Friday, March 28, 2014

Catching a Flight to Nowhere

I am not an obsessive worrier, and one glance at my mopboards confirms I’m no compulsive cleaner. Yet my approach to planning and scheduling screams OCD. I write a detailed to-do list every morning and every night. I compile lists of lists. I jot down completed items I forgot to originally note, just so I can literally cross them off. And, before I head out on a vacation, I plot every minute.

Clearly, I would never consider getting up one day and driving an hour to the airport, booking the next available flight out to wherever it was going, and then hopping aboard—with no hotel reservations, no car rental, and no itinerary. Until the day I did.

I wouldn’t allow myself to plan specifics of this new life experience, yet a few details did require forethought. I needed to hire a pet-sitter, schedule a couple days off work, and pack. But how does one pack for a weekend trip to a totally unknown location, especially in mid-March with its infamous lamb-and-lion split-personality? Considering I could land anywhere from Miami, to Denver, to Fargo, North Dakota, I made a packing list (thank God, this one list was allowed), covering all my bases with a bathing suit, cover-up, and a pair of Sperry boat shoes—but also a winter coat, gloves, and boots.

I also had to ponder how exactly I might pay for the trip. I had no idea how much this last-minute flight might set me back. When I posted my plans on Facebook the night before, readers began quoting me disturbing estimates. In a panic, I threw out a half-joking request for donated air miles. An hour later, a long-time friend offered me enough unused points for my entire flight. Score!

I called Delta and was assured I could simultaneously transfer the miles and book a flight at the Detroit Metro counter the next day.

For the first time ever, I was able to take my time that morning heading to the airport. Forget my usual race through the terminal, praying I didn’t miss my flight. This time, I knew I’d be right on time for some flight—I just didn’t know which one.

I wandered into the terminal, both excited and nervous about the possibilities of my weekend. I could wind up somewhere like Hopeulikit, Georgia or maybe Hooker Corner, Indiana (which I recently discovered are totally real towns). I was sure both these places were lovely. Still, I hoped I’d end up in a big city I’d never visited or even better, a warm beach somewhere, especially after the sadistic Ohio winter that kept roaring in my frostbitten face.

I approached the Delta counter and explained my long story to the attendant. She gave me a somewhat confused smile and said she’d love to help me. However, she had no way at all of knowing which departing flights had available seats, let alone which ones were eligible for SkyMile points.

I readjusted my dropped chin and plopped onto a bench in the terminal. I called the phone number on my SkyMiles card and explained my dilemma. My new best friend at Delta loved the idea of The 52/52 Project, but didn’t seem to fully comprehend the idea of that day’s mission.

“OK,” she said. “So, where exactly do you want to go?”

“I don’t care. See, I’m not allowed to choose,” I explained again. “Just tell me the next flight out from Detroit—wherever it is going—which hasn’t begun boarding yet and still has an available seat that is eligible for SkyMiles.”

“Oh.” She paused. A very long pause. “So, I have to choose a flight for you?”

“Exactly,” I said. “Hey, I’m really sorry. Am I putting too much pressure on you?”

“Um, yeah. But, alright, if you truly just want the next available flight, it’s… well, it looks like it’s Fort Myers, Florida.”

I did a happy dance around the terminal.

My celebration was premature. She told me she couldn’t book the flight until the miles were transferred. And that could only be done online.

Did these people not understand my planning anxieties? I needed a boarding pass pronto, so I knew where I was going and when, and could then at least check those rather significant items off my mental list! While I was at it, I also wanted to make a list of every person who had lied or misinformed me about this whole fiasco of a process, so I could file a formal complaint.

I plopped back down on the bench. Sure, I had both my iPhone and my laptop with me, but I knew my best bet was to call Son #2, the techno-geek in the family. He was surely sitting in front of a computer and could manage the entire thing faster than I could even look up the web site. But he kept getting error messages, and a half-hour passed with no progress.

