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I am sitting in the parking garage — 5b North — I’ve made a note of it for later — while my kids sleep in the back seat of the minivan. My daughter is moaning slightly. Outside the garage the rain is coming down in torrents. My husband is sleeping in the hotel room after spending the early part of the day in the emergency room after spending the night throwing up. Luckily my daughter only threw up once. Did I mention we’re on Spring break? Woo-hoo!

Luckily our friends who met us here in Philadelphia for a few days were still here today so I had another adult around to help out at the children’s museum. Zoe insisted that we go even though she was tired and weak. She was definitely off her game but rallied every now and then, exhibiting an encouraging burst of energy and an occasional smile. We spent a while in the craft room at the museum, a suitably low-key place to be. One table was book making. Zoe’s book was a one-page brief, which said blah blah blah blah and some other similar blahs to describe how she felt.

As I inch closer and closer to 40, which is waiting expectantly for me this weekend, I realize this is just how it is. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and — well you’ve heard that song before. Those are, indeed, the facts of life.

I used to think I needed to be happy. That you either had a good time or a bad time or were a happy person or an unhappy one. Since becoming a parent I realize it is more realistic to have a happy moment followed by an unhappy one and if you’re lucky followed by several happy ones before something else goes awry.

Did I mention on the first day of this trip we were rear-ended on the highway in what became a six-car pileup just North of the Millard Tydings Memorial Bridge over the Susquehana River and had to wait on the shoulder for the state troopers to arrive while comforting children in the car? Thankfully, no one was hurt and our car is mostly okay. Thankfully it wasn’t in a blizzard or a rainstorm or a heat wave. Thankfully our children did not scream throughout the hour we waited.

Pause.

As I was writing earlier, Zoe woke up and said she was going to be sick so I quickly unlocked the door and opened hers and she thoughtfully puked all over the ground. She is typically both neat and accurate when vomiting, which is a good skill to have. I pulled out the roll of paper towels that I cleverly stowed in the car just for this vacation and brought her some. Just at that moment, Randy texted to find out where we were and say that he’d woken up, so I requested his presence in the garage. He carried Zeke in and Zoe rode in Zeke’s stroller. I was amazed that she fit, but she did.

I won’t go into details about the rest of the evening except that to say it involved calls to my parents and the pediatrician and some amount of weeping from various family members, and wet washcloths, and a trip for Zeke (nestled in Ergo and clad in raincoat) and me (clad in raincoat wearing Ergo) to the CVS to procure supplies for everyone. I asked the woman at the front desk for directions to CVS and she explained that it was three blocks away and I actually asked her to write down directions because I knew I would not remember them and it was raining and I just couldn’t deal.

Thanks be to God that at the tender hour of 9pm, the rest of my family is sleeping peacefully. Please let them all stay that way until morning.

All this is to say that perhaps one of the most significant things I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years is that we will survive and that it is imperative to suck the juice out of those beautiful moments scattered among the messy ones. Tonight: in the midst of her painful headache, Zoe asked to call to my mom, which immediately calmed her down and soothed her. Then she watched some Reading Rainbow videos. Thank goodness for the sanguine virtual presence of LeVar Burton. And she asked me to sing “Amazing Grace” to her, which also seemed to help. And Randy was willing to switch beds with her and take the sofabed because she said she was uncomfortable.

And: Zeke totally chill and taking it all in on our rainy mission. Zeke happily putting his toys in one of the hotel room cabinets and taking them out again. Zeke smiling and laughing and blowing raspberries. Zeke not puking. And Zeke finally submitting to sleep after I was very close to being out of jiggles.

Childless people have observed to me in the past that, from the outside, being a parent seems daunting or difficult or perhaps even impossible. “I could never do what you do!” they say. Or, for those actually planning to have kids, “Wow, that seems hard.”

Well, sure. It’s hard. But what’s easy that’s worth doing? Okay, maybe a few things. But what big things in life are easy that are worth doing? I have known since I was seven when I became a big sister that I wanted to be a mom. It took me longer than I expected to make that a reality, mostly because it took me a while to find the right guy to be my kids’ dad. But it all came together and there’s nothing in the universe like it. These little beings who need you so much, and you’re everything to them. Sometimes that can be overwhelming and exhausting, but also so satisfying and joyful. You sacrifice a lot, but you receive more in return. Being this person on whom your children can utterly rely, whose trust you have earned, who love you and need you and want you so relentlessly that you sometimes feel suffocated but usually feel so privileged. I am profoundly thankful for my little family. Even when they have made a mess all over me and all around me.

This trip was supposed to be a Spring break adventure–we never go away for Spring break. We always work and Zoe usually goes to camp. And this trip was supposed to be a little birthday present for me, since I am about to have a big birthday. Since Zoe was born and her birthday is two weeks before mine, Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 9.36.19 PMwe have not done much to celebrate mine. Last year I was hugely and uncomfortably pregnant with Zeke and it happened to thunderstorm on my birthday so we got pizza delivered. And all that is ok. But sometimes I feel like I should get a little treat. (I did buy myself roller skates recently, which is as close to a little red sports car kind of purchase as I would come) And I’m sure I will. But in the meantime we will drive home in the morning. I promised Zoe we could return to Philadelphia another time, maybe for a long weekend, to do all the things we had planned to do but didn’t.

In the meantime, I will just enjoy the beautiful silence of my sleeping family and hope that no one throws up on me (or anyone else) in the middle of the night. I love these guys.

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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