Bad at Sharing Death News

As a follow-up to my post two days ago, Things Not to do on a Long Drive with Children, I’d like to share more of the story and the long drive home. The other part of the story is what happened to my daughter.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have probably encountered the references to her many animal friends. Many years ago, we only had a few guinea pigs and not the full downstairs abundance of chinchillas, guinea pig, and a rabbit like now.

We left our dear pets in the care of our neighbor for the week. They had a key, we left clear instructions, and maintenance was simple food, water, and hay duties. What we failed to mention was that the oldest guinea pig was ill.

Christmas morning the family gathered at the in-law’s house for presents. I received a call from the neighbor (500 miles away) that one of the guinea pigs was dead. I quickly turned my face away from the group to obscure my reaction and moved to another room for privacy. After taking a few moments to reassure the distressed neighbor that it wasn’t their fault, they asked me what I wanted to do with the body.

My initial thought was for them to simply toss it in the trash can. The animal weighed less than one pound and was definitely bio-degradable. That must be the right answer. The neighbor was more sensitive to my daughter’s potential reaction and suggested we might want to have a burial ceremony upon our return. Now it was my turn to be stunned. A ceremony? For an oversized rodent? Well, my daughter was sentimental. I agreed and the neighbor told me they would wrap the body in paper and put it in the garage freezer.

We ended the call and I motioned my wife to quietly join me in the corner. In whispered tones I rapidly conveyed the information (deleting my trash suggestion part of the conversation). We agreed not to tell our daughter the news this Christmas morning and would hold off until our vacation visit was over in a few days.

Fast forward to the youngest son vomiting on the Saw Mill Parkway (see the other post above!).

After changing some clothes and wiping down the car surfaces, we resumed our drive. 9 more hours until we were home. We settled in and merged onto the New Jersey Turnpike without incident. It was at this time my wife decided to break the news to our daughter.

I was dumbfounded. Why now? I expected my daughter to burst into tears and cry for hours. My plan was for that to happen at home where we could give and receive space to one another. The plan in my mind was certainly NOT to break the news in the cramped confines of the car with 8.5 hours driving time left before we could get away from the tears and moaning!

My daughter’s crying stamina was truly impressive. She lasted the entire trip with an unending set of moans, tears, snotty nose, coupled with bursts of all out bawling just to mix it up. Upon reaching home, she promptly went upstairs to her room and continued for a few more hours. The difference was she added the frozen guinea pig to her bedspread and stroked it gently as the frost left its fur.

The noisy grieving period continued for a few days. After that, it settled into a general sadness that she carried for a few more weeks.

But hey, at least Christmas Day wasn’t ruined.

Are you good at what you do? What would you like to be better at?

Here, Bury my Blackberry

I ordered a new cell phone this week. It should be arriving at the office today.

The time has arrived to retire the Blackberry I have used for seven years. In a time where people stand in line days ahead of the next iPhone release, I shrug. The phone is for work. I don’t own a personal cell phone. I see no need. The latest smartphone, tablet, or iPhone simply does not excite me.

There’s an app for quickly locating the nearest pizza shop? So what? I have lived in this area more than 20 years. I know where I want to get pizza. An app to track my exercise, steps, heart rate? No thanks. I don’t need to quantify my guilt.

Twitter? Not on it. I know people who cannot make a witty statement in four hours, let alone within 140 characters. I have absolutely no interest in the Kardashians, their opinions, or latest gossip.

GPS? I have one. It has no subscription fees, does not charge me for data updates, or for using it. Why would I want to run up data usage on my phone for this?

The latest cat video? Don’t care. As I posted elsewhere, I grew up on a farm. Cats are disposable. Just like my Blackberry. Toss it in the box with the rest of the junk from today. Some time in the future they may open the capsule and wonder at our primitive culture.

What would you put in this year’s time capsule to channel the essence of our current moment for future generations?

Things Not to do on a Long Drive with Children

It had been a lovely Christmas with the extended families. We lived 500 miles away and rarely saw the parents, our grown siblings, and their kids. We had three kids of our own. Life was moving fast.

This holiday was intended to be a chance to catch up with the extended family. The five of us stayed in my brother’s basement. It was nicely finished, had its own bathroom, shower, and doubled as a game room. The only obstacles to sleeping in late were the sound of footsteps in the kitchen above, followed by my brother riding the stationary bike next to our folded out futon.

It was a bit disconcerting to be sleeping next to my wife, the three kids laid out on other reclined chairs and hear my brother’s knees pumping in rhythm just a few inches from my head. I opened one eye and saw the sweat building on his forehead. He grinned and checked his watch. Only 22 more minutes to go.

Christmas presents were overwhelming that year. Quantity was the word of the day. Each of my kids received enough to fill a large laundry basket. Where would we put all of this for the drive home?

We were driving a four-door sedan with a modest trunk. The five of us had filled that with our bags of clothes for the trip up. The three kids spanned the back seat and had pillows and blankets taking up space inside the car. There was no way to cram three more baskets worth of stuff into the non-existent nooks and crannies.

My dad rescued us by giving us the gift of shipping. He worked at the U.S. Post Office and handled the packaging and delivery of our items back to our house. When the boxes arrived later in the week, it was like having Christmas repeated in a lesser way.

After spending a full week rushing around the region visiting as much family as we could, we were drained. We needed to return to our own home for some quiet and rest. The drive normally took about 10 hours including stops for gas, food, and restrooms.

We started back at 7 a.m. Hugs, smiles, tears, and much waving sent us on our way. The kids were unimpressed. They wanted to get home and were not going to enjoy the day sitting in the back seat being bored. The boys had their handheld game systems and the girl had coloring books, but they could only sit still for so long.

We hit the Saw Mill Parkway by 8:30 a.m. Right on schedule. The Saw Mill was a fun road. It has two lanes with many twists and turns. The hilly terrain adds additional joy for me. The narrow parkway has several low stone bridges preventing taller vehicles from using it. It is like driving a grown-up go-kart track.

Two minutes into the track, my youngest son started moaning. My wife looked back and reported his green color to me in an urgent whisper. She began asking him several questions to assess his condition and he grunted responses until she had her diagnosis. He had skipped breakfast and was now experiencing motion sickness on an empty stomach. She handed him something to nibble in an attempt to settle his stomach as I resolutely drove on in grim denial. I did not know she had given him a giant chocolate chip cookie.

On schedule a few moments later, he began to vomit. My wife had dumped the contents from a wax-lined gift bag and given it to him in preparation. Good thinking, bad execution. The bag was not liquid tight and the meager contents of his stomach began leaking immediately. He stopped puking and my wife grabbed the bag to get it away from him so the odor would not trigger a repeat event. She lifted the bag to the car’s ceiling (drip, drip, drip) and ferried it over my shoulder (drip, drip, drip) on the way to the front floorboard where she placed it under the heater vent. I now had vomit drippings on the seat back, headrest, in my hair, on my shoulder, in the center console holding the toll booth change, on the emergency brake handle, and for good measure, my right pant leg.  The car was full of the pungent smell and we lowered all four windows as I searched for an exit off the parkway.

We spent 20 extra minutes at a roadside gas station changing our clothes and cleaning the car. We scrubbed every surface with baby wipes which mingled for a truly unique scent for the remaining 9 hours of the trip.

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