Saturday, April 2, 2016

To the Beach

Frozen casseroles, shopping lists, stacks of snacks and sandwiches
Phone calls, Facebook messages, google maps, planning
Gathering, packing, packing
All worth the time we planned to have
Seeing family rarely seen, giving our kids a chance to build relationships
Showing our children the ocean for the very first time
And maybe the last time for two who may not see much longer
Coughing, coughing, crying just four hours into a thirteen hour drive
Just four hours into our happy trip
Impromptu stop for medicine, hoping it's a fluke
Maybe it's allergies
Until the second one starts in
Between the lingering coughs from a week-old cold
And the new frantic hacking coming on
We sound more like a mobile tuberculosis ward
Than a family on their way to the beach

Fevers just starting as we pull into my brother's
And the first words out of my mouth are
"I'm so sorry"
So sorry to bring with us whatever plague is ensuing
So sorry that I didn't know this was coming
That I can already see that this won't be the retreat that we had all hoped
And that there is nothing any of us can do about that now

Hand washing, sanitizing, "cover your mouth," "no hugging your cousins"
Wondering, should we go forward still? Should we go home?
High fevers, tears, ibuprofen, robitussin, nebulizer breathing treatments
CVS Minute Clinic confirms it's influenza
But we're already here, already in this too deep
So we push ahead, determined now
We're going to milk a few sweet memories out of this trip
In between the miseries
Hannah's cousin checks on her, lying listless on the couch
"Should I get you a cool rag for your forehead?
That's what my mom gets for me when I have a fever, and it helps a lot."
He kneels beside her, totally unprompted, praying
"Dear God, please help Hannah feel better"
And I see that we are making sweet memories
Though not the kind we had planned

Naomi's fever begins just before we are to leave for the beach house
I question myself again
Are we heading the right direction?
North or south? North or south?
We load the van, still unsure which way we will go
I call Naomi's doctors who agree to call in Tamiflu for her
We find a pharmacy at our destination that will have it tomorrow
Then abandoning safety Matt carries her to the car
Lays her in the front seat, reclined, while she whimpers
And I squeeze into the back seat in her place
We. Are. Going. To. The. Beach.

Coughing, coughing the whole way there
Four kids running fevers, me passing out ibuprofen to the kids with healthy kidneys
Tylenol to two with bum kidneys, and nothing for poor Naomi
She can't have either
She fights the fever the old fashioned way, with rest, cool rags, and prayer
I log temps, and medication doses in a notebook
Passing mess and charting like the influenza ward nurse on overtime
We. Are. Going. To. The. Beach.

Pulling in after dark Naomi is writhing now, crying that she just wants a bed
Fever is 103.5
We tuck her in, make her drink, drink, drink
Plug in the nebulizer, make the rounds to the others with albuterol, steroids,
Meds, charting, meds, charting
Go to sleep, little ones, we made it
Maybe you will feel better in the morning
Please, Lord, let us all feel better in the morning

The beach house is beautiful, smells fresh and salty and summery
A welcome reprieve from the Indiana winter we have invaded it with
Large and airy, decorated with flip-flops, anchors, sea-shells, trinkets
And pictures of a family always in white, always on the warm sandy beach
Wind-tossed and happy
We made it
Restless sleep, making rounds every few hours, checking fevers, passing meds
6:00 am coaxing Naomi into a tepid bath, hoping to woo her fever down a few degrees
Achy and exhausted at breakfast
A bleary-eyed Elijah looks over the bowl of oatmeal he refuses to eat
Looks out the window and wrinkles up his forehead
"I see...pine trees?" he asks, unsure
Laughter finds me then
"Those are palm trees, buddy. You've never seen those before, have you?"

