I beg your pardon. I’m sure most of you sent your holiday greetings several months ago. I’m getting them out this weekend, if all goes well. Things didn’t go well for me over the holidays, you see, so I’m still catching up.
What happened? Sweet of you to ask.
At first, everything was really fine. I finished my shopping early, and the kids were only a little wired at the sight of the tree and the various sparkly decorations. We were going to cut out and decorate paper snowflakes to hang on the wall. The air was crackling with excitement and the promise of holiday magic. My son came home from school with some radioactive snot covering the entirety of his upper lip. “My head goes BOOM BOOM when you talk so loud,” he said. “It’s a sinus infection,” I declared. We got some antibiotics. I was going to take two and a half weeks off from my very stressful job in publishing. Authors go radio silent until after New Year’s. I had it all under control.
Then it was Christmas Eve. We ate, we laughed, my kids and nephews were flinging themselves off the furniture. The adults were able to grab a full 10 minutes of conversation before something crashed and someone burst into tears. When we said goodnight and started the process of tucking the kids in, my son started coughing. He coughed and coughed. “Careful,” I said. “Try to slow your breathing–if you keep coughing that hard you’re going to throw up.” He threw up. “It’s just the excitement.” I told myself as I stripped the kid, the bed, and threw in a load of Christmas Eve laundry. “It’ll be much better in the morning.” I couldn’t possibly have known the twisted adventure I was about to embark upon.
Christmas Day the kids were calm and quiet. Too quiet. By the day after Christmas, I should have known. All those new toys…where were the tears? Where was the fighting? Instead they played peacefully together and periodically slid bonelessly onto the carpet for a “rest”. The Day After Christmas – or X Day, as I’m calling it – slid into night. My son coughed for hours. He woke himself up coughing. He coughed while he cried. He coughed until he threw up, multiple times. I reassured myself the next morning that colds can only last so long. I made extra coffee. We were going to make snowflakes.
But the kids didn’t want to play. I fed them cookies. We watched Rudolph again. That night, my toddler year old woke up at 2 am. “I’m hungry,” she said. “I want a cookie.” Then she threw up all over my favorite sleep shirt. “Why??” she cried. “You’re throwing up, it’s okay. It won’t last forever.” I patted her back on the one spot that seemed reasonably barf-free. “I NOT OKAY!!” she screamed at me. “I DON’T LIKE THAT BOWL!!” she screamed when I attempted to aim her stream of vomit. She turned to hug me and barfed down my neck. I sat on some trash bags and turned on Pete the Cat.
After awhile I realized that while my daughter could doze between vomit sessions, I could not. I had to be prepared with THE BOWL. “I’ll just see if there’s a good romance series to keep me busy,” I thought to myself. I found Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet series. I’d been meaning to read more by her. Why not? There were more than 20 books. I’d read a few and the kids would heal up and we’d enjoy the holiday. We still had snowflakes to make! I bought glitter! And in the meantime, I’d read some Ruby Dixon.
The series opened with vulnerable human women stuck on a slave spaceship. YES. This is what I needed. A complete escape. I read a little. I aimed toddler barf a little. The night passed. I read three books.
The next day, both kids were stuck on the couch. The four year old had frantic coughing fits. The toddler vomited. They watched Pete the Cat. I read about aliens getting frisky with humans in tiny caves. “I’m surprised they’re able to get down to business so comfortably on a rock floor,” I thought to myself. “Those hides can’t be THAT plush.” I kept reading. A well-written series. I wouldn’t take it too seriously. “It’s so odd that no one’s more hung up on the fact that these aliens have like, four fingers. And they’re giant and blue?” I shrugged it off. It’s sci-fi…I’d just enjoy the story.
Several days after X Day, the two year old seemed a bit better. She wasn’t eating much, but she was a tiny human velcro. “SIT DOWN.” She’d yell sternly. “YOU SIT.” Then she’d cram herself into my armpit. “PETE.” She’d point to the television. The four year old flopped up the stairs. “Mama, I need a cup of water. My stomach hurts.”
“I told you not to eat so many bananas,” I grumbled, and put down the 8th Ice Planet book. So strong was my denial. Then he vomited all over the kitchen floor. From the basement I heard the sound of my toddler coughing. How was this happening? How many illnesses could two children get? I brought THE BOWL downstairs and covered the couch in blankets and trash bags. “I DON’T WANT THAT BOWL!!” howled the four year old. “GET IT AWAY FROM ME!!” He retched into it. “IT SMELLS SO BAD!!”
My daughter started pulling on her ears. I took her to the pediatrician and read some more Ruby Dixon in the waiting room. “It’s like they’re just making the most of a tough situation…” I thought to myself. “Look at how they find love…so adaptable.” The pediatrician informed me that my daughter’s ears looked like the color of a stop sign. “It’s a bad infection,” she told me. Perfect. No snowflakes today.
I stopped for more Tylenol at the store. I read the 12th Ice Planet book while I waited for more antibiotics. I had pulled two all-nighters in a matter of 5 days. People looked wrong. “Why is that man so short?” I thought to myself. “He’s so pale and delicate. Why does he have so many fingers?”
My son spent the afternoon sticking his fingers in his ears. “They go POP POP when I talk,” he said. My daughter coughed. I took my son to the doctor. “Yep, an ear infection. He was just on antibiotics recently, right?” she said. “Oh, maybe a few months ago,” I said. I blinked at her and yawned. “It’s the 29th,” the doctor said. “He was prescribed antibiotics on the 10th. Did you give him the antibiotics?” I looked at her blankly. It was like she was describing Mars. That happened in my previous life. How could I possibly remember such details? Don’t look at me like that, doctor. It’s not like I feed him raw dvisti meat.
I went back to the pharmacy. I was on book 18 of the Ice Planet series. Life is like a pond, I thought. You’re sitting there, looking at your reflection. You think you know what’s going on. And then an alien creature disguised as a reed jumps at your face and tries to eat it.