family life

(Happy Canada Day)… (Happy Rachel Day)….. and Happy Every Day

“Do you know what we would have called Rachel if she was born just one day later?” my husband asks our four year old son.

“What?” he innocently takes the bait.

Canada. So instead of putting all that effort and time into parties and planning, we’d head downtown for the Happy Canada Day party. She’d think everyone was wishing her a Happy Birthday!”

It’s a novel thought, but you know, by that point of pregnancy, I was good and ready to expel the product of my womb. Six weeks of false labouring nearly every night was enough for me.

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Still, she’s remained a dramatic child, with a dramatic birthday. Her first to fourth birthdays hail congratulated her….belting down upon her backyard circus carnival or her first birthday gifts. After those birthdays, it was time to move somewhere a little more temperate.

Her fifth, sixth and seventh birthdays we travelled respectively to northern British Columbia, the Arctic and Africa. Last year we bookended that Kenyan trip with a visit to Paris. Rachel has as much charisma and style as the Parisians, so we thought it an ideal fit. But when my hubby took the kids back to the hotel for a quiet time, I headed to the Louvre, and got lost. Really lost. Oh, I eventually found my way out of the Louvre. It was back to the hotel that was challenging.

My Canadian-Albertan French did get a few responses. But six years of conjugating verbs didn’t help me understand anyone’s directions. Before sunset I found my way back to our suite near the Arc de Triomphe…though not in time to have dinner with my newly minted seven year old. Had I been with them, I probably would have influenced their dinner location. French fries from McDonalds are not any more French, just more expensif.

This eighth birthday was no less memorable. Besides the Secret Garden party the girls and I had planned weeks before, we’d planned a trip to the waterslides. The weather was perfect. It was the washing machine that wouldn’t drain, the fountain of apple juice at the top of the refrigerator and disappearing sunglasses that nearly twisted my spirit into a knot before we even got on the road.

Grumbling halfway there, complaining that I can never manage a happily ever after celebration for Rachel, we saw plain clothes pedestrians directing traffic on this major highway. A truck lying on its side on the shoulder of the road. A blonde lady in coral capris covering the windshield of the sedan with a blanket. The sedan had stopped halfway into the oncoming lane. A half dozen people hovered around the scene attempting to help someone still trapped in the driver’s seat.

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“We should stop”, I suggested. Van sitting on the hard shoulder of the road, four ways flashing, Jim jumps out, but walks slowly toward the scene. “Go faster”, the kids yell at him, voices dampened inside. He doesn’t hear of course. No matter, he’s not quick to react either. He’s cool as a cucumber.

I stay with the kids for a while, but finally succumb to curiosity. The ambulance arrives and the paramedics assess the fellow as best as they’re able with the man crushed and in c-spine. Jim starts an 18 gauge in his left forearm and has me compress a bag of saline from on high, faster and harder than I understood was appropriate. I’m concerned it will go interstitial. Jim’s OR and IV experience insists it will not. All the while, the trapped man is demanding they let go of his arm, and get him out of there already, in a not-so-friendly, delirious tone.

Maybe twenty minutes later, the fellow is infused with a bag and a half and responding calmly by the time the helicopter lands behind our still-flashing minivan. Reams of traffic stopped on either side of the accident scene wait patiently. Our four kids are secure in the world of air conditioning and DVD player. EMS cloisters around the crushed sedan, Jaws of Life in hand. We stand back ten feet, away from the fallout of shattered vehicle parts. They would cut him out, secure him to the stretcher, and fly him to the hospital from the town we’d just left. For us, it was time to get back in the van, ask permission to drive away and head toward the waterslides.

As we pass the fifty? vehicles parked on the side of the road, we see looks of curiosity. Is the road cleared? Should we get back in our vehicles?

Okay, so now the washing machine, the explosive apple juice, the mini-dramas of our imperfect morning don’t quite seem so dramatic. Life is pretty good. Our happily ever after is that we’re together, celebrating our healthy eight year old daughter’s life. All the ingredients to a happy birthday are before us: we’re healthy and we’re together. We’ll choose to make happy, despite the June 30th dramas.

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