In our motel room, we stopped short of body cavity searching the kids for my husband’s missing credit card.

That was only the beginning of our summer vacation.

After several years, we could finally afford it, a dream destination blending history and adventure in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Fate had other plans.

The day after our arrival, my husband’s jaw throbbed. His filling disintegrated.  My youngest had an abscess. “Double in-dentistry.”

By day three, my oldest complained of a headache and had a raging fever.  A physician diagnosed strep throat and scarlet fever.

Post-penicillin, several days later, we staggered from the sick ward (motel room), and drove over to an amusement park, where the temperature spiked at 102 degrees.  Metallurgists, not meteorologists, predicted the heat would dissolve dashboards and smelt iron ore.

Sweating, we trudged through crowds, weakened by the contagion plaguing our family.  While at the carny section, my husband won a huge stuffed penguin for our youngest.  My son was thrilled, but all I could think was, how would we get this thing home?  It would not only scare the stewardesses, it could block a jump shot from Shaquille O’Neal.

Lugging the penguin around, (I even snapped the safety belt around it and asked if it preferred easy-listening music or rock), I drove the rental car to Fed-Ex, UPS and finally, to Pack & Send. 

The clerk weighed the penguin. “That’ll be sixty-four dollars, ma’am.”

“Bubble-wrapping my youngest child would cost less,” I retorted.  “I’ve gained three pounds from salt water taffy and you could ship me for less.”

She shrugged.

Our solution? Add luggage on the flight back.  My husband, the efficiency packer, could cram a week’s worth of clothes, shoes and toiletries into a suitcase the size of Barbie’s Corvette.  The airline said we could add another piece of luggage for free.  Whew.  Finally, a little luck.  At Target, I bought a mega suitcase for the penguin and reassured him that I’d pack him in ice. 

Later that night, we nursed nasty sunburns and bickered over the remote.  My husband watched the Weather Channel, seemingly fascinated by the forecast for Stuttgart, Germany.  The blond German anchor was pretty enough, I guess, flaunting Oktoberfest pigtails and yelling, “Und nien!”  The Stuttgart map was far preferable to the alternative, my friends — a double-action DVD he found on sale: Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen. When he slipped Dozen into the DVD player, I almost climbed into the suitcase with the penguin.

Seven days into our vacation, around midnight, my youngest complained of a headache and fever.  Strep, strike two.

You’re thinking.  This crazy woman.  She’s making this up.  I wish I were.

After pasting on a Florence Nightingale smile and enduring Kelly’s Heroes AND a torturous third viewing of Dirty Dozen, I was ready to go home.  The penguin and I would hitch a ride. 

We dragged through the airport, kids and penguin in tow.  I scanned the cities on the ETA board.  Hurray, our flight back to Chicago was on time.

En route to Midway, however, the airline lost one of our bags. 

No.  Not the giant penguin.  He made it home. 

The luggage containing all our toiletries, medicines and a few vital organs – that went to San Diego.

My husband cracked, “Guess I can’t shave or shower for work.”

“Send the penguin instead,” I said.  “He’s tall and he’s wearing a tie.”

“But it’s business casual.”

“So?  He can wear your wrinkled Cuban shirt.  The Steve Wilkos one.”
Monday morning, back to the work grind, my husband was frantic.  Where were his car keys?  We ransacked luggage, plundered my purse, beamed a metal detector over Kirby, our dog.  The penguin insisted he hadn’t taken the car for a thrill ride.

Well, the keys were stuck in the front door, where my husband left them the night before.

You think I’m making this up.

I wish I were.


[This “Van Mom Strikes Again” column originally appeared on July 10, 2008 in the Pioneer Press]


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