Just as I began to feel certain the flight would begin boarding before I was booked and I’d end up on the next flight instead (it would inevitably be Fargo), my confirmation flashed across my phone. Happy dance resumed! I collected my boarding pass and raced through the airport.

Next up: Finding a hotel. As I rode through the terminal’s seemingly endless series of moving sidewalks, I searched on my iPhone. Huh. Apparently, Florida in March was a popular destination. Thanks to spring breaks, most hotels were either full or charging prime rates.

Finding I still had 30 minutes left before boarding time, I stopped for a Bloody Mary. Did I mention my deep-seated fear of flying? One Bloody Mary generally took the edge off just enough to get me through any turbulence and fears of faulty-engine crash landings. I glanced up at the TV in the airport bar and watched a breaking news report about a missing Malaysian plane. Maybe I’d suck that drink right down and order another.

Meanwhile, I called my sister, DC, a travel guru. Within minutes, she texted back with information about a single room available at an oceanfront hotel in Fort Myers Beach. Although I’d stayed there years ago and knew it was terrific, the nightly rate was definitely more than I planned to spend. But, my airfare was covered and only a few decent hotel options remained. I decided to splurge. Wasn’t I worth it? Besides, I wouldn’t have to pay for a single night after my plane crashed enroute.

Thankfully, the flight was smooth and proved eventful only because I found myself seated directly across from a co-worker, and I discovered the woman next to her followed The 52/52 Project. What were the odds? She bought me a Bloody Mary. Between our conversation and the vodka, I never noticed if the plane—or my legs—were shaking.

My hotel balcony overlooked the pool, the tiki bar, and the ocean. It was sunny and 80 degrees in Fort Myers. As I unpacked, I gleefully tossed aside my coat, mittens, and boots.

I spent the next day with old high school friends who drove over from Naples, where they happened to be vacationing when they read on Facebook about my final destination. I hung out that night at the hotel’s tiki bar. The crowd, not particularly warm and fuzzy, was disappointing. After the bar closed, I wandered back toward my room to sit on the balcony.

After a while, I heard a group of people talking and laughing by the pool. The introverted and unmotivated part of me felt compelled to sit tight. But through the past several months, I’d learned that pushing myself and taking a chance often paid off. So, I headed back down and invited myself to their little group.

Out of everyone I talked to that weekend, these six guys and the one young man’s girlfriend—all of whom were twenty-something and Muslim—were the best folks I met. Much like the Stranger Party I hosted a few months back, this evening proved that new friendships don’t always require having a whole lot in common.

Other than these couple of social outings, I spent the weekend simply walking the beach and gorging on seafood. But was there really any better plan of action for a Florida vacation? Besides, I figured how I spent the trip was far less important than how I’d planned—or more specifically hadn’t planned it.

Although I had originally expected to return home on Sunday, as soon as I learned I’d been blessed with a warm and sunny setting I scheduled my return flight for Monday. It never crossed my mind that this would be St. Patrick’s Day, and that a St. Paddy’s parade would be marching down the street right in front of my hotel.

My taxi waited for me about a mile up the blocked-off road, yet I figured I was nearly obligated to watch the parade. I stopped along my walk to the cab to take some photos with the crowd and mingle with the crazies. The morning could have only been more delightful if I’d had time for a green beer or two. I’d settle for a Bloody Mary on the plane home.

When I made my list of potential 52/52 experiences, this impromptu adventure appeared to be my most half-assed idea ever.

For the new me, who has learned to let so much roll off my shoulders, that made it the best—by a sky mile.

Maybe the very best plan is no plan at all.

Are you a planner or an off-the-cuff sort? What's the last vacation you took and loved? If you headed out on a mystery trip, where would you hope to land?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sitting Duck

A famous scene from I Love Lucy features Lucy and Ethel on a factory assembly line, attempting to wrap chocolates. They start off confident but grow increasingly panicky. As soon as they manage to wrap one, they are met head-on by one more. And yet another.

And so it goes with trying to diaper six-month-old quadruplets. The only difference was, as frantic as I felt, I never resorted to stuffing a messy diaper down my shirt. I did, however, find a dirty wipe that night in my pocket.

