Friday, August 7, 2015

On Stepping Away from the Lens (and What Constitutes a Catastrophe)

So many times during our vacation, I would see something and wish I was holding my camera to my eye at that very moment. I'm missing this. I won't remember if I don't have a picture of it.

A few times during our vacation, unpredictable things occurred that, at the time, I wished they hadn't.

In our Instagram/Facebook/selfie society, people are flooded with images. But do images equal memories?
In our Pinterest/DIY and/or mommy blog/perfect-on-the-outside world, people see our whitewashed selves. But is perfection the only route to memorable experience?

Not always.

I'm glad I realized halfway through the trip that it's not the image on the camera card that creates the memory. Often, the memory is the moment--the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the laughter, the chaos. It's not the picture-perfect moment next to a beautifully still waterfall with photogenic children and a deer in the background that leaves the biggest impact in memory.

In fact, I would say that often, the unpredictable and unrecorded can be some of the best and most memorable moments of our lives.

Here are few catastrophes events from our trip that didn't get visually recorded, but ones that I will never forget.

Experience One--Day One, Hour Two
I explained our dimes and discipline routine earlier this week, and the kids were excited to start the new system. The second we got in the car, the three of them were perfect marionettes seated on the Suburban's benches, and they did really well, all the way to Flagstaff. (Yes, I know that's not very far away, but that's where the story begins.) Our family tradition on long drives north is to stop for at McDonald's in Flag for breakfast and a potty break before beginning the never-ending agony of crossing the reservation. The kids were excited to be sporting their new fanny packs (Lily was also with us for this leg of the drive, but she didn't participate in our system), the restaurant was busy with travelers and early-morning workers, and I was feeling pretty good about our start. Each kid placed their order, and I paid the bill and left the counter to find seats and a newspaper. Micah instantly grew up on this trip--don't know what happened, but he went from a little kid to one of my big kids. He quickly volunteered to bring the food over when it was ready. I was busy getting Evie and Hyrum seated with napkins and straws, when I heard Lily calling from behind me.


Little did I know what was waiting for me.

Micah had spilled the entire breakfast tray. It wasn't just pancakes and Egg McMuffins. It was also four small orange juice cups. All. Over. The. Floor. He just stood there with shock and panic taking turns with his expression. My heart broke for him. The embarrassment. The loss of trust. The little kid-ness of it all. Poor guy.

What can you do? Nothing. The staff immediately replaced our order and one employee grabbed a mop and bucket. Messes like four small orange juice cups can't be tackled with wipes--I know from experience. I wrapped him in a covert half-hug and whispered in his ear, "It's okay, Mikes. Really. It could happen to anybody. Please don't think I'm mad, because I'm not. Seriously. Not a big deal."

That would have been enough, right? Not for us. The Sanatorium follows us everywhere.

After replacing our meal and while the staff was still trying to figure out the best way to remove the sticky from the floor, I began dividing out breakfast. The kids had chosen seats at two bar top tables . . .

. . . and Eve pushed her full juice cup between the two tables as she cut her pancakes. Another huge juice spill. Thank you, Denton family.

Guess what? It didn't end the world. It didn't even come close.

Experience Two--Nathan Helps His Mom
We had been traveling for almost two weeks by the time we unpacked our Suburban and Heidi's car at the Cody, Wyoming, hotel. Kids were hungry. Kids were begging to watch TV. Grownups were googling restaurants for a little adult time away that night. Grownups were handing kids blankets and pillows and suitcases and directing them through the back door.

I was one of the last of our group to reach the stairs, but it was surprisingly congested and chaotic. As I turned the corner on the next flight, Heidi's concerned face appeared, crying Jonah on one hip and crying Nathan at her side. I looked down, and Nathan's face was covered in blood. So much blood.

"Let me take the baby. What happened?"

Just like Micah and the food tray at McDonald's, Nathan had been helping his mom by carrying his blanket up the stairs to their room. Little guy's arms are short and his blanket is long, and his feet got tangled in the fabric as he climbed. He had fallen face first on the stairs, and since he was holding his blanket, he had been unable to catch himself and landed on his nose.

Heidi was much calmer than I would have been as the mama (maybe it's her nursing training ;) ), and she scooped him up for a quick wash in the sink to evaluate the injury. Noses bleed so much, but it wasn't hurting him. In a few minutes, he was recovered and bouncing around on the beds with my kids. I thought he'd have two black eyes in the morning, but no. Just cute and sweet and ready for trouble.

Guess what? We didn't need the emergency room. We didn't even need extra tissues.

