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Wednesday, October 12th 2005

12:44 PM

Careful what you wish for...

October 12, 2005

Fall is a majestic season. The weather cools off and the leaves change. The deep greens of summer change to brilliant oranges, yellows, and reds. Leaves dance in the breeze until they come to rest in piles of crunchy leaves. Parks call to bundled kids. They search for mountains of leaves to stomp. A neat pile of leaves calls for children to throw them into the air and dance in the "rain". Days grow short. The fire flies of summer have found a warm place to pass the winter. Hot cups of cocoa welcome rosy-cheeked kids home from afternoons of adventure. It is a time to hunt for pumpkins and set out scarecrows.

Many parents will tell you the best part of fall is the start of school. As a homeschool parent, I do not have that joy to look forward to. Instead, we look forward to everyone else’s kids going off to school so we can visit our favorite tourist places without a crowd. Yesterday, we decided to take advantage of this and visit the National Aquarium with a group of homeschool friends. The boys are in the middle of a study on Australia and what a cool way to learn about the Barrier Reef than see it’s critters in action. Armed with cameras, the boys were ready to spend the day with their friends wandering the aquarium.

Chad often laments that he misses out on our adventures. It is true that he works long hours and often hears of our days after the fact. The kids email Daddy their narrations and often sneak back up from bed to tell him about their day but it is not the same as being in the middle of it. I was thrilled when I learned that our homeschool group was organizing the outing to the aquarium on his day off. I quickly signed our zoo up and cleared the calendar. What a wonderful way to spend a family day!

We live 90 miles from Baltimore, an easy hour and a half drive, maybe two in traffic. We planned to leave the house by eight giving us two full hours to get there by our ten o’clock deadline. A lost shoe and last minute potty trip meant we actually departed 8:15AM. Then, we had to stop and pull cash and grab breakfast. It was 8:30AM before we were actually on the Interstate headed in the right direction. Chad was very confident that it never takes more than 90 minutes to get to Baltimore. We would get there with no problem. I nonchalantly mentioned that we had not made the drive in rain coupled with morning traffic. Apparently, I challenged his manhood. He was determined that we were going to get there on time. We raced down the freeway, headlong into morning traffic. He tensed with every tick of the clock. These minor delays would not keep him from getting us there on time.

I have very few pet peeves but being late is one of them. In fact, it tops the list. This is unfortunate because I married someone incapable of arriving on time. He swears that God made him that way. I argue that if I am capable of arriving to appointments with four children ten minutes early, a grown man is surely capable of arriving at the appointed time. Chad isn’t. Thirteen years of knowing Chad has allowed me to find ways to coexisting without killing him. Much to his displeasure, I pad our trips by planning to arrive early. We had to meet everyone at the ticket office at 10:20AM so I told my dear but often late husband, we had to be there by ten. In my mind, this little stretch of truth prevents us from missing planes and being grossly late. This morning, it meant that we actually arrived on time. It was 10:20AM on the dot when we finally joined our group in front of the ticket office. Instead of being grateful for getting us there on time, Chad was furious that I lied. He was panicked that we missed everyone and did not appreciate me adding stress to his day. We were both a little intense when we walked through the doors and embarked on our glorious family day.

Most of the frustration was quickly forgotten as the kids dragged Chad around. The kids enjoyed a wonderful day with Daddy. He was very impressed with how much they know. Drew served as our personal docent. Even I was amazed at how many different facts he was able to accurately produce. Instead of a dolphin show, we got to watch a training session that was fascinating to us all. The kids are currently studying the Australian Barrier Reef for another project and had lots to add when we walked through the reef exhibit. Even Bekah was able to identify various fish and other critters. Everyone around us laughed when she loudly exclaimed, "That’s a whopper!" as a big fish swam by. We lunched on the world’s most expensive hamburgers but Chad was content to pay. He was simply happy to be in the middle of his zoo on an adventure.