Nothing could really prepare me for the energy required, nor the exhilaration and enjoyment, of caring for the Quad Squad.

Momma Laura provided a crash course. The extensive instructions, for a mere three-hour gig, left me questioning this particular new experience on my 52/52 list. But while Laura got herself and her four-year-old daughter, Leah, ready to go to lunch and run errands, I had no choice but to dive in.

By the time I headed upstairs, all four babies were awake from their morning naps. I peered into their cribs and was greeted by a series of bewildered faces. Each of them eyed me as if thinking, “Wait, you’re not my mommy!” Yet all it took was a bit of sweet talking before each one smiled up at me. Gaining their trust and swooning at their reciprocal smiles proved to be the easy part.

All the babies appeared hungry and anxious to be picked up from their cribs. Laura said she and her husband generally carry two babies downstairs at a time. I winced. I could either take one baby, leaving another crying, or I could attempt two at a time. With my questionable coordination, I shuddered at the possible outcome. I tightly cradled each baby with my right arm and grasped the railing with my left, making four separate trips.

Once I had them settled safely downstairs, I commenced The Changing of the Diapers. Although I hadn’t changed a diaper in over twelve years, it proved to be much like riding a bicycle: albeit it a messy ride. To my surprise, they were the only four diapers I changed. We experienced several false alarms over the next few hours, but after some sniffing and undressing sessions, I eventually discovered just a whole lot of tooting going on.

Two babies seemed content as soon as they were out of their cribs and in clean diapers. The other two made it clear they wanted to be fed, pronto. Yet pronto wasn’t an option—not with having to prepare food for four.

I studied Laura’s written instructions for the babies’ lunch bottles: six ounces of warm water, three scoops of powdered formula, and three scoops of cereal—all shaken well in each bottle. I recalled this same routine, with my own sons, as requiring about three minutes. With four bottles to prepare, it should have taken no more than fifteen.

But bottle preparation took far longer due to my anxious trips, at roughly two-minute intervals, into the adjoining living room to check on the babies. Sure, I could see them from the kitchen sink, and that ten-yard line of vision seemed sufficient when I had my own children—especially after Baby #2, when parental supervision became way more lax. But there were four of them that day, none of whom were mine, and it had been years since I’d been responsible for the safety of even one. No, I couldn’t look away for a single minute. This could be the day each of them learned to crawl! At any moment, one of them could find a throat-obstructing-sized object to pop in his mouth!

During one such trip into the living room, I made the mistake of carrying the second bottle, shaking it as I studied my young charges. Little Ryan, whom Laura had wearily warned me hadn’t napped that morning, spied the bottle. He quieted for a moment, and then as I walked away without making good on my unspoken promise, he began to wail. Obvious lesson learned too late: Never tease a hungry baby.

“Just one more minute, Ryan,” I called from the kitchen, as the minutes passed. “I’m almost done, sweetie!” Sure, I’d lied to my own children—as often as necessary—but I felt much guiltier doing it to this tiny, trusting baby I’d just met.

Once all the bottles were ready, I arranged the four babies in their boppy pillows in a semi-circle on the floor. As Laura had shown me, I folded two receiving blankets on top of each pillow, put the bottles in their stuffed-animal bottle proppers, and braced the bottles on top. The babies began eating, with great great gusto. I sat on the floor in the middle, congratulating myself on a job well done. Except the job was far from over.

Over the next half-hour, I readjusted bottles at least twenty times and cleaned up spit-up just as many. Laura had told me to burp them each after every two ounces. Yet there was no way of knowing how much they’d eaten unless I took the bottle out of each baby’s mouth and removed the bottle-cover propper, which I obsessively did every five minutes.

