In the beginning, our trip to Pittsburgh to visit family was shaping up to be a lovely moment on the timeline of our lives. My sister, Karen, had finally moved within a distance we could drive on a single tank of gas. She had a new job, a new baby, and a new house under contract. So my husband, Steve, and I loaded up the minivan with our crew of five and pointed her west. Spring Break looks a little different once you’ve traded bikinis for, well, Pittsburgh, but we had high expectations for album-worthy memories on this trip. Which meant there was only way it could go: down in flames. And spectacularly so.
Fate laughs in the face of such hubris.
Trouble started brewing on Friday night, when Eddie (2) started vomiting. There is no faster way to become persona non grata in someone’s home than to start chewing through their linens. My poor sister had been a mom for about 10 minutes, but she was torn. It’s all fun and games until someone needs a bucket.
We had just dropped Patient Zero in the middle of her lovely new home. I could see her mind click through her options: Grab her own child a la Sally Field in “Not Without My Daughter”, kick mine to the curb, or re-create a scene from Outbreak complete with tenting and masks.
Um, we started packing.
At this point, I was harboring a fantasy that the exorcism coming from my child really was the result of his licking the bathroom floor at the rest stop as Charlie (8) suggested. I was packaging this spin for my sister and her husband, Dan, when Victim 2 fell. And hard. The siege was underway.
Pittsburgh is about five horrible, evil, ugly hours from home when you’re under attack. I’m gonna spare you the details, but leave you with this image: Steve pulled the car into the driveway after a looooooooong drive on the Puking Parkway from Pittsburgh and promptly tossed his cookies on the front lawn. Where’s a white flag when you really need one??
This was Saturday night. Easter morning was a mere 6 hours away. So in addition to Eddie, Ace (12) was down, Steve was down, and the other three kids were dropping like flies. We could have used a quarantine sign and some yellow tape.
What did this seemingly sane woman do then? Start wrapping and assembling Easter baskets. It was me against the clock. But much like the scene with Steve hours before, I succumbed right about the time I nestled the last chocolate egg in its basket.
Dawn rose on a day with two parents completely incapacitated. It was not looking good for an Easter miracle, but thank every lucky star in the sky for the resilience of boys when candy is on the line! Ace (12) who not 6 hours earlier had been wrapped around a toilet bowl had regained his usual step. He had no idea what I had in store for him.
Bottom Line: Sonny Boy got a huge promotion, complete with bunny ears and bragging rights. I felt like a stage mom pushing my baby into the spotlight, “You can do it, honey! Just think positive thoughts.” To be frank, I was too sick to move so it was more like gesturing and mumbling, but, whatever, he was my Chosen One.
No childhood innocence was lost in the making of this memory. At least, I hope not. I actually have no recollection of that day, but Ace even took pictures. It happened.
Postscript: The virus took down my sister’s whole family viciously within hours of our hasty retreat. Dan still uses The Great Pittsburgh Easter Plague as the yardstick to measure all other illnesses. In fact, he was completely unsympathetic when another virus took us all down last year.
And I did get my album-worthy memory after all. Mostly because Dan won’t let me forget it.
Posted by Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski
By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski