While my family is originally from Green Bay, we’re now spread all across the country. I’ve stayed put, but my parents have moved to the Chicago area, my sister is down in Memphis, and I have brothers in Virginia, Colorado, and another is … only about an hour south of me, actually, but I see him about as often as I do the rest of them.
Because we’re so spread out, we rarely see each other in person, and almost never get to see everyone together. This is all resolved at Christmas. Each year, my family picks a different location to spend the holiday together. My own little family doesn’t always join in, because I like for my children to have a Christmas tradition at home, but this year we decided to go for it.
This year’s Christmas was held in a 100-year-old ranch just outside of Santa Fe, NM. While the rest of the family decided to fly, we were reluctant to take a plane due to previous experiences (these children don’t sit still). Instead, we decided to take a train. Because, surely, a leisurely 24 hours in the sleeper-car of a train would be a better (or at least more interesting) trip than a relatively brief, stress-filled airplane journey.
The trip started decently enough. We arrived at the train station, and only had to wait a few minutes before we were able to board the train. This is important, as it left less time for Madeline to try to get kidnapped. I’m not sure if this is something that other parents have to worry about or not, but Madeline is all about finding the perfect kidnapper. She’ll chat up any stranger, invade their personal space, and ask a wide range of personal questions (supposedly to determine their suitability as alternative parents) until she’s stopped. She knows she doesn’t have long before one of her actual parents intervenes, so she’s learned to act quickly. She’s a tricky beast.
The train ride itself was …. long. Incredibly long. We brought activities for the kids to do, but they blew through those in the first couple of hours. “Bedtime” was one long game of musical beds. Madeline couldn’t decide where she was sleeping, so she kept everyone else awake while she tried out all the available (or not-so-available) beds.
Eventually, we made it to New Mexico. The house was nice, the company was great. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that my sister and her child brought the plague with them – she brought a 24-hour stomach bug, and he brought influenza. These illnesses slowly traveled through each of the 12 people staying at the house, only sparing one or two of us. Despite that, our vacation was delightful.
Because at least one person was sick for the entire trip, we didn’t do much. Aaron and I went to Meow Wolf, which I highly recommend. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a crazy interactive art exhibit. Part haunted house, part mystery adventure, all trippy dream. Questions were asked like, “Is the floor shaking?” “Did you see that? Look at this mirror,” and “Should we crawl through the fireplace or the fridge first?” There was a giant neon mastodon skeleton where the ribs could be played like a xylophone. There was a playable floor-to-ceiling harp made out of lasers and smoke. There was a lion/witch/wardrobe style closet that kept going until you were suddenly in a room that was upside down. Or maybe we were upside down. Nothing made sense, stairways led to the sky, mushrooms changed color, tree houses were swanky, and a hamster was missing. It was brilliant. If you’re ever in Santa Fe, you should check it out. (Denver and Las Vegas locations are coming soon, apparently)
In between all the fevers, vomiting, sleeping, and general malaise, we had a great time. My sister and I educated the childless among us in the importance of the “wow” factor when entering the room on Christmas morning, and spent way too much time placing the presents in just the right configuration.
The kids (mine, anyway) stayed healthy up until the day before we left. At that point, Madeline developed a fever and opted to sleep in my bed. Over the course of the night, she used her super powers to suck the life force from my body into hers. She woke up, the model of perfect health, and I woke up slightly feverish and unable to speak. Truly, she has magical powers.
The train ride home started much the same as the ride out there. However, that evening things took a turn. We were just about to enter the dining car for dinner when Emmett got that “look” that said “something bad is about to happen – pick me up.” Not two seconds later, he was vomiting down my shirt.
Now, if you’re not familiar with train anatomy, let me give you a brief description. Each car has a top and bottom deck. The top decks on all the cars are connected by a series of doors, so you can travel between the cars quite easily. The top decks of the sleeper cars have rooms on either one or both sides of the car, with a narrow hallway to walk through. Only one person can walk through the hallway at a time, which can make for an awkward “who was here first?” moment.
Now, if you think that two adults staring each other down at either end of a too-narrow hallway is awkward, picture this. I’m carrying a child who’s gone limp as a noodle and is slowly slipping from my arms. He’s got his head buried in my shirt and is actively vomiting on my chest. Now picture you’re in the middle, or even near the end, of one of these too-narrow hallways as I come barreling through. You are a rat, and the ship is sinking. Scurry! Scatter! Jump overboard! It doesn’t matter how you do it, just get out of the way! Their terror was palpable.
We finally got to our car, and I locked us in the shower (yes, there are showers on the bottom deck of the sleeper cars). Thankfully, my bra caught all the vomit, so I only had to wash our top halves. Grossed out yet? And you’re only hearing about it. I’m just glad I’m not a sympathetic puker, or we would have had a real problem on our hands. So that was fun.
When we got back to our room, Emmett just wanted to snuggle. We slept near each other, and he used his super powers to transfer health from my body to his. He woke up, fully healed, and I spent the night in a feverish haze of sweaty shivering. I’ve raised a couple of wizards, and they only practice dark magic.
We spent the following day in our room, just waiting to arrive at the Chicago station. I tried to sleep off the sickness (it didn’t work), and the kids were mostly well behaved.
When we finally made it to Chicago, we had to walk 0.2 miles to get to our car. Doesn’t sound like much of a walk, except that Madeline thinks she’s a Chicago native and tried to lead the way, I was barely mentally present as my body attempted to fight off what I’m now sure was the flu, Emmett seemed to think that the ground was lava, because he didn’t want to move, and I was unable to yell at either of them because my voice didn’t work. Yay!
Finally, we had the 3 hour car ride back home. In a blizzard (well, blizzard-lite). So it was more like 4 or 5 hours. I don’t know. I was dying.
And that was Christmas. I’m still sick, by the way. Thanks, sis.