I'm home for just a few minutes after returning from the doctor's office with my youngest who's contracted pink eye when my husband calls.
I've been waiting to hear from him. I know that he's going to say he's almost home, that he's ready to receive the parenting baton so I can slip away for a few hours to grade the heaping piles of student projects and portfolios that are standing between me and the official end of the semester.
Instead, he tells me that he's just received a phone call from a former student who's an engineer living in Turkey. The engineer's friends (a visiting professor, his wife, and their two daughters) would be landing at the JFK airport after traveling twenty grueling hours from Istanbul, and -- here's the kicker -- their escort's car had broken down en route. Nobody would be there to pick them up.
It was precisely at this point in the conversation when I had two thoughts: 1) this situation has nothing to do with us, and 2) my husband's next words will be that he's making the nine hour round-trip journey to New York to get them from the airport.
Both thoughts were right. Yes, this situation had nothing to do with us, and yes, Joel was leaving right after he could swap the car for the van and fill up the tank with gas.
The rest of the afternoon and evening hazed by in a manner you'd expect when you're home with a cranky, sick child who fights with every ounce of her 36-pound frame to prevent those antibiotic eye drops -- those drops that you picked up at the pharmacy with children who didn't want to leave their house to pile into the car and then didn't want leave the car to enter the store -- from trickling into her gunky, matted-shut eye.
I survive until the girls' bedtime, shower, and return to the computer to grade for hours, stopping just momentarily when my husband calls to say that he should be home by three in the morning.
At half past midnight, I call it quits. Shortly after one, I'm woken by my middle daughter, another nighttime victim of the stomach bug, as she heaves in the bathroom. She's just a few feet shy of the toilet, yet still far enough away to spray the hallway carpeting.
I scrub the floor and start laundry. I return to bed. I get up an hour later when she gets sick and misses the toilet again.
When he finally returns home, pulls off his shirt, and sinks into bed, my husband wearily conveys that he got the family safely to their apartment. I slur something in return about pink eye and vomit.
Moments later our youngest wakes up, disoriented and upset, in need of a drink and complaining that her ear hurts. I stumble into the door frame while trying to make it back to my bed in the dark.
When my head hits the pillow for the final time, my thoughts turn to the Turkish woman who had just ridden in our van. I don't know her name.
She had traveled for hours, been stranded in a foreign airport, and figured out what to feed and how to entertain her two young children as they waited for a stranger to pick them up and drop them off at their new apartment, sight unseen, where they'd be living for six months in a new country.
She has lived quite a day, too.
In my last moment of wakefulness before sleep finally shuts down the day, I think about how, against all odds and however tenuous, this unknown woman and I shared some connection. We are two women from across the globe, two mothers who had endured long days, two strangers whose lives randomly have been intertwined in the briefest, oddest of ways.
And, as I'm heartened by this awareness that we're more related to others than we think -- that we're all experiencing this unpredictable and inconvenient and very human life together -- I finally yield to sleep.
Image compliments of Changhua Coast Conservation Action (flickr.com)
Enjoy the humor, candor, and encouragement of Then I Became a Mother. Available in both Kindle and paperback editions.