Experience Three--The Worst of The Bunch--The One That Could Have Been a Real-Live Catastrophe
First stop on our journey was my family reunion in Idaho. Idaho's summer weather can be unpredictably hot, and we were unlucky enough to plan our reunion dinner at a park on one of the hottest Sunday afternoons of the summer. After a few hours trying to enjoy each other's company and the food we'd brought, we mutually concluded our reunion would be much better if we packed it up and headed to my parents' house for the rest of the day. Kids were running everywhere, parents were folding up chairs and packing coolers. Cousins begged to ride with cousins, and in less than ten minutes, everyone was on their way. Brad and I did a head count--Micah and Lily weren't there. My sister was in the car next to me, and I asked her if my kids had ridden with her big kids. She said, "I'm pretty sure they did. Yeah." With that, we were headed to air conditioned quarters ten minutes away. It was 4:18 pm. I know, because my nephew asked me what time it was, and I looked at the clock as we pulled away.

When we got to my parents' house, kids were running everywhere, parents were unloading chairs and unpacking coolers. Adults gathered in the living room, and kids wandered out and in and out again, each door opening followed with a parental warning: "Shut the door!" At 4:48 pm, Hyrum and Joe plopped down at Grandma's kitchen table, redfaced and begging for popsicles. Offhandedly, Hyurm asked, "Mom, where's Micah?"

What . . .

In all the commotion, I had forgotten to count heads when we got back to the house.

And Micah had accidentally been left alone at the park.

The realization pierced my mother heart like I was running out of breath under water. I had left him at the park. In a town where he knows no one.

With little thought, I ran for my keys, quickly checked behind the Suburban for scooter-racing cousins, and peeled off down the road. My sister, her husband, and Brad followed in a separate car. The whole way to the park, scenario after scenario crossed my mind's stage. What if he had tried to find his way home? What if he had gotten lost? What if . . . The "what ifs" just got worse from there.

Leadfooted, I broke almost every traffic law as I pounded the steering wheel with my fist and prayed aloud. "Please. Let him be ok. Please let him be ok. How could I do this? How? How? Please. Let him be ok." Over and over and over. Pleading quietly and desperately while tears welled and flowed as the park drew closer with each turn.

I turned into the parking lot and involuntarily held my breath. It was 5:04 pm. Forty-six minutes since we had left.

My sweet Micah. There he was, sitting under the slide in the shade. Looking dejected and a little flushed.

But safe.

The car was hardly in park before I jumped from the driver's seat and screamed his name. He ran to me and I ran to him, and I held him tight. His head just barely passes my shoulder these days, still little enough to fit under my chin. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. Micah, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." Was it possible to utter that sentence enough times that it would erase the horror of my error?

He was somber, but his eyes were dry. "It's okay, Mom. Really. It's okay. I'm fine. I'm fine. Really. It's okay. Mom. It's okay."

I made a quick call to Brad, and Micah and I got into the car. Together this time.

"Mom, why did you leave me? I yelled and yelled and followed the car down the road, but you didn't see me."

There was no recrimination in his question, just a sincere desire to know what had happened. With that statement, all of the guilt and stress I had been trying to restrain let loose in a shower of sobs. I'm his mom--the one who loves him best and the one who protects him from everything bad in the world.

I explained how I thought he had ridden with someone else, and how horrible I felt. Drops of wisdom fell from his lips as he recounted his past 46 minutes.

"It wasn't so bad. I had water at the drinking fountain and shade in the fort we made in the trees. It's a good thing I'm an Arizona kid and not an Idaho kid. This weather is really hot for an Idaho kid, but for an Arizona kid, it just feels like recess. I'm also lucky that I'm sneaky. I nicked a roll of Smarties from the Suburban before you left. I tried to eat them slowly--about what I thought was one every five minutes. I finished the last one a few minutes before you drove up. And plus, I knew you'd be back for me. I knew it."

Although I was immeasurably grateful, I kept thinking the same question so many times that it finally escaped my mind: "Why didn't you ask the people at the park if you could use their cell phone? Or walk to one of the houses across the street?"

His eyes clouded with tears for the first time since I'd scooped him up at the park. "But Mom, I didn't know any of those people. They were . . . strangers."

Two days laters, when I had all three of my little kids alone in the car with me, we had a lesson of what to do if they were ever left alone--stay where you are; find a police officer or a lady who looks like she's a mom and ask to use their phone.

This could have been a full-blown catastrophe. I know. I know.

Believe me, I know.

Spilled orange juice in an Arizona McDonald's.
Nathan's bloodied nose.
Micah running out from the slide's shade.

Memories without images that will never leave my mind, even though I have no pictures to remind me.


  1. What a scare! So glad all was well.

    Once, we were on a vacation with another family, and we left my little sister behind at a gas station. We drove all the way to the next gas station before realizing this, because my mom thought she had gone in the other car with her best friend. They had been trading back and forth for the entire trip.

    Can you imagine the horror when we got to the next gas station, and my mom saw that Nikki was not in the car with her friend? We had driven for hours. Happily, my parents were able to call the gas station and find out that they were keeping her safe there. Nowadays, I'm sure the people would have already called the police or something, but when we arrived back at the original gas station, she was just sitting on the counter, eating a popsicle.

    So frightening though.


  2. This is why I wish people were not so hard on parents that forget their kids once. It could seriously happen to anyone. Thanks for sharing. You made me cry.