Little did he know what an adventure he was on. By lunch, Kaleb was really starting to sniffle and cough. His cold medicine had worn off but the pills were back in the ZooMobile in the parking structure. The aquarium has a no stroller policy so I had been lugging Nate around all morning in the backpack. Chad had mercy on me and generously offered to hike back to the car while I waited with the kids. While I was clearing the table, my budding artist was inspired to draw a shark on his chair. This has been an ongoing battle but I was not about to make a scene in the middle of a restaurant. This was our family day and we were going to enjoy it. My artist quickly transformed into janitor and scrubbed his seat clean while I loaded the baby into the backpack. I had secured the last strap when I heard an ominous rumble from the depths of the pack. Murphy’s law states that as soon as you finish stuffing your child into their snowsuit, they have to go potty. Its corollary states a baby will fill his pants as soon as he is secured into a backpack. There was nothing to do but herd the children into the bathroom and change Nate’s pants. Only, the bathroom didn’t have a changing table and I discovered I had forgotten wipes.

Unwilling to change a dirty diaper standing up without wipes, I re-Velcroed him, stuffed him back into the pack, and herded my zoo to the visitors center. The volunteer insisted that this family oriented aquarium had changing tables. I agreed that this would be logical but incorrect. We walked back to the bathroom while Nate continued to grunt in my ear. Imagine that... Changing tables didn’t miraculous appear when the volunteer walked into the bathroom! We then herded over to another volunteer who enlightened us. They have a separate family bathroom so that Dad’s can change babies too. While I am a firm believer in Dads changing diapers, Nate was now squirming behind me and I became acutely aware that I failed to bring a change of clothes. We thanked the volunteers, herded over the to family restroom, and almost suffocated while we conquer the diaper of death. Bekah had found a mysterious puddle on the floor so everyone washed their hands, an ordeal in and of itself, and we finally herded out to find an exasperated Daddy waiting for us. Where had we been? He had hiked all the way to the parking structure (kid free) and I didn’t even have the courtesy to be there when he returned. I tried to calmly explain that we had a little adventure our of own that he should be grateful he missed out on. We were both determined to enjoy our family day so we went back to our corners. Kaleb took his cold medicine and we went on a quest to find the smashed penny machines.

The afternoon went downhill from there. The prohibition of strollers not only meant that I had to be Nate’s personal pack mule, but it also prevented Bekah from napping. There is no place to lay down a cranky child in the middle of an aquarium. Our darling daughter can be pure sunshine but the flip side of the coin is that she can also be her own little self-contained hurricane. By the time we finally found the stinking coin smashers, Bekah didn’t want to do that. She didn’t want to put the money in the slots. She wanted the penny to go in the quarter slot. She didn’t want the dolphin penny. Or the shark penny. Or any of the other pennies she insisted she must have the minute before. I suggested that Chad take her aside and "help" her see the light. He looked at me in horror. Why should he have to be the bad guy? He was just a visitor on this adventure and this surely fell in my department. A little grumpy myself from hauling Sir Chunky Thighs around all day, I was happy to put Bek in her place. We battled, I won, and the day went forward with a tired little girl skating on thin ice with a grumpy Mommy.

I think at this point Chad was wondering why he felt bad about missing our wonderful adventures. This was reinforced when we exited a dark exhibit and Kaleb stepped into the light. Our artistic Moose had come into contact with something he was terribly allergic to. His entire face was swollen. His eyes were all puffy and his face looked like a puffer fish. He looked very pathetic and immediately had our full attention. This is not the first time Kaleb had looked like a puffer fish. He had gone leaf jumping with a friend the day Nate was born and came to meet his brother with a similarly disfigured face. A good shot of Benadryl and he would be back to his handsome self. Daddy, on the other hand, did not see this as something to be simply dismissed. Kaleb was not fine. Couldn’t I see that he was about to pop? What if his throat started to swell close?

