I tried planning ahead this year. Working from home while homeschooling and trying to keep up with the laundry usually means everything is last minute and so many things get pushed off until tomorrow. Or the next day. And then the day after that. I had planned to met my deadlines a week early and enjoy this week with my little family and some close friends. The house was going to be clean and the Christmas menu set and the food prepared so all I had to worry about was what to do with the leftovers.
We never got to that part.
I got the flu. The kind that came out of nowhere and hit my like a frat party hangover. Suddenly the world was spinning and my head was too heavy for my neck to lift. I sat there breathing slow and shallow breaths like the kind usually reserved for labor pains. The column I had started working on was put on hold as The Husband silently took away the Macbook and I shuffled off to bed. Tomorrow, I told myself. One day wouldn't change anything.
Three days later I was still sleeping more than I was conscious, burning up even when the thermometer didn't register a temp. Every breath felt like fire in my lungs. My body ached. The Husband took to sleeping in Eliana's room on her tiny little twin bed, hoping ti avoid the plague, while my little shadow crawled into our big queen and snuggled up next to me every evening. "I'm taking care of you," she told me. "Don't worry. I'll hug you all night so you feel better."
By focusing on me, she was letting herself forget the suitcase she had packed in her room. The one full of randomly selected clothing and toys and even her toothbrush and toothpaste for her "trip" to see her Guela in Detroit. My mom had moved with us to Tucson when Eliana was 18 months old and lived with us for three years. When she moved out, Eliana was lost, but the presence of a very close-knit friendship circle did wonders for soothing her anxieties. Then we moved again and this time, Eliana was old enough to miss those we left behind and want so very badly to wave a magic wand and instantly recreate something out of nothing in our new home. Northern Maine is beautiful. We love it. But it can also be a little lonely when it's time to explain to a child that making friends takes time. Making friends that become family takes even longer.
So she packed her suitcase and pretended she was taking a magic airplane to see her grandma and would be back on Christmas morning in time to open gifts. I was the flight attendant. Her daddy was the cab driver. And then for the entire day before I got sick, I was my mother and our home became her home and I wished so very badly for Santa to fit a new friend-family under our tree. And then I couldn't move without the world spinning and her make-believe was forgotten because Mama had the flu and Daddy was either working or trying to help out when he got home and she dealt with it by comforting herself by comforting me and I love her for it.
Day four was better. I was able to get out of bed. The world was still again. My body ached and I moved slowly, but I was out of the woods and still planned to get those fucking deadlines met and out of the way. We were going to make cookies, dammit. And drive around to see Christmas lights. And play board games and listen to Christmas music and drink hot chocolate. And then on my birthday, we were going to drive the two hours to Bangor for the sales and a movie and a birthday dinner. That was the plan. Then the plan changed again.
Both Eliana and The Husband got knocked senseless by the same flu I had just weathered. My laptop sat open and waiting as the laundry piled up and the sink over-filled with mugs from tea with honey and hot toddies and broth. I didn't shower because I was too busy shoveling snow, carrying more logs inside to keep both woodstoves piping hot for heat, and making sure my husband and daughter stayed hydrated. I took their temperatures and grabbed my keys to drive to Walmart for Nyquil for The Husband and more albuterol for Eliana's nebulizer and learned I wasn't going anywhere until I shoveled away the snow the plow driver had piled four feet high against the garage door.
Christmas did happen, though. They opened their gifts from the sofa bed. Santa was nice this year, even if he didn't get a chance to tackle that last request from me. Eliana was well enough to get out of bed and play with her new toys but the suitcase stayed packed because she's not done imagining her grandmother closer. And The Husband apologized for not being able to take me out for my birthday. I told him to shut up and just feel better.
Today was my birthday. I spent it taking care of my patients and picking up more prescriptions. We ate leftovers and the sink is still full and the laundry untouched. Then I made homemade pumpkin ice cream floats and they sang Happy Birthday to me before our ice-cream melted and we watched Mary Poppins and my laptop sat, waiting just a while longer, while plans were ditched in favor of The Moment that was right there for us to grab on to.
"I'm sorry about your birthday," The Husband told me before he dragged himself back to bed.
"Don't be," I told him. "We're together."