February 23, 2011

The Stuff of Nightmares

There are some things that are much worse than you ever imagined they could be.

Take my current weight loss, for example.  I've lost fifteen pounds (and gone down two notches on my belt) over the last three weeks.  I have not been exercising or eating healthy- in fact, I haven't been eating at all for the most part.  And I never imagined that I would view my weight loss as a sign of doom and gloom.  After all, I've been carrying that extra weight around ever since I got married.

And when your car starts acting dangerously wrong, you know that you'll have to suck it up and pay a bunch of money to keep it running, which will involve taking it to a shop where people either assume you're too stupid, or (if you're a woman) that you're too female to understand what they might be trying to tell you is wrong with your car.  You sort of expect it.

And as some of you may recall, I recently learned what it's like to be out in public during a catastrophic twin meltdown.  As I lamented at the time, I was lucky to be in a nice, quiet, toddler-friendly place.

You wouldn't think that all of those things could coalesce into one massive morning of epic misery, but you would be wrong.

The car that M drives to and from work, an aging Kia Sportage, has not been well.  Starting during the epic storm of doom my husband's car started acting, in a word, disturbingly.  The lights wouldn't go off, the steering column started making ominous noises... it wasn't pretty.  We're lucky enough to live just over one mile from a very nice shop that specializes in foreign cars.  It's run by a very nice gentleman who generally assume that I'm female-stupid instead of just stupid-stupid, and if you'll forgive me the extremely unfeminist feeling on my part, I would rather be under the impression that I'm the victim of sexism than that somebody actually thinks I'm dumb.  I made the car an appointment for this morning, FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, with the hopes that I could get the car back by the end of the day and use it to get to class tomorrow.  I figure, the girls usually don't have breakfast until 9am anyway, I could bundle them into the car, drive the 1.1 miles to the shop, drop off the car and keys, pop the grublings in the stroller, and walk back the 1.1 miles back before breakfast.
Blocks are fun!

As you can imagine, I did foresee flaws in this plan.  First and foremost, there's the problem with the battery.  It seems that the only way M had been keeping the (brand new) battery functional was by actually detaching it from the motor each time he turned the car off.  This is normally a simple procedure, but Kia Motors seems to think that the idea of positioning the battery in any sort of functional way is just overdone.  So, the battery attaches way down towards the bottom, requiring that you lean all the way into the engine in order to get this done.  If you're a short person with stabbing abdominal pain, this is a big problem.  As a result, M had to attach the battery for me when he left for work in the morning, two hours before I would shuttle the girls down.  The right lights would be on in the cold all this time.

The next problem that I foresaw was that the girls would run amok in the shop.  Fortunately for me, my MIL brought me several grubling leashes and harnesses (don't you dare judge me for putting my toddlers on leashes!) just last weekend.  I could tether the girls to my belt, and they might not like it too much, but they wouldn't get into anything too awful.

The last problem I anticipated was my health.  I haven't been up for mopping the floor, let alone walking for a mile.  But, I told myself, what choice did I have?  And I could take it at a leisurely pace.  A little fresh air and exercise might even do me some good.

The morning started well.  The girls cooperated with, even got excited about, getting into their coats, snow pants, hats and mittens.  A very nice lady walking past me on the street helped me wrangle SI while I got DD into her seat.  They were cheerful and pleasant he whole drive to the shop.

We were even early.

...for the first appointment of the day.  Of course, the doors were still locked.  I had planned ahead- I tried to give the girls crackers and milk.  This, complicated by mittens, enraged SI.  I thought to myself, "Maybe she just needs to run off some steam..." and tethered her by her leash to the stroller.  Watching this made DD extremely upset, so I started to tether her as well.  At that precise moment, SI learned that she could only run a few feet.  She fell flat on her back.  And the screaming began.

Mid-morning dance time!
First, it was just SI.  Screaming as though she was being murdered.  Then, DD realized that it was cold, she was stuck on a leash, and I was preoccupied with SI.  This caused the screaming to double.  There was nothing I could do.  No milk, no crackers, no stuffed puppies could calm the banshees.  I did the only thing I could- I sat down on a patch of icy sidewalk and tried to calm down my hysterical toddlers.

As though that would work.

I kept telling myself, "Only ten more minutes until the shop opens..." but the time crawled past.  People were peering out their windows (the scene takes place at 8am on a Wednesday on a residential street that just happens to have a car shop behind a brownstone), glaring at me as they put their own children into their cars, LAUGHING at me as they passed by on their way to campus (childless college students are too cruel...), and finally some guy walked out of the house next door and started yelling at me.

Or so it seemed.  He actually worked at the shop.  He took my keys, told me to call the shop once I had the children home, and heavily implied that I was a neglectful fool for bringing children so young to a mechanic.  As if I had a choice.  I wrangle the now completely inconsolable children into the stroller and begin to walk home.

And let me tell you, 1.1 miles is a looooooooong way when you're pushing 100lbs of screaming, flailing, sobbing misery on wheels.

...a looooooooong way entirely through the campus of a very prestigious university filled with cruel childless college students.

Oh, but it gets so much worse.  Remember- I'm ill.  And this was not going to be a simple, leisurely stroll.  This was a race to get back as soon as humanly possible.

As I walked, I felt the pain in my abdomen sharpen.  My breath began hitching, and as the screaming went on seemingly without end, I began limping.  But I must continue!  I must get home!  As soon as we're home this will all be better!