Kaleb looked very pathetic but I have had four kids and this one was going to live. Chad is often at work when I am at home playing Dr. Mom bandaging gushing head wounds, extracting foreign objects ("nose missiles") from noses and getting broken arms x-rayed. Welcome to life with kids. Weird stuff happens all the time and one of Kaleb’s quirks is his ability to swell up like a puffer fish. I have the paperwork in the ZooMobile for his allergy test. He looked a little funky but Kabs was going to live.

A swollen kid didn't phase me but Daddy was sick with worry! He drove like a crazy man down the streets of Baltimore to try to find help for his poor son. It would have been sweet to see if I hadn't been praying for my life as he jockeyed for position in evening traffic. City people sure do know how to use their horns! Chad cursed one-way streets while we tried to follow someone’s directions to a drug store only to finally get there and not be able to get out. There was no place to park and I was unwilling to jump out in traffic. Assuring Chad that Kaleb would like long enough for us to find another store, I convinced him to drive on.

I am directionally challenged. I have come to terms with my ailment and have no problem driving around aimlessly until I find where I am going. The kids lovingly refer to me as the Queen of U-turns. Driving through downtown Baltimore looking for a drugstore seemed natural to me. Chad, on the other hand, is almost fanatical about knowing exactly where he is at all times. His personal hell is driving around unfamiliar places, like Baltimore, without a map (I just cleaned out the car) while his son is swelling to death in the backseat. This difference in our personalities has occasionally generated heated conversations. Chad did not take well to driving aimlessly. He grew more stressed with every U-turn we drove. He did not take well to me randomly pointing out various sights along the way. Did you know that downtown Baltimore has a hundred really cool crabs that are all decorated in different themes. I know because I pointed them all out for Chad’s enjoyment. Cursing the one way roads, the decorated crabs, and maybe me, he drove over a bridge in an attempted to escape downtown traffic and find a gas station to stop and ask directions. It was perfect! We drove right into a hospital parking lot. Driving aimlessly really gets you places! Explaining that every hospital has a pharmacy, I jumped out and ran inside. Just my luck! The pharmacy had closed 15 minutes before but the nice security guy gave me directions to a nearby drug store.

Happy that we were close to our goal, I ran back to the car with my good news. Chad did not share my enthusiasm. Why was the pharmacy closed? Don’t they know that people need medicine at all hours? Didn’t I know that Kaleb was about to pop? How could I be smiling at a time like this? I did the only thing I knew to do. I called my mom. Chad and my mom have shared the typical love-hate in-law relationship over the years but she is a nurse, and he was convinced that his son was going to expire in the backseat. We answered all of Mom’s questions and determined that Kaleb needed to be helped but was, in fact, not going to swell to death, right now at least. Chad accepted the diagnosis and we went onto find the drug store.

I turns out that I am not the only directionally challenged person on the planet. The security officer was very nice but there was a reason he wasn’t working in, oh say, dispatch. We ended up sightseeing the darker parts of Baltimore before my beloved husband finally stopped at a 7-11 for directions. There must have been ten gang bangers hanging out in front of the store. I spent the next five minutes thinking what would happen if one of them made the mistake of messing with a stressed out husband who was lost and convinced his son was about to pop in the backseat. Thankfully, none of my grisly imagined possibilities ever materialized. He came out of the store looking relieved. Armed with Benadryl and directions, Chad was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Little did he know it was really a train.

With the crisis behind us, I felt it was safe to finally broach the subject of dinner. I had been starving before we left the aquarium but felt it unwise to throw anything else into the mix. There were two favorite fast food joints in sight, so we drove through both before our quest to return home. Getting back to the freeway turned out to be more complicated than Chad had thought. There are many bridges in Baltimore and only one of them takes you to the right freeway. My husband didn’t appreciate my input so I quietly looked out the window and tried not to point out the funny crabs.

