall, Ford had already read us every article on The Onion; we’d assaulted our stomachs with fried food; and no one was speaking to each other after I thought I knew better than Siri which way we should go, and it cost us an hour.
Before we stopped for the night, Owen, in the third-row back seat, had barricaded himself from the family with a wall of pillows. “And I’m going to make all of you pay for this wall I made,” he warned.
It was all very standard.
Even when we got to my parents’ house, things unfolded the way they usually do: the kids dumped all their belongings in the hall and eagerly ran to the freezer to look for frozen chocolate. I put my belongings — the ones I’d eventually forget, just like last time — on a bench out of the way “for safe keeping, so I don’t forget them when we leave.” And before closing our eyes for the night, we dutifully and with renewed purpose as a family removed all of my mom’s antique dolls from the guest bedroom closet. There is nothing like old, rubbery dolls with eyes that don’t blink and chunks of missing hair to bring a family back together after a tumultuous, two-day car ride.
Then we woke up the next morning to a pink-cheeked and feverish Lindell. Come to think of it, he had been ornery and warm during the Maine-to-Virginia trek. He’d coughed through most of it, too. And maybe he did have dark circles under his eyes the night before our trip.
All true. But willful ignorance kept me from believing he was sick. If you’ll remember, last year we drove all the way to Washington, D.C. for winter vacation, only to spend every single moment — from the time we got out of the car until five days later when we got back in it — violently ill with a stomach virus.
No, none of us wanted to relive that pain again.
But Lindell was getting sicker. His fever was not going away, and now he was coughing throughout the night. On Thanksgiving Day, we took him to an emergency room 850 miles from home. The diagnosis: pneumonia.
Ford and Owen both had pneumonia when I was seven months pregnant with Lindell. That same winter, Owen had his tonsils removed. When we took him to the emergency room with 106-degree fever, the doctor took one look at me and said, “You shouldn’t be around these sick children so far along in your pregnancy.”
I glared at him, of course, and asked, “What exactly do you suggest I do about them, then?”
That winter in 2006 was the sickest my kids had ever been. And I am grateful for that. On Thanksgiving, as I looked at Lindell with tubes up his nose and an IV dripping at his side, I was overcome thinking of all the children for whom holidays usually end up this way. I cried at the foot of Lindell’s hospital bed as I remembered a mother who lost her son on Mother’s Day after he had requested something so simple and pure: a cupcake. There is just something so incongruous about the sight of a child in a hospital bed. So, how lucky are we to count on one hand the amount of times our boys have been truly ill?
Being in the hospital that night also gave me greater appreciation for the doctors and nurses who would celebrate Thanksgiving on a different day so they could attend to people like us that night. The hospital was filled with cheer despite everyone working on a holiday. I suppose that was due in part to these men and women having a truer understanding than most about all the reasons we have to give thanks: Lindell was sick, but he would get better. Our vacation was sidetracked, but we were together and (relatively) healthy.
Overall, I can’t remember a Thanksgiving when I felt more grateful, because I realized that our family’s “ordinary” is so very—blessedly—standard.
Follow columnist Sarah Smiley on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/sarah.is.smiley.