Column: On the road

“No, Madam, this is not an interesting job,” the South African physician said in response to my question. Her eyes narrowed as she continued, “It is a soul-sucking job.” She stood at the base of the bed with a needle in hand, ready to drain the hematoma that was waging war under the nail of my left big toe. I laid back down on the medic bed—silently praying for mercy—in the bowels of a cruise ship sailing somewhere in the Caribbean.

Vacation day two: Check.

Only 36 hours earlier, I was tucking my children into bed in the Houstonian Hotel when the oldest, in a rush to put the iPad on a nearby desk, accidentally toppled the electronic device directly onto my toe. I was blinded by pain. So as not to wail, I threw myself on the bed, gripped the quilted coverlet with my fingers and bit the pillow with all my might. “Mom,” squealed my 9-year-old,”are you trying to eat us?”

I have given birth. I have broken bones. I have endured a Brazilian bikini wax. I have never been in that much pain before. Ever.

I spent the entire night prior to boarding the ship with my leg sticking out of the covers, afraid they might touch the toe. The next morning I practically dragged a leg over the gangplank to board. Whenever anyone got near me, I pulled my foot up to my knee and stood like a flamingo.

With my eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep and with my pulsating pain level calculated as a 9 out of 10, I gimped my way poolside and ordered the drink of the day.

I knew that I needed to go to the medic, but I didn’t want to be the first man down. After all, I had endured vacation challenges aplenty in the past.

My husband and I travel often, and we travel with children. Once you accept that it’s going to be ugly, you are less disappointed with the trip. You don’t expect to read a book on the way. You don’t expect to eat where you want to eat. Your goal is to get from one point on the map to another with as little of yourself left on the roadside as possible.

In airports, passengers queuing up in line step away from young families. As well they should. Children cry when the air pressure changes; they don’t like being confined to a seat. And they need to go to the bathroom. Often. Although mine are old enough now to take flights with relative ease, I remember the days of ear-numbing drops, and sippy cups, and diapers and portable snacks and seats being kicked, and tears. Public transportation with children is not pretty.

“Don’t worry about it,” said the bus driver. “It happens every night.” He was shaking a powder mixture over wetness on the floor of a Disney World bus. In the brief moment that my husband held two of our youngest children while I snapped the stroller shut, one of the children vomited. All over himself, all over his sister and all over my husband. The smell was so rancid that en route to our resort, someone in the back of the bus vomited as well.

Magical memories.

We’ve lost baggage, lost children and temporarily lost our cool. Our minds? Those were lost years ago. We’ve missed connecting flights, missed the exit, missed our dog back home. But that has never kept us from planning the next trip.

Why? Because somewhere between the panic of herding shoeless children through airport security and finding French fries shoved under the backseat from a necessary fast-food stop, we managed to find laughter. And delight.

And we have made memories worth keeping that didn’t involve bodily functions. Which is why, even in pain on the Carribean cruise, I knew my big toe incident wasn’t going to slow me down much. Disgruntled ship doctor aside. Things happen on the road, which makes the journey more interesting. I just slapped on my flip-flops, adjusted my stride and kept truckin’.