It was a fiasco, really. This was to be our first time away from our three small children since the birth of our twins three years ago. We were visiting my in-laws as a family for a late Christmas celebration, then the two of us would leave the kids there and travel to the coast, to Charleston, to ring in the New Year with old friends.
Even the drive itself was freeing. A rental car with no child seats, no Disney movie playing on a headrest DVD player, no smell of spilled apple juice or full diapers. We listened to music the whole way down, music and each other. Driving used to be one of our favorite things to do.
The first six hours of the getaway were what we’d hoped, a sweet reunion with friends who make five years apart feel like five minutes, who make hundreds of miles disappear. A carefree celebration and a walk through the heart of the city. A midnight toast and laughter, lots and lots of laughter.
What came next is a blur of sickness and gratitude.
The flu hit my husband first, and it hit hard. I would fall prey the day after. The plush king suite of the 3-bedroom condo above the theater became a place of quarantine for his sky-high fever and relentless cough.
Replaying scenes from the next 48 hours in my head, all I can see are hands reaching out.
There were these, our life-long friends, dipping into their we’re-all-parents-now stash to hand over a thermometer and ibuprofen, giving out held-breath hugs and common wisdom to a friend whose head was clouded with worry.
There were grandparents who kept our energetic brood of three at their own house and risk, loving and disciplining them as their own, letting the joy outweigh the challenge for longer than the 24 hours they bargained for. I could see their hearts in the eyes of my well-cared for children when we finally made it back to that front door, their hands in the basket of already clean laundry that meant we’d have one less worry when we got home to Tennessee. (That alone was no small gift.)
There was the neighbor-friend who made sure the dogs were out back when our long drive to Nashville was finally over, so we could carry sleeping children through the cold winter night into a warm, quiet house.
There was my mother checking in by text along the way, ready for us to be home so she could step in and help. There she was, taking in the five year old in for a grandmother/-daughter sleepover, complete with Shrinky Dinks and banana bread. There she was, braving the germs to bring us home remedies and hugs.
All these hands reaching out, they are my people’s hands. I’ve come to know them well. They lessen the pain, ease our minds, buoy our hearts and hopes when they sink. They are big love shown in the smallest kindnesses. Watching them work is sacred, a thing of wonder.
Life is messy; we all know it. Plan A seems a myth, and easy does not come around as often as we’d hope. One has to wonder if it’s by design, to rally us ‘round one another in love, to bond us for better and worse.
Blood and marriage, words and paper, they may call us related. But a million choices to love and be loved, those make us family.
artwork by Lindsay Hopkins