I am not a supermom. I'm generally a bit of a mess. I'm a good mom, of course. But super? No. I've seen those kinds of moms. I know them. I used to even envy them a bit -- the way they can run a bake sale and keep their homes impeccably clean with 35 screaming kids running around playing with the homemade costumes and eating snacks shaped like trees and princesses and Mickey Mouse. But last week, for a brief few hours, I was one. A legitimate badass supermom. And it was awesome.
Spirit Airlines kicked my daughter off our flight home. Turns out the pay-as-you-go "budget" airline ($55 overweight baggage fee hardly seems budget?) has no (overpriced) upgrade fee for vomiting kids.
We were on the tail-end of a weeklong holiday trip. We'd been back east to visit family and stopped in Las Vegas for a few days to see more. All that kept us from our warm beds was a 45-minute flight from Vegas to LA. What could possibly go wrong?
I should have been better at putting the pieces together. Our first morning in Vegas my five-year-old daughter--who usually eats more than me--didn't want any breakfast. She hardly touched dinner, either. She ate bits the next day, but not her normal trough-load. It had been a long week; she was sad to leave her cousins, I thought. That can ruin an appetite for anyone.
We arrived at the airport early enough for me to decide to stand in line at Starbucks for a warm cup of tea, an almost-home aperitif. "My stomach hurts," my daughter told me. She's not one to make up illnesses. She needed the bathroom, she said. I gave up our spot in line and escorted her to the restroom. She seemed better.
As we walked back toward the gate, sparkly, glittery things in the gift shop caught her eye. Her grandmother had given her some money that afternoon, so despite the pile of barely-touched Christmas gifts at home, I let her buy a(nother!) fluffy unicorn. There was no need for the bag the clerk offered, but some little voice in my head said: "take the bag." We took the bag. "Las Vegas" was written on the front in pretty colors.
You can probably guess what happens next. It seems so obvious now, doesn't it? We arrive at the gate, position ourselves near a window to watch the planes and within a matter of minutes, up comes the food she's eaten in the last 24 hours. I somehow managed to evacuate the unicorn and place the plastic bag to her mouth just in time. That's pretty much a supermom move right there, isn't it? Is that what it feels like to be an awesome mom? I mean, not a drop of puke hit the ground!
Fellow passengers were helpful. One brought us napkins (as a superhero mom, I also had wipes in my bag), another passenger relinquished their own plastic bag to us. I asked the gate attendants for proper puke bags and they reluctantly boarded the plane to bring me some. We used them. All. It would have been nice if they had told me then what they would tell me in less than an hour as we tried to board the plane.
When they called for early boarding, the same gate attendant who gave us the extra bags snatched our boarding passes. We're in the home stretch now, I foolishly thought (even supermoms can be fooled!). And then she called over another attendant. "They need medical clearance," she said. Suddenly, my stomach didn't feel so good, either. We didn't get it.
"I'm so sorry," said the attendant after a lengthy call with a doctor somewhere on the other end of her phone. "She can't fly. She needs to go two hours without vomiting. She needs to be able to hold down water."
It's 8:30 pm. I have a puking child and a giant overstuffed suitcase. And we're in Vegas. The city that makes my skin crawl on a good day.
The airline offered to give me a discount hotel voucher. They retrieved my oversized and overpaid-for bag. There were no other flights home and I wasn't sure we could board those either. Had all airlines been alerted to my daughter's condition?
Maybe the long week had tired me out, too. I was so angry I couldn't see straight. My heart was pounding into my elbow. Passengers had moved closer to my daughter at the gate when she was getting sick -- not further away. They went out of their way to help her and me. The woman sitting directly next to her as she puked didn't even flinch. I'm not at all an expert mathematician, but my guess is if the passengers had been polled we'd have at least a 60 percent show of hands saying let the damn girl fly home.
But it wasn't up to the passengers. It was a tired flight attendant and an invisible doctor on the other end of a phone line. And, I totally get it. She probably was contagious. She wound up with a fever and was sick for three days. But it's a stomach bug. It's not Ebola.
So there I was. Irate. And all this poor girl wanted was to snuggle into her bed with her cats and her blankets but our only option was to drag a 70-pound suitcase back through smoky casinos to get to a room we'd have to vacate by 6 am to catch the first flight out?
I couldn't do it. We were getting home that night. If it killed me. And it nearly did.
"We're renting a car," I told my daughter. It was already past her bedtime. She was pale. "Unless you want to get a hotel?" I offered. She wanted to be home. So did I.
I dragged us to the "on-site" rental cars, which are a 20-minute bus ride from the airport. The woman working in the lot upgraded us for free to a more comfortable car. It was 9:30 pm. Pretty much past my bedtime too and now I had a four-hour drive home. I felt like anything but super.
I was full of doubt. I thought I'd make it maybe 45 minutes before I needed to pull over and nap. There aren't too many hotel options between Vegas and LA, and with the rain and ice (oh, just wait) it was too cold for us to sleep in the car too long. Was I being brave and smart or was this the worst decision I've ever made? Was I putting myself and my daughter in jeopardy just to "show" Spirit Airlines how lame they were? Trying to prove that they can't keep me from home?
And also: What. About. All. The. Puking?
There was that. Lots of it. My daughter hardly ever throws up. But when she does, she can't' really stop. We were in punctual 20-minute cycles.
I pulled over to a gas station looking for supplies. I could buy a giant cooler and just let her puke in there? A refillable gas tank? There's a lid on that. I settled on plastic Solo cups (green ones seemed a better fit than red) and plastic trash bags. I loaded up on free napkins.
I kept the stack of Solo cups in my lap. She was in the backseat with the plastic bag tethered to the booster. She puked into the cups, then placed them in the bag. I handed her napkins and a fresh cup. She'd sleep about 15-20 minutes or so, wake up, get sick, and fall back asleep. I congratulated myself on my ingenuity. At least my child wouldn't have to drive home covered in her own vomit. I'm not exactly sure how supermom ratings worked, but that seemed like a pretty high bump right there.
The system seemed to work.
Then the rain came. In the desert.
It's fine, I've driven in rain before. The windshield wipers kind of kept me awake. Up we went, through the mountains and then: hail.
The road was slicker and more slippery than I would have liked it. Navigating through the pelting ice balls in an unfamiliar car made me laugh. Then we hit a mile long wall of traffic. An accident up ahead? Or were they de-icing the road? The stillness made me tired. I could feel myself teetering toward dreamland. My daughter threw up again. I harnessed her dry heaves like they were pulses of crystal blasts, energizing my powers. Super strength was coursing through me again. "What else have you got for me?" I said to the invisible challenger pounding at me from all directions since the moment the flight attendant took our boarding passes.
And it was there, somewhere outside of Barstow, where being a "supermom" finally had a shape. A color. A feeling. It was like that early morning five years ago when I had to push her out of my body despite all the challenges making it harder and harder to do by the minute. This victory, this journey home, was going to happen if I had to lift the damn rental car over my head and carry it and my puking daughter all the way back to Los Angeles.
We made it.
I gave my daughter some medicine, tucked her into bed, and proceeded to say good night. Then she puked all over me. Just like that, my supermom reign was over. I was just an ordinary, clueless mom who forgot how many minutes it had been. But at least we were home. And nothing's more super than that.
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