My inner geek's racing heart and sweating brow threatened to hold me back. I kept thinking we would get "caught" for leaving school early. But we had to get on the road if we wanted to avoid traffic.
So, with a whispered chant of "I'm the mom, I'm allowed to do this," I marched right up that hill to the school office; and I signed that early dismissal form.
My daughter Caroline and I waved goodbye for the summer and broke out into a run for the car (ok, mine was more of a limping jog).
Seat belts buckled...Check.
And radio blaring... Wait!!! No!!! Not on NPR!!!...
Radio blaring on 95.1 (the popular teen station- ugh), and we were FREE! AT LAST!
We were rebels! We were officially road-tripping! Just us! In my Duke-blue Honda Odyssey! The excitement of it all...the intrigue...the adventure...we were all on our own (meaning I only had one kid with me) We were on our way! All the way to...
Greensboro, North Carolina for The Amputee Coalition Conference!
Hey now, it was cool to us. Well, it was to me anyway. I was losing faith that my nine-year-old thought it was anywhere near cool.
After trying and failing to find a roommate to split costs, I had decided to invite my eldest daughter Caroline to join me for the voyage. The deal was that she would help me with my prosthetics and with showering in a hotel bathroom; in return, she would get to stay in a hotel room (why do kids love hotels so much?) and watch cable television, as well as order room service once or twice.
No child had ever accompanied me on a trip like this before, and there was much chatter, bragging, and jealous fighting heard among the troops. Suddenly, a weekend in Greensboro