Who is that masked child?
I looked up as we passed a street sign.  Some road construction work on the corner blocked my path, and two workers rushed to move the caution tape and tarps to let me through.  Two blocks down, seven to go.   The pain in my abdomen started reaching into my shoulder.  It was harder and harder to push the stroller with my right arm.  My nausea began to rise.  Don't throw up!  If you throw up you'll have to stop moving!  Do not stop moving!  You can do it!  You'll be home soon!  Almost half-way there!

It was then that I passed the bustling business school.  Nobody would make way on the sidewalk.  This enraged my children yet more.  I gave up being polite and pushed the stroller into snowy, muddy area between the sidewalk and street.  I felt my fever begin to rise, everything was going fuzzy.  You're almost past the business school!  Just get past, and then three more blocks!  You're so close!

At the end of the block with the business school, there is a hill.  The children did not appreciate the shift to their equilibrium.  I think I may have actually begun to cry as with a great heave I forced the stroller up the hill.  I began to get a little delirious with fever.  Do. Not. Pass. Out.  You have to get INSIDE of your building before you pass out.  If you pass out before you get INSIDE of your building, somebody could steal your children, but your neighbors will watch them and call 911.  Get. Inside. The. House.  Only two blocks left to go.

With one block left, another obstacle.  More construction work blocking the sidewalk.  I disregarded the "Do Not Walk" sign, and cut around in the street.  The construction workers shouted jokes about my screaming children at me as I rushed past.  I hoisted the stroller back up over the curb to get back onto the sidewalk.  Do not die before you get home.  You just all need to get home alive.  That's all.  And there's only one hundred feet left...

As I finally neared my house, I saw a downstairs neighbor exiting the building, obviously on his way to work.  He held the door and then one child for me as I labored the stroller and all of our stuff back into the house.  The screaming was ceaseless.  As I sat on the bottom step of stairs to our third floor walk up, he asked me if I was okay.  "Actually, I'm quite ill," I told him.  "But I've got it from here, thank you so much."

Happier times.
Normally, the girls climb the stairs themselves.  Not today.  I carried them up (mostly lugging them by the harnesses they still wore) all the way to the top floor.  And then I sat on the floor and did my best to calm them down.  We all rolled and thrashed around the foyer- just inside my front door, for about twenty minutes before I could get the children silent.  They weren't calm or happy yet, but at least they were silent.

They had breakfast, watched Sesame Street (and some more cartoons, I needed the rest), helped me put away laundry, and went down for their nap early.

And me?  I found out that the damage to car is minimal, and mostly M's fault for not changing the fluids.  The pain in my abdomen hasn't stopped, but my fever has broken.  And I didn't even throw up.  That was a miracle.

So what have I learned from this experience?

Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  As far as I'm concerned, this was one of those inevitable disasters that just happens to you when you're responsible for very small people.  As a parent, you are constantly tested.  Constantly the butt of a universal joke.  And the fact of the matter is that you know what you're getting in for.  It's one of the reasons that people without children so fear becoming people WITH children.  There is nothing glamorous about being a parent.  We all know that we're going in for the longest, most grueling endeavor known to man, and that parts of it are going to suck.

Oh good lord, some parts of it suck.

Very helpful grublings
But we do it anyway, because despite the indignity of using your last ounce of willpower not to lay down and die in your stairwell while covered in your screaming children, there are benefits.  There are moments every bit as perfect as those horrible, unfathomably awful moments are miserable.  There are reasons.

And right now my reasons are happy, oblivious, sleepy little people laying in the other room, content in the belief that I am a superhero who rescued them from a terrible morning, regardless of the fact that I was also the villain that inflicted it upon them.

It's big, sloppy kisses from DD and soft, gentle kisses from SI when they see me when they wake and hug me and bring me books to read them and toys to play with, and say "Mama!" over and over again, as though it's a mantra that evaporates all ills.

In short, my morning was one of the worsts of my life.  But I am still so, so happy to have those little people around.  So happy that they've come into my existence and brightened it so fully.

...and I am so desperately in need of a nap.

One of the first times I ever found myself this exhausted


  1. I'm so sorry...but I can't help recalling an eternity trapped in a car with three inconsolable screaming children, one of them a supermommy in training. It didn't seem to do them any long-term harm, but I'm still recovering.

  2. Leashes and harnesses are wonderful at that age. Raphael got a beautiful backpack & leash from LittleLife in England. He still uses&loves the backpack. We stopped needing the leash years ago.

    Little angels quickly outgrow the screaming phase. I remember my baby's tantrums with amusement.

    Getting yourself healthy is the most important thing now.

  3. You know what, though...someday at least some of those college students will get theirs...


  4. I can't believe that no one bothered to help you!!! I can't believe that people jeer at upset children. How terrible. Or that you didn't call a nearby neighbor or friend to come get you from the mechanic. This scene sounds terrible and yours truly would have been more than happy to help!

  5. This remind me of a time right after I'd had my first baby, and I was watching some terrible Lifetime movie about a single mother in the early 1900's who was sick and destitute and trying to take care of her infant. I just sat on the couch and cried. Honestly, I don't think we really do know what we're getting into before we become parents. Otherwise, the world would be a much less populous place.

    I'm glad you survived. That was a frickin' nightmare. Hope you're feeling much better soon!



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