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Blown sideways through life

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I didn’t think too hard about driving to Florida with my kids. All I knew was that flights anywhere warm on Spring Break were too expensive, and it had been too long since I’d seen the sun. I didn’t focus on the 1,300 miles between us and Sanibel Island, didn’t check the weather forecast for our trip or book a place to stop. I had one single-minded mission: drive until I was pretty much guaranteed 80 degrees. Ignorance is bliss — until it’s not.

Still, our travels proved a great lesson in playing the hand you’re dealt — and living out that age-old adage: you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

My kids are die-hard road-trippers, adorably sweet when we wake them pre-dawn to hit the road. When we set out last Saturday, our Subaru stuffed with suitcases filled with shorts and bathing suits, we were all in chipper spirits. We would prove to all the naysayers that a road trip to Florida could be family bonding of the finest kind. But then, before we’d even hit New Jersey, traffic came to a dead halt and both kids had vomited multiple times. Luckily, they are veterans at car sickness, asking for a bag and carefully upchucking into it without much mess.

The Big G and I looked at each other and thought, maybe for the first time, about the 24 or so hours of driving ahead.

“This could be bad…” I said quietly.

He just stared back at me with big scared eyes behind his glasses and began to chew his fingernails.

“It’ll be fine,” he lied.

“Yes, it will,” I lied back. Sometimes, lying is all you can do.

Memories are made in many ways, good and bad. Many times, it seems, great memories come from when one can make something good out of something potentially bad. It’s all in the spin.

The traffic abated and then returned. Rain pelted down continuously, and, mostly, I-95 was a parking lot, our car a herky jerky heave-mobile. I think we had at one point five bags of sickness, but it could have been worse if we had actually fed the boys.

In between puking, though, there were smiles, appreciation of the moments of not feeling sick, and joy in watching “The Simpsons” on DVD and playing games on the iPhone without the usual censure.

Eli got sick again and this time the bag didn’t hold. Finally, we’d all had enough. We pulled off at the next exit and hit a grocery store to clean up and pick up some much-needed supplies that, in my hopefulness, I had eschewed: baby wipes and paper towels and Dramamine. Eli was finally willing to be drugged.

Back on the road, a big storm blew in, moving us to and fro. Soon enough, the traffic came to a complete stop and it seemed prudent to get off and try to find an alternate route. As we pulled off, it was obvious something was awry. Cars were making U-turns all around, traffic lights were out and people were milling about in the parking lots of shuttered businesses.

We got out in a closed McDonald’s parking lot where other stranded travelers had gathered to use the bushes as a makeshift toilet. Turns out, a devastating tornado had blown through and had turned over two tractor trailers on the highway just ahead. We quickly got back in the car for shelter as hard rain and hail began. Without cell service, we had no way of knowing if we were in the eye of the storm.

Eli was scared, and looked to us for reassurance. “What’s happening? Is this a tornado?”

What do you say when you don’t know?

“We’ll be fine,” we said, hoping we weren’t lying again.

Luckily, it was not another tornado. The rain passed and the sun emerged and with it our renewed hopefulness. We had dodged a bullet. At a nearby truck stop, open despite the power outage, we used the bathrooms in the pitch dark, the stall next to mine lit up by a little girl’s light-up shoes turned as her mother instructed her, “Jump, jump!” Workers passed out hand-drawn maps of a backwoods road around the highway stoppage. Just before the sun set, a mere hour after we’d pulled off the road, we found our way by swampy junkyards and beautiful horse farms back on to a blissfully clear I-95.

Eli was smiling, panic replaced with peacefulness of things going right, again.

“People were helping other people,” he noted. “It made me feel better that we were all in it together.”

Our glass was half full, especially when we found one of the last rooms available at the retro Thunderbird Motel in Florence, North Carolina, where $52 got us a clean room and breakfast.

“You guys didn’t even complain at all…” I commended the kids just before lights out, after the 16-hour crazy day in the car.

“About what?” Oscar asked. Ignorance is bliss.

Updated 5:24 pm, July 9, 2018
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