It was supposed to be skiing, fireside reading, wineglasses, sleds, snowmen and cozy taverns…favorite sweaters and fresh air. Instead it was the ER, oxycodone, favorite pajamas and a big blank slate.
One blessing from this vacation week: We didn’t have any plane tickets, which would have gone unused. Thank goodness we chose THIS year not to visit Park City (and its 55” of powder over four days) last week! Hooray!
We were, however, planning nine days of vacation activities in New Hampshire. But Pete’s aging back launched a revolt, seizing up with muscle spasms that left him literally unable to move without pain he kept saying was like childbirth, while admitting he didn’t actually know that.
Having experienced a similar back event 15 years ago, I felt fully qualified to diagnose and treat him, which I did with massages, heating pad, ibuprofen, valium and rum. Unfortunately, none of that worked in the slightest, so Friday morning we decided he should head to the hospital for the big guns.
After discovering Pete could not move a foot from our bed, we gave up on getting him down our stairs, through the house, down more stairs into the garage and into my car, and called an ambulance. Another bright spot: The last two times I’ve called 911, it was due to anaphylaxis from Pete’s stinging insect allergy and he was in mortal danger; it was refreshing to call 911 in less than total panic.
What followed was two nights in the hospital, because when the country is in a lethal opioid crisis, you go the ER immobilized and they nod sympathetically and hand you Motrin and then wait a few hours to see how you’re doing. Then when you report no change and no mobility and continued excruciating pain, they give you some more Motrin. Only after more than 24 hours of replicating the same protocol we had tried at home (minus the rum) did they unlock the cabinet and cut loose with something stronger.
(The SSH staff said they could give Pete narcotics but insisted that they “would not work.” I, very helpfully I’m sure, insisted they would work based on my experience 15 years ago. Pete, from his hospital bed, got more irritated with the universe. Only after two doctor friends said SSH was torturing him and I should take him to another hospital immediately did the narcotics finally materialize – and fairly quickly enable him to get out of the hospital bed and use his legs again.)
But this is not even about that. This is about when plans change, and nine empty days, two energetic children and one energetic dog loom in my face begging for activity, excitement, attention, treats, love, screens, Minecraft, girl scout cookies, dispute mediation services, something, anything.
Facebook confirmed that seemingly every person we know in greater New England was very far away enjoying either umbrella drinks or bluebird days, in some cases both. Who needs you people anyway? We beat the bushes, hunting down friends in private school and others who were staycationing.
We also brought Pete home Sunday afternoon, somewhat mobile but unable to participate in anything more physically active than reading the paper.
What transpired – what we cobbled together and what spontaneously occurred – turned out alright. As always, what constituted success was so much simpler than you’d ever think.
We played a game in the car that may not sound like much, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it: We read street names aloud, and we judged them. Which ones are boring, which ones are great, which ones could we never live on, and whatever other categories came to mind. Winners included Cleverly Court and Myopia Road. See? Aren’t those fantastic? Big loser: Indian Wind. I could never live on Indian Wind and you can probably guess why. (Sorry, Indian Wind-based readers.)
We drove one town over to check out the beach and street signs there, and the fun we had spotting golf balls in the washed-up kelp (they looked like eyeballs, and there were so many of them! They were hilarious), running along the concrete seawall and hopping around on the jetty rocks, was fairly remarkable.
Early in the week, needing activities close to home that the girls could agree on, we hit an outdoor shopping mall, walked around and window-shopped and spent 45 minutes in Claire’s picking out $2 scarves and lip balms. The girls never do that, so it was a novelty.
We made plans a day at a time (unsure about Pete’s participation, or at first, whether we should even leave him alone). The week overflowed with possibility and cooperative weather.
One night, I took the girls to a great local restaurant they’ve never been to; they loved it and it felt rarified. Another night, three-fourths of the family gave 30 Rock a try for the first time (we like to let shows age for a decade or so before we get involved) and loved it: A new obsession!
There was a lot of walking in the woods and climbing on downed trees, and on the record-setting warm day we drove south to Duxbury for a beach picnic. (Marginal Street!) Then we visited the local farm to meet the new donkey.
Later in the week Pete returned to work, and the girls and I ventured to the Museum of Science in Boston, which held a Leonardo da Vinci exhibit, a history of chocolate exhibit and an iMax movie about extreme weather. The huge replica of da Vinci’s (naked) Vitruvian man was too much for Whitney to stomach and led to several teaching moments, though it remains unclear who learned what. It went something like this:
“Mommy it’s so inappropriate!”-Whit, aghast at the sketch. “Is it called genitals or generals?”
“Penis!”-Me, loudly, trying to encourage proper terminology.
“I’m never going to a museum with you again.”-Anna, slinking away.
“Say it again! SAY IT AGAIN!”-Whit.
In honor of Oscars week, we saw more movies in the theater than we have in years. Movie popcorn: Still not great, but oddly addictive and soothing – the hospital should have tried that on Pete’s back.
La La Land was a delightful, wholesome depiction of romance – excellent for my 12-year-old date to see two young adults respecting each other and encouraging the pursuit of one other’s dreams, all occurring while the female was fully clothed. Hidden Figures was also a wonderful, important movie to see with kids, educational on many levels; it even held an 8-year-old’s attention.
The week’s piece de resistance was to be our Friday exploration of Quincy, a city we’ve driven past regularly for the past 14 years but that we barely know. We’ll fix that, I thought. Using a kids’ activity website, I compiled a list of Quincy parks and playgrounds to match the gorgeous weather, as well as two lunch spots because I had two possibilities and when I asked “Which one should we go to?” one daughter picked Little Duck Thai and the other picked Thai Noodle House, and they could not resolve this despite never having been to either.
My mom-on-vacation, devil-may-care “Let’s go to both” decree allowed the girls to transition instantly, seamlessly into an argument over which one we would go to first. The verdict: Little Duck, which won the pad Thai cook-off hands down. Note to Thai Noodle House: Ketchup in your pad Thai? Have you no shame?
What did not win was Quincy parks and recreation. The first one was new and good-sized but nothing to warrant a special trip. The next one fell so far short of the first that we didn’t even get out of the car. And the third was not even a playground, just a swing set and a single slide, but we got out anyway to explore the giant Rapunzel-looking tower next to it.
Not a trip made in vain, though: Myopia Road won the entire week and expanded two vocabularies. And Little Duck, we will see you and your pad Thai again very soon.
On Sunday, at Anna’s request, we made her first Eggs Benedict from scratch, with lessons about egg separating, whisking, and cooking in a double boiler. Then the girls dispersed to playdates and I nearly wept at the prospect of being alone in my house again the following morning.
This is not to suggest the whole week was sunny life lessons and epiphanies. There was a healthy dose of suckfest and grump. The week was jam-packed with so much more – and so much less – than planned. But even amid the changed landscape, stress, uncertainty, close quarters and lack of structure, it was as unforgettable as anything we could have scripted – and we didn’t even purchase plane tickets! Though any monetary savings will undoubtedly be more than erased by hospital co-pays.