Four days to go. Laundry to finish up, suitcases lined up at the foot of our bed, passports out and ready. Man, those passports. One each for my daughters, so official looking, complete with holographic laminations over their photographs. Photographs that could have been any caucasian baby, bald and round-headed and smiley. S. and I had gone together to get our first passports in our mid-twenties. Our children both got theirs before they were two years old.
S. had scheduled his sabbatical so that we could head to Europe for the summer. A week each in Paris, Bordeaux and the South of France and then on to Italy for a week in Venice, Florence and finishing in Rome. I could hardly believe how lucky we were. Who gets to do this? The girls were unfazed by their first trip overseas. They had no idea how unusual this was, and maybe it wasn't, for their generation. By this time they had already both been to New York City and Disneyland - seasoned air travelers.
Three days to go. S frantic to finish up every last detail at work, me at home making lists and crossing things off. Don't forget something to alleviate the air pressure on the plane. Coloring books and favorite stuffed animals, stop at the bulk section of the grocery store and stock up on granola and trail mix.
E. is grumpy and whiny. She doesn't want to do anything but lie around on the couch and beg for my attention. Her long, lean body curled into an impossibly compact form beneath the pink quilt my mother made for her, one arm reaching out to bridge the gap between her still figure and my ever-moving one. I am sympathetic. She is excited about the trip, but doesn't handle unknowns very well. We've spent several evenings sitting with her poring over maps of Paris and Venice, looking at photos on the Internet and talking about the kinds of things we'll see there. The only CDs in the car for the past month are French language instruction songs and rhymes designed for children, so I'm hoping she will feel comfortable with the sounds she hears when she gets there. We've rented apartments everywhere we go so we can eat in as much as possible and have given ourselves at least three days extra in Paris to cope with the jet lag. I'm torn between comforting her and assuring her that it will be fine and leaving her to find her own way through this anxiety while I navigate my to-do list and stop the mail and newspaper, find someone to care for the yard and write how-to lists for the housesitter.
As the day passes, E. slowly descends into an ever-more pathetic state. She isn't hungry, she doesn't want to go to her gymnastics class, she just lies on the couch wrapped in the coccoon of her favorite blankie. I'm a little concerned, but frankly, it's pretty nice to be able to go about my tasks unhindered. L. is content to play with her toys on the floor or listen to a story tape. When S. gets home from work I am pleased to tell him how much I've accomplished today. I am becoming more and more excited about this trip. Now we just have to get through the weekend and we're off!
E. moans from the couch and I am finally ready to sit with her for a while. I perk up and head for the living room, a smile on my face and a book in hand hoping she will forgive me for ignoring her all day. As I sit down at her feet I feel the waves of heat radiating from her little head. She is positively on fire. The thermometer registers 105. I can't move or breathe. I'm not feeling guilty just yet - just shocked that she could feel so awful without me even realizing it. Fortunately, I know exactly where the Children's Motrin is and I give her a dose and a wet cloth for her forehead. Her eyes are lacquered - a high gloss shine and she drops to sleep before I've even finished the first page of 'Jamberry'.
By the next morning we've both been ripped from sleep over and over again. She's delirious with fever and mumbling in a confused, angry tone. I am so worried that I call her doctor's office. She's got no other symptoms, but her fever is still hovering around 104 so they tell me to come in. E. tries to fight as I buckle her into her carseat but she has no energy. She whimpers all the way to the clinic, having lost her cold cloth before we even exited our neighborhood. I run through the double doors, cradling her in my arms and the nurse practitioner strides to meet us in the waiting room. Without even touching the limp bundle in my arms she barks, "This child is terribly dehydrated. Get back in your car and drive to the hospital immediately. I'll call and tell them you're coming."
Again, I'm shocked, but this time it comes with a hefty dose of guilt. Of course she's dehydrated! I don't think she ate anything at all yesterday, and I can't honestly remember her asking for anything to drink.
"Go! Now!" The order comes firmly but kindly and I'm spurred on. My brave, brave little girl and her 32 pound frame absorbed two entire bags of IV fluid and two popsicles at the hospital before they would let us go. We're supposed to leave for France in less than 48 hours and I'm lying in a hospital bed snuggling with my four-year-old and a teddy bear donated by the ER staff.