By the time we finally got ourselves on the correct freeway, Chad was wound tighter than a clock. Everyone reacts differently under stress. Some people snap. Some cry. Some yell. When I am feeling stressed and have no control over the situation, I laugh. Somewhere between the stoplight where a homeless person who was more metal prosthetic limbs than flesh and jumping across six lanes of heavy traffic to merge onto the wrong freeway, I crossed that thin line and got the giggles. The more I giggled, the more mistakes Chad made, which only made me laugh harder. He knows I can’t help it but after the day we had shared, he didn’t care. Needless to say, I was not his favorite person when Kaleb started retching in the backseat of our new car.

Our poor Moose! His eyes were swollen shut so he had difficulty finding something to throw up into. I reacted like most moms would. I dumped my drink out the window so Kaleb could have my cup. There is something about the strength of the wind generated by a car racing down the freeway at mach 5 that pushes liquid back inside the window. There was soda everywhere. If being sprayed with soda wasn’t enough, the mix of horror, disbelief, and disgust on Chad’s face sent me into spasms of giggles. Here I was sprawled across two rows of SUV trying to catch vomit from my pathetic puffer fish while my husband sat in the front seat wondering why he had taken the day off work. It seemed hysterically funny at the time. Somehow, Chad managed to pull off the freeway and park at a McDonalds. Kaleb finally finished and I started wiping up the car while Chad rolled down every window and threw on the air full force. It was a cold Fall night but my husband didn’t care. We needed fresh air. We all sat shivering in the McDonald’s parking lot while Chad supplied mountains of napkins for me to clean up the mess. In my haste of getting Kaleb his container, I failed to remove the rubber cup holder that had adhered itself to the bottom of my cup. It was now even to gross for me to touch barehanded, so I shoved it in the trash bag with the intention of dealing with it later.

By the time I was done, Chad was fit to be tied. What kind of a mom was I? Here was his son, swollen and retching in the backseat, while I laughed and played in his vomit. Chad is rarely irrational but we had pushed him over the edge. "He’s fine. Sure, he’s fine. Just look at the poor kid and you can see that he is juuuust fine." What had the world come to that my husband was impersonating in a McDonald’s parking lot. I am sure the other patrons were wondering whether this crazy was dangerous. "They are suppooooosed to look like they are about to explode. It is normal for them to PUKE all over the car. He is juuuust fine." All I could do was laugh. The more he ranted, the harder I laughed. I almost died when he grabbed my trash bag from me in frustration. I doubled over with laughter as he dropped the wet bag in disgust. The outside wasn’t exactly clean. Between breaths, I tried to explain that someone still needed to pull the rubber cup holder off the bottom of the puke cup but quickly fell back into hysterics as Chad looked at me like I was nuts. "Why didn’t you take care of that before you stuffed it back into the puke bag?!?!" He was horrified to have to touch anything more but too angry at me to give back my bag. He stomped away to the trashcan. He turned his back to us, I’m sure to prevent me from laughing harder at his disgust.

Although we were only fifteen minutes from home, the remainder of our drive was very long. I struggled to control my laughter, which was difficult because Chad was shooting me glaring looks. The kids huddled in their seats shivering but no one dared to ask Daddy to close the windows. I think they were also scared to get me laughing again. We finally arrived home, three hours and fifteen minutes later. That was a long 90-mile drive. Chad stormed into the house to deal with the mess the dogs made during their thirteen-hour lock-in. I extracted the frozen kids from their car seats and sent them into the house. The meds were finally kicking in and Kaleb could now see through little slits of eyes. He was anxious to jump in the shower and crawl into bed.

The rest of our night was spent in heavy silence. Chad tried really hard to calm down and I tried really hard to not laugh. Chad was never so glad as this morning when the alarm went off and he got to go to work. I think yesterday confirmed that he is simply not cut out for staying home full time with our zoo. Work is a much safer place!

Your Zany Zookeeper,

Heather

P.S. Chad disputes my perspective on this adventure. He claims that the horns were not necessarily directed at him nor was he driving mach 5 :0)

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