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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

A Tale of Two Boys and Too Many Chicken Nuggets

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Ever have one of those emotional switcharoos where you go from a total high to a total “oh, eff” so fast that you basically cannot even enable your reaction meter? Maybe it happened when your boyfriend ‘wanted to talk’ and you just knew he was finally going to pop the question, but instead he showed up with a poorly taped-up box of your belongings as a signal that he might be going a different route.

“Oh, no, yeah. Me, too,” you responded. “I only wore full make-up because I, um, totally had plans after this,” you mumbled as you slinked away with your toothbrush, deodorant, a few pictures, favorite pj’s, and a few changes of clothes taken from the not-a-jewelry-box after all.

Yeah, that kind of switcharoo.

Coming back to our hotel room from an amazing basketball game…well, you could say I was on a bit of an emotional high. I’d had the day of my dreams. I’d stumbled across one of my coaching heroes, I’d stumbled onto the ecstatic fan base crowded at my favorite team’s hotel as they sent the player bus off to secure an eventual victory in a game that I only got to attend due to total dumb luck. It was all just a continuation of a streak of the stars aligning as we approached departure day for a cruise we had planned months prior out of New Orleans. I floated the entirety of our walk from the arena and all the way through the door into our hotel room where our son and his travel buddy (whom I’ll call E as he doesn’t officially belong to us) had patiently waited out the night for my husband and I to return.

They didn’t mind, really. They much rather have skipped the game and have some final “alone” time before the four of us hopped onto a cruise ship the following afternoon, anyway. Teen boys were much more interested in a final go at high-speed internet than they were at screaming crowds of people, anyway.

Floating.

Thud.

Was there an odd smell?

Like a farm, maybe?

Or was that just Bourbon Street?

That couldn’t be right.

But, yes. Something was off.

The room was sticky with…

What was it??

I’d like to interject here that neither my husband nor I had any adult beverages at the game, though yes, our brains were still completely useless.

We were in our room for three seconds when we heard a meek voice from the living area, “Hey guys?” our son whispered, “Our night didn’t go so well.”

And thus began the switcharoo.

Thud.

The details came out in bits and pieces over the course of the next twelve hours (as well as many other things via various orifices). We learned that the boys had opted for a fast-food dinner (as teens will) and did not hold the pickles, the lettuce, or anything else. Sure, in the heart of creole and given a hearty guilty mom budget, they went with greasy comfort food available in virtually any town on the planet. But, whatever.

They had it their way in the form of over two dozen chicken nuggets, endless fries, and I'm not really sure how many burgers - all washed down with several southern sweet teas. This isn’t a story of poor food choices. This is the story of how food poisoning becomes exponentially worse when you multiply it by the quantities listed above. Or (and?) how, when your stomachs are representative of those seen at kitchen tables that most often include well-balanced, unhappy (by teen standards) meals, mouthfuls of lard-soaked mountains are not necessarily agreeable.

Not a terrible problem on a normal day, but on this day… (Did I say “day?” It was 1:00 am, with an a) …on this day, we were twelve hours from departure for a cruise. And, in today’s heightened sick awareness world, those actively vomiting or shitting themselves in the check-in lines are typically not welcome to board ~ even if their irate mother insists the affliction was self-created with an overload of rancid grease and poor decisions.

But at least they didn’t have fevers, right?

Yet.

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The early morning hours became a series of pivots, none of which involved fulfilling the dream of sleep that my husband and I had talked about while walking the crowded mile from the basketball game to the hotel. Instead, we’d approach drifting off, only to be lurched to life by Zack’s screaming donations to the toilet (seriously, who taught this kid to barf with a baritone?). The jolt from near slumber could easily serve as a substitute for my husband’s upcoming stress test, should I figure out how to report it to his cardiologist. Turns out that, even at 16 years old, parents are pulled into Puketown to provide wet washcloths, shoulders to lean on, and words of encouragement. Or at least Rich was. I was busy making a 2:00 am spreadsheet and mapping out contingency plans if one or both boys weren’t able to travel.

Thankfully, as we rounded the 3:00 am mark, E continued to sleep soundly. That was good. Zack had already owned up to a much higher nugget intake indicating a much higher ratio of items-to-lose need. And what a nightmare for E, we thought, to come on some other family’s trip and then get sick? How lucky that he seemed to have already passed what he needed to pass, without the witness of substitute parents. How lucky that he seemed to be missing all the fun and already recovWHATTHEACTUALEFF!!!! Oh.

E’s turn. Poor, poor E.

This poor child did not make it to the bathroom before he began to redecorate the hotel room. In a cruel twist of fate, this was the only day in the history of our marriage that my beloved husband closed the toilet seat. How could this be the day? Why? The result? E slid into the bathroom to finish the job and the waterfall of fully formed returning french fries ricocheted off the toilet lid and up the shower wall, the vanity, the bathroom wall, his face, the floor, his clothes, and most of the linens. Why?

Thud.

Poor E.

Rich was in the bathroom quick enough to catch an embarrassed apology and return it with a hug. I zipped by narrating a list of items I’d be collecting from the front desk (while wondering if my first priority should be grabbing an Uber to another hotel). The front desk wanted to send up housekeeping but the boys were mortified enough, pleading through pale eyes that we handle the clean-up ourselves.

We? Wait, now, we?

And so, at 4:00am, we donned hazmat wear and did our darndest. We started charting the output versus input, loading Imodium, Tums, and Tylenol when the fevers arrived. Who knew food poisoning could bring fevers? We felt our trip potential dip. We could hide explosive this or projectile that, maybe, but fevers? There was no way to hide a fever. Clearly written procedures told us that any person pinging above a 100.4 would be turned away at the pier.

I added another column to the spreadsheet.

The nick of time? Yes. Somehow we were able to load two very pale and tired teens onto the gangway. All aboard. They weren’t at 100%. Heck, they weren’t even at 50%, but we were able to time out our arrival and tuck two of the tallest yet tiniest 16-year-old boys into their beds where they slept for the first 24 hours of our cruise, save a few trips to the bathroom to evacuate any residuals.

As they returned to life, they each dealt with minimal motion sickness, and then, by day three, it was like nothing had ever been wrong. Kids…right? Total recovery, check! In the meantime, Rich and I were taking two naps a day and convincing ourselves that we could really, really relax well into day six.

We reminded the boys often that it would make a great story one day. The kind they would tell their own kids with a start of, “When I was your age…” and be met with an eye-roll or a “we’ve already heard this one.” They aren’t there yet - currently, they just want to forget it and have pledged to never, ever order fast food ever, ever again.

I suspect that all will be canceled the second they arrive back at school as they surround themselves with friends who gather to hear this epic tale of two boys, endless fries, I’m not really sure how many burgers, and over two dozen chicken nuggets.

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