This past week was Spring Break for the Dannemiller family. The term “spring break” normally conjures images of sun-drenched beaches in Florida, infested with college kids being held up by their ankles enjoying a few mellow cocktails sipped through a funnel and some plastic tubing. It’s a chance to get away from it all and enjoy an exotic destination. Not to be outdone, we embarked on our own epic journey to the hotbed of spring break activity.
I know what you’re thinking. How in the world did you find an available hotel room?
We are lucky enough to have some very dear friends that recently moved from Nashville to Madison to take a new job at the University of Wisconsin. This was our opportunity to spend some quality time with them and point out anything remotely unattractive about their new hometown (too cold, too flat, too much cheese) so they move back. We’re generous like that.
Little did we know that our trip was doomed. Jake caught a stomach bug the night before we were supposed to leave. So, we delayed our departure and stayed at home to do our taxes. Gabby and I combed through receipts and 1099’s for the better part of the extra day. We made sure to yell at the kids every now and then to make sure they felt included.
The romance was electric.
Jake still felt bad the next day, but, like any good parents, we packed the kids into the car anyway. We pumped him full of saltines, gave him a big green barf bucket and all of the DVD movies he could ever want to watch. By the time we had watched three rounds of Tom & Jerry’s greatest hits, we made it to Indianapolis where my sister and our nieces were in town for a volleyball tournament. After a couple of games, we all went to have pizza while poor Jake was sprawled out in the booth holding his gut. He has a flair for drama, but we called it quits early and spent the rest of the night in the hotel.
The next morning, Jake felt better, but I was nursing a bit of anxiety due to a potential conflict at work. Yes, I said potential conflict. The mere thought of hanging up on a telemarketer gives me mild intestinal discomfort, so you can imagine what truly disappointing someone I value and respect might do to my insides.
By noon, the conflict was over, but the churning in belly was not. My stomach became a petri dish for whatever Jake was harboring. One hundred miles into our day’s journey, the rush hit me. We made an emergency stop at a McDonald’s in the middle of nowhere. By virtue of a small miracle, I was able to wait until the bathroom cleared out before erupting into a volcano of bad vacation food. I barfed up Technicolor Crunch Berries from breakfast. I barfed up supreme pizza from the night before. I barfed up a piece of Fruit Stripe bubble gum I swallowed back in the third grade.
It was bad.
After the McFlurry of activity in the bathroom, I stumbled out to the car, three shades whiter than normal. Gabby issued an immediate quarantine. We called and cashed in some hotel points so not to infest our friends’ house. By the time we got to Madison, I was a shivering, writhing mess. I climbed into the hotel bed and had nightmares of Cap’n Crunch forcing me to swab the deck in rough seas. Five minutes later, I woke to the sound of Audrey planting her face into the green bucket for her own fireworks show.
It was looking very much like the aftermath of a Florida spring break party.
To the casual observer, our trip was a bust. We had planned on going sledding, skiing, taking in 3-4 museums, indoor water parks, eating fun foods, and touring around Wisconsin. No purchases, but tons of fun experiences. Instead, we spent a lot of time puking and feeling queasy. Our eight hour drive home turned into twelve hours. Even the car got sick, flashing its “check transmission” from Indiana to Nashville. And we ignored it, in much the same way we ignored Jake’s symptoms on the drive there. It cost us $432 to get the flashing to stop.
But as we look back on the journey, we now see that the experience we planned would have largely been a distraction. Case in point: While the rest of us were quarantined in the hotel, Gabby was able to go out with one of her best friends ALL BY HERSELF. Those three hours of uninterrupted conversation and connection never would have happened if not for puke-fest 2013.
* My hot wife with her awesome friend Tiz and her little boy Nathan. At the time of this post, Nathan is now up-chucking all over the house without the aid of a bucket. So much for the quarantine!
And another blessing. Rather than go out to dinner, our kids got to experience an honest-to-goodness Passover, celebrating a Seder dinner at the Goff’s house while I writhed in the hotel bed. When I asked Audrey what her favorite part was, she said, “I liked the puppet show best.” Wondering what kind of kid-friendly puppet show would commemorate the smearing of lambs’ blood on the doorframe and the death of every first born Gentile child, I asked, “There’s a Passover puppet show? Is that tradition?”
Gabby then explained to me that our hosts wanted to spice up the discussion of the ten plagues (Locusts, wild beasts, rivers of blood, etc.) so they found some really fun, non-threatening finger puppets the kids could hold up. Gabby was happy to be a part of the action and do her Christian duty, happily brandishing the worst of the plague puppets so none of the other guests would be offended at being handed, say, the “First Born” plague.
And let’s not forget the blessing of our sickness. Had Audrey and I not been puking like fraternity pledges, we probably would have been at some indoor theme park. Kids scattered like roaches in a brightly lit room, completely distracted by shiny objects. Instead, the two of us were locked in suite 207 at the Residence Inn for a full day. Drawing pictures. Tracing hands. Watching old Disney movies and sharing a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle. Meanwhile, Jake and the rest of the kids threw snowballs at each other and played in the basement. Not a parent was in sight, and they got to swing like monkeys on some makeshift trapezes Pete had hung from the rafters.
It was fantastic.
And that’s when I realized that “busy-ness” is a close cousin to “stuff”. Both often breed expectations that are rarely met, leaving us feeling just a bit emptier than before. Because the kids complain during the movie. The new sweater doesn’t fit like you thought it should. The lines are too long at the theme park. You get tired of washing the new car. And the hotel doesn’t look anything like the brochure. So the present moment is ruined by the impossible perfection of the vision in our heads.
But today. The ordinary. The here and now. That’s something special. It’s the only thing God guarantees. And appreciating what you have is the key to unlocking the joy. Whether it’s the Clark Griswold-like vacation, or the house in which you live.
So today I begin my appreciation challenge. Waking up every day for a week and naming five things I am thankful for. I’m interested to see what, if any, changes it brings about in me. But I’m not expecting anything in particular.
Because that could be dangerous.