It’s a long story but usually once a summer my family goes to Cape Cod for several days. Most people would regard this as ‘vacation’ but I don’t, exactly, and it’s hard to explain but you just have to take my word for it. It’s vacation for my husband and my child but not for me. And even my child: after four days, she’s had her fill of Cape Cod and needs to get back into a place where she can be walked to a playground and find other kids to play with. She needs to not be in isolation. I need to be prepared for dealing with living in a kind of isolation that does not come naturally to me, to put it gently. We stay at my father in law’s house, and while he lives in the middle of a village, it’s the kind of place that WalkScore would describe as “car dependent.” In other words, if there’s something I think I’m going to need while there, I’d damned well better bring it with me from Connecticut, or be prepared to shell out for a duplicate of it at an overpriced Cape Cod shop, under duress. I pack accordingly, very carefully; this time around, I remembered to pack our thermometer. There’s been a summer cold going around, and I thought I’d be wise to pack the thermometer. Just in case. Just in case.
So, a few days ago, my daughter and I went to the Cape. My husband was already up there. We spent four days doing the sorts of things we do. It’s a challenge to fill the days, now that we have a child who requires activities. We can’t just loaf the way we did in the days before we had a child. Playing is my daughter’s default position, not reading; and neither my husband or I are big on playing. As a result, when she’s the only person her age around, we have to come up with big plans to fill the day. It’s true there’s a certain amount of sitting around the house, but there’s also lot of driving around. We are not really beach people, so it means coming up with Plans B, C, D, E., F, and on through Z. It kind of wears thin, but we all do the best we can. This can mean Driving to a Children’s Museum, or Driving to a Playground Where There MIGHT Be Children, or Driving to a Movie Theater, If It’s Raining. There’s a lot of Going to Used Bookstores, if I’m lucky. There’s a lot of discussion about what to eat. We do a jaunt to Martha’s Vineyard with a friend from college, who comes to the Cape from Providence, Rhode Island, specifically to go to Martha’s Vineyard with us: this is actually the highlight of the whole trip for me and my daughter.
For my husband, the point of going to Martha’s Vineyard is being on the ferry; for me, my daughter, and our friend Susan, the point of going to Martha’s Vineyard is eating apple fritters the size of our heads, and I highly recommend those apple fritters, by the way. You get them at Back Door Donuts, which you can walk to from the Oak Bluffs ferry landing, easy. You’re only allowed to buy six at a time unless you call in an order ahead of time. Buy one more than you think you want, because you will want more than however many you bought, and if you need more than six, call ahead.
Once those big activities are done, there’s not much for us for us to do. We ate lots of scallops and clams and oysters and some of us ate plates of pasta because we don’t like seafood.
Thursday morning we went to the beach for an hour: this was our first visit to a beach, en famille, since we’d all met up on the Cape. Out of four days, we allotted a maximum of 90 minutes for beach-going. The beach adventure was cut short by my realization that my daughter would require serious bathing in order to prepare her for our trip back to Connecticut. Ninety minutes became sixty minutes plus a shower. Susan, who had to go home, too, drove us back to Providence, and dropped us off at the train station.
My daughter and I are fairly good traveling companions by now. I know what makes her nervous, she knows that I am not to be messed with while we’re on the road, as long as we both have stuff to read or doodle with, we’re in good shape. (I attribute this to our habitual getting around town on buses.) We got a sandwich at the train station (veggie pesto panini) and a lemonade and boarded our train. It was almost 2.30 in the afternoon when we left Providence; we arrived in our hometown at ten minutes after 4, and my daughter rejoiced. “We’re gonna go see our CAT!” she told me. “And be HOME!” “I know,” I said. I was pretty happy, too.
We caught a bus downtown, and transferred to another bus that would take us to our neighborhood. We stopped by the apartment of the friend who’d been housesitting for us — she had my house keys — and while there I helped her move a mattress onto a new bed and got instructions on watering her plants, something I’ll be doing this coming week. Then we went to Romeo’s, a block away, and picked up milk, a tomato, a cucumber, and a head of garlic. These were the things I knew we’d need to feed us for the next couple of days: I don’t need anything more elaborate than that, if my husband’s not in the house.
By the time we were really home, it was five o’clock. There was much cat-petting, much putting milk away in the fridge, much flinging of selves onto the couch heaving sighs of relief. I thought of all the laundry that would arrive home on Sunday, when my husband came back from the Cape, and realized that there was no point in being stressed out about the inevitable mess of unpacking all that stuff, because there was truly nothing I could do about it until Sunday night. “We’ve got two full days ahead of us with nothing to do, except I am going out Friday night, tra la; the sitter is lined up, tra la,” I thought to myself. Feeling cheerful, if tired, I began to make dinner.
My daughter had requested an old favorite: noodles with Parmesan cheese, egg, and peas. Just before I drained the pasta, a bit before seven o’clock, she came over to me, and said, “Mama, I feel funny.”
“What’s wrong,” I said, all mental tra-la-ing coming to an abrupt halt.
“My nose is runny,” she said. “My throat hurts.”
I pressed my hand to my daughter’s head. It felt warm. I began to say, “Where’s the –” and stopped. The thermometer was in my toiletry bag, which I’d left on Cape Cod, because there was (I’d assumed) nothing in it I’d need once we got home. I don’t need travel size shampoo when I’m at home, or the little travel-size packet of Q-Tips, or the extra nail clippers.
But I only own one thermometer. And my daughter was sick, but the thermometer was on Cape Cod.
I had a moment of optimism: maybe, just maybe, I’d slipped the thermometer into my tote bag, which has many pockets, and not into the toiletry bag. I searched my tote bag: no thermometer. In the meantime, my daughter sagged on the couch. I texted my husband: “Is the thermometer in the toiletry bag?” He wrote back with uncharacteristic speed. “Yes,” he wrote, “Who’s sick?”
I explained that our daughter appeared to be ill. “Excellent timing,” I observed. “If she has to get sick, it’s better to get sick at home.” My husband agreed. There’s a lesson for me here, which is this: no matter where you are, the thermometer is not in the place where you are when you need it. Peg Bracken had a plan, longtime readers will recall, in which every room of the house has a box that contains a few things you always need at random moments: a pair of scissors, some safety pins, a pencil and some paper, etc. To this list, I should probably add: a thermometer. Keep one on each floor of the house — one in the kitchen drawer (perhaps next to the Thermapen, which I suppose you could use to take someone’s temperature if you had to, but boy would that be an uncomfortable experience), one in the second floor bathroom, and one in the third floor bathroom.
I made dinner. We ate. At 7.30 on the nose, my daughter set down her bowl and looked at me with tears in her eyes. “I want to go to bed now,” she said. I put her to bed. The next day was a wash. She was sad, feverish, not herself. We spent most of the day curled up on the couch watching the entire “Back to the Future” collection, streaming on Netflix. I cancelled all the plans I’d made for Friday night and sighed: I had scheduled our early return precisely so that I could go do these things on Friday night, and it was all down the toilet. Tra-fucking-la. “At least she got sick after we got home,” I said to myself.
All was well come Saturday morning. My husband returned home on Sunday and I opened the toiletry bag he unloaded from the car and looked at the thermometer. “I should really get at least one more thermometer,” I said dolefully. My husband, who finds my tendency to buy things in duplicate inexplicable, said, “yeah, maybe you’re right.” And then I commenced doing laundry.