Spring break came to an abrupt halt this week when my almost 9 year old woke with projectile vomiting at 3 a.m. in the morning, the night before we were headed back home. Stomach bug? Food poisoning? Whatever it was, we scrambled around changing sheets, cleaning, calming, and attempting to fix what was in our control. But the morning crept up on us and we were still faced with the inevitable task of driving from Maine to New Jersey in spite of the vomit and whatever else our parenting journey was going to present.
So we scurried about, packing our things and juggling our not-so-well son and our well but not-so-happy 4 year old and ushered everyone into the truck (along with the two dogs) for our trek home. What should have taken us an hour to get across the Pisataqua Bridge instead evolved into a two-hour excursion: first a stop at the health food store to stock up on homeopathic remedies, ginger chews, and non-toxic cleaning products for the car; a second stop to overdose ourselves on the caffeine we needed to sustain two weary parents for at least six to seven hours of driving (or so we thought); and, for good measure, a stop to appease the 4 year old's complete meltdown for no discernable reason, but which was remedied by mommy hugs, songs, and a walk in the sunshine.
It is these moments when parenting gets hairy - and creative. Certainly a long car ride with a sick child is not the height of challenge in one's parenting journey. Having stood by while my son was given last rites by a hospital priest makes a ride through six states with a stomach bug and some fussies look like a walk in the park. But challenges like this can make us rise or fall. They can get under our skin, frazzle our nerves, and generate tension enough to bicker with your spouse along the way. But they can also inspire creativity and enormous patience for whatever lies ahead. I am far more apt to forget the sippy cup or mess up the lunchbox when the sun is shining and the day is full of easy routine than when the red alert has been sounded and we need all hands on deck. Loading the car for this challenge I was struck by how suddenly the place for the appropriate "barf bag" was made readily apparent; how niches for tucking away remedies and fluids revealed themselves; and how a whole host of interesting distractions and calming agents flowed through my brain. Parenting does that to you. It forces you to figure a way through rather than around. You become creative in new ways and realize that bemoaning what is only makes it worse. Instead you find ways to manage, to nurture, and to heal. We may not always do it well. We may bicker. We may forget the extra napkins or not think a change of socks may be needed. But we can find a way to journey that stretches us, challenges us, and helps us to reach higher.
And then we can look back and laugh. Remember that spring break when it took us 9 hours to get home? Yeah, we did that. And we made it!