As hard as I tried I could not find them. I scanned our hardwood stairs top to bottom but could not find the indentions that I knew must be there. How did he get in here and leave without a trace?
A few weeks ago I rolled out of our rickety bed at 5 a.m. as the alarm clock crowed at me from across the room. When my body began to move, a dull pain from about the middle of my back to just below my neck informed me that the mule had come for a visit again. He never wakes me in the night, but occasionally a mule manages to unlock the front door, creep up the stairs, crawl into our bed and give me a swift kick in the back. Where else could that crick in my neck and back have come from?
On that particular mule-kick-Monday, I headed into the office knowing I had only a few hours to work before I would be leaving for an out-of-town meeting. The company I work for has manufacturing facilities in several states, and once per quarter a team from the corporate office travels to each facility to review their finances and other related manufacturing numbers. Occasionally, when the upper management in my department can’t make some of these meetings, it rolls down the food chain to me and I am asked to attend on their behalf.
The meeting was actually a nice break from my usual day-to-day routine, especially considering the fact that one of the other guys took the wheel of the fifteen passenger van for the hour and fifteen minute drive. I’m usually the driver on most of our family trips, so being a passenger was a treat for me.
We departed at around eleven a.m. and not long into the ride I settled into the book I had brought along to occupy myself. It was quite frigid outside on this partly cloudy winter day. Before we had gotten very far the van had warmed up nicely and was spewing a good dose of heat through the rear-air vents where I was sitting. The heat felt pretty good for a little while, but when the inside of the van began to feel like a belching furnace, we asked the van driver and co-pilot to stop throwing coal on the fire, which brought some welcome relief to our breathing.
As we drove along and I read, the van was still feeling a little stuffy, so I peeled off my jacket for some additional relief. This seemed to do the trick for the most part, but I was still feeling the combined effects of my mule-kick and the lack of fresh air. As I tried to focus on my book instead of my lack of comfort, the idea of puking entered my mind.
As I directed the stale-air vent toward my face, that helped a little, and I also put my book down and refocused on the scenery as we trekked through the mountains. Although I believe my aching back was the main culprit of my misery, I was determined that if vomit were to take the opportunity to exit through my esophagus, I would just have to clamp my mouth shut and send it back down the way it came. Considering the fact that I was hanging onto the lowest rung of this corporate ladder, I would not succumb to the embarrassment of puking on any of the corporate vice-presidents and department heads that were in my near vicinity.
Not long after my near explosion we arrived at the plant and my body made a full recovery as I stepped out of the van and into the fresh, cool winter air. Relief at last!
As we entered the plant, the plant manager was happily welcoming us in as if we were the guests of honor at a family reunion. We were shown to our usual meeting room, and as we walked into the room the scent of barbecue filled the air. We all made ourselves at home and sat down to our usual meal of barbecue sandwiches with all the trimmings. After the misery that I’d been through already that day I believe I would have been happy if it had been barbecued mule meat.
The ride in the van brought back the recent memory of a trip our family had taken to visit with my folks for Thanksgiving. Most of the trips to my Mom and Dad’s house involve me driving and Katrina being the co-pilot and kid handler. My job is to focus on the road, tune everything out behind the driver’s seat, and deliver us all safe and sound to Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
Like many of our trips, we were on a pretty tight schedule so as to maximize our time for the visit. We are not pit-stoppers. When the van doors close at home with all inside, all of the appropriate potty breaks have been taken and everyone knows that bladder relief is only attainable when we reach our destination. After all, it’s only an hour-and-a-half drive, which is quite doable as long as all sources of water are confiscated before departure.
We left the house at mid-morning with the expectations of arriving “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go” shortly before the noon meal. As I settled into driving, Katrina settled into reading, and the kids all settled into riding along, happily anticipating our visit.
Not fifteen minutes into our drive, Joshua began asking if we were almost there yet, and persisted to pose the same question to us in five minute intervals for some time until he figured out that an answer to his liking was not available. Everyone in the van was pleased when his questions ceased.
About half-way into the trip as we winded down the two-lane country road, Holly let us know that she was hot, and Katrina immediately took action to direct some cool, fresh air in her direction. Holly has always been susceptible to car sickness, so we are pretty quick to act when she says the word. After the air was adjusted, she seemed to be fine.
A few moments later, Holly announced that she was not fine at all, that her stomach was hurting, and that she thought she was going to throw up. As I focused on my job of keeping the van at a constant speed, Katrina sprung into action. She looked for the first item available for collecting puke, found an empty fast-food cup, and with NFL quarterback accuracy, passed it two seats back to Holly. Holly scooped up the fumbled pass, placed it over her mouth, and proceeded to transfer her breakfast from her stomach into the cup.
Being the compassionate driver that I am, I asked Katrina if we should stop to let Holly get out, and she seemed to think that Holly was ok now that the worst was over. But Katrina quickly changed her mind when she decided that I should look for a place for her to leave Holly’s cup-of-soup on the side of the road. I found a place to pull over and Katrina hopped out and made the dump.
As quickly as the whole event started, it ended, and we were back on the road and on our way. Holly seemed to be doing fine and everyone was relieved that it was all over. With only about thirty minutes left of the trip it should have been nothing but smooth sailing from then on. No chance of that.
We hadn’t been going again for very long when Hannah alerted us that Olivia was getting sick. Katrina turned around just in time to see Olivia’s slight bubbling over. With lightning quick speed, Katrina unlatched her seatbelt, grabbed the empty plastic cup that she’d been drinking from, turned around to Olivia, and just as Olivia’s little stomach convulsed, Katrina put the cup up to her mouth to collect the regurgitated banana that she’d eaten for breakfast. Perfect catch!
Having been through this drill just moments earlier, I looked for a place to pull over. When I came to a stop, Katrina jumped out and left Olivia’s breakfast in the great outdoors. As I pulled back onto the highway, Katrina cleaned up Olivia nicely with several wet-wipes, something we always have available. She was good as new.
The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful. We soon arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s house ready to devour a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Holly and Olivia were anxious to get to eat again, as they had made room for lunch along the way. Katrina and I were very thankful for our messy van that produced an empty paper cup just at the right moment. Experience taught us to always be ready for anything that can happen with the kids, not to freak out, and to be thankful when puke can be caught in a paper cup instead of being spewed all over the van.
It’s all in how you look at things.
“In everything give thanks.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18a
Written by David Steen, with God smiling, February 21, 2010.