With my four kids who are still (barely) standing, all maximally medicated,
And hacking all the way we finally make the trek to the beach
Matt stays back with Naomi
The cousins run ahead
Through the tree-tunnel foot path
Up and down the reed speckled dunes
Warm white sand slips under my toes
Then everyone is running
Running down the last dune
To the enormous ocean
To the cold, windy waves
Broken sea shells under our feet
Still coughing, but we don't notice it much anymore
We made it
Hannah, Emma, Toby, Elijah, and their cousins
All jumping up and down in the cold, frothy surf
Seagulls overhead
Yelling out to me about how big the ocean is, and how loud
How the waves pull the sand out from under their feet as they slink back into the sea
Asking if they can feed the seagulls
Clambering for buckets and shovels and the right mixture of sand and water
Bringing piles of shells to me to keep for their collections
Trying to convince me that a swimsuit is all they need to wear
In the windy, cloudy, 65 degree weather when they are sick with influenza
They have forgotten they are sick

Toby reenacts Chariots of Fire
Running through the surf, loving our laughter all the way
Elijah is unsure of the waves so I coax him out there
And hold his tiny feet in the cold water while he screams "No! No!"
Half-from cold shock and half from excitement
In a minute he is jumping and splashing with all the rest
Screaming with joy as the waves come in and wash over his little knees
Clinging to my arms, trying to pull himself out of the water
Laughing at the futility
Laughing even more when a huge wave washes over both of us and soaks us waist down

We cuddle under towels and watch the blue and gray horizon
I see a dorsal fin not that far away
Almost can't believe it, thinking "shark"
But it jumps, bent gracefully, joined by others in front and behind
I yell with my sore, broken voice over the pounding surf
Yell for the kids to look, dolphins!
For a minute there is a break in the jumping and screaming
While they all strain to make out the grey, jumping dolphins in the grey water
They see them. Just for a second, they see them with their own eyes
It is worth it all

Before long we need reprieve from the wind
We need food and medication and rest
Naomi needs me to check on her
But as soon as we can make it, we are back at the beach
Gathering sights and feelings,  glimpses and memories
Treasuring them up like little pearls of great price
So costly, still worth it
By the next morning, with Tamiflu and prayers, Naomi's fever has broken
But her cousin has fallen to fever and cough
"I'm so sorry, buddy" I say
"That's OK," he croaks with a smile
He spends his second beach morning at the island's urgent care
Naomi is weak, but I don't want her to rest, I want her to see the ocean
I bathe her, feed her, practically push her down the path
She has reluctantly agreed to go, saying she will rest on the beach
But the sea surf is magical
She too forgets her illness, rolls up her pants, and puts her feet in the salty, foamy waves
They are seeing the ocean, if just for an hour
Smelling it, touching it, feeling the wet grains pulled out from under their feet
Pelicans overhead today, gliding on the pounding wind
Suddenly diving into the water for fish
Naomi sees them, stands with her toes in the waves, and watches them
We are miserable, and happy
Wrapping towels and hoods over our sore ears
Coughing and coughing in the wind

Emma is determined to build a sand castle
Works diligently for an hour
Packing sand, placing sea shells
It is beautiful
Such a costly sand castle
We made it. It's worth it
Eventually they tire
The misery wins out over the joy
We trudge back over the dunes with heavy feet
Showers, laundry, dinner, meds, nebulizers
Packing up, hauling out
Brining with us those few precious pictures
Those few happy videos
Those costly memories
Running for home and safety and rest

One last night with the cousins
Followed by hours and hours back through the mountains and plains
Through the red-bud lined interstates and the bright green mountain pastures
Dotted with this year's new calves
Hours and hours of driving
Calling out to the kids to savor that rose-pink sunset over the appalachian hills
They are too tired to savor anything any more
And then we are home

But we made it
They saw it
Pray they hold those memories
Miles of grey waves against the cloudy sky
Tiny dolphins on the horizon
Pelicans diving
Cold foamy waves on the scratchy sand
Pray they hold them
Precious costly pearls
Safely wrapped their whole life through
We made it

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