To my relief, they were patient. They were also professional burpers. They got every bit of indigestion out of their systems with ease, as evidenced by my formula-drenched black sweater.
Logan and Madalyn fell back to sleep while eating. Reghan drank half her bottle and then seemed happy just looking around and cuddling with me. But that cuddle was short-lived, because Ryan apparently wasn’t just hungry; the poor little guy wasn’t feeling so hot. At six months (given their two months prematurity, their development was closer to four months), Laura and I agreed it was possible he was cutting his first tooth.

Ryan wanted to be held. Oh, I was good with this! Every time I picked him up, his cries turned to smiles. There is likely no sweeter experience in the world than watching a baby’s cry turn to a smile. The only problem was that three other babies also needed attention. Every time I snuggled with Ryan, one of the other babies needed to be burped, or moved, or held. And every time I put a momentarily smiling Ryan down to attend to one of the others, he cried again.

Lay one baby down, pick up another. Lay down that one, pick up the next. Burp, change messy bibs, check diapers. Holy Mother of God! This routine wasn’t humanly possible! But, Momma Laura did this, day in and day out. With a four-year-old daughter who also needed care. Laura was my new hero. No, she was clearly a superhero.

Babysitting the quads demanded every second of my attention. I never once glanced at the TV. I crossed my legs, afraid to take a bathroom break. I knew this experience would be challenging, yet I had no idea how mentally and physically exhausting it would be.

Still, what surprised me most wasn’t the work involved. What amazed me was how quickly I became attached to these babies. In three hours, I fell in love with each of them. And, I got to know them not just as a set of quadruplets, but as four individual little people. I discovered and appreciated not only their physical differences but also their individual personalities.

Maddy and Logan both proved easygoing, mostly content to try to grab at their toys. Reghan enthralled me by being fascinated by her siblings, staring at them with wide eyes and breaking into a huge grin whenever I put one of them close to her. She and Logan even held hands as they gazed at each other: a major swoon moment. And while little Ryan might have cried the most, in between he also offered the most giggles. And baby giggles? They outweigh everything.

But by the time Laura and Leah returned, it was clear the Quad Squad was ready for their afternoon nap. Following Laura’s directions, I swaddled three (Maddy, who recently learned to roll over, was no longer swaddled) and I took them upstairs, one at a time. Two immediately fell asleep. One simply lay there smiling up at her crib mobile, and Ryan broke free from my clumsy swaddling and needed to be rewrapped. I softly rubbed his forehead until he calmed, his eyes fluttered shut, and he fell asleep.

This was a moment from early motherhood I vaguely remembered—yet didn’t fully appreciate back then. That afternoon, I could have stayed for hours, stroking this sleepy baby’s head.

As I walked out of the bedroom, I grinned and embraced the thought of grandchildren. It might take some time and some convincing for my two single, twenty-something sons to eventually go along with the idea. But me? I was ready.

By the time I reached the second stair, one of the babies begin to wail. I hesitated. Then I kept on walking. After all, Momma was home now.

Four babies? They brought forty times the work. And forty times the joy. I would do it all over again. In fact, I’ve already offered a repeat visit and look forward to seeing the Quad Squad soon. I’m working on my multitasking skills and saving every ounce of my energy. And praying my superhero powers finally kick in.

If so, I’ll be changing diapers and making bottles faster than the speed of light. I will be Super Sitter. You can bet your sweet boppy pillow on that.

Babysitting quads: Would you race into the opportunity or run away? Are toothless baby smiles the best or what? What are your favorite babyhood moments?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Just Put One Foot in Front of the Other

I generally post here about my new experiences, my crazy adventures, and my steps toward changing my life by broadening my world. The reality is that not every day seems a move in the right direction. In between, all of us still have to get through weary routines and challenges, and we need to shuffle through the shit we inevitably encounter.

Yet, as long as we push ourselves--attempting still another step forward--it's likely that tomorrow, or maybe the next day, could prove to be one of the best days of our life. It just might be a day filled with impromptu parades and ocean sunsets.

Life is full of hurdles, but the biggest obstacles are our own decisions to stop at a bump or a crossroads, fearful to move ahead.

What's most important is to make that first move. And then, even while facing any missteps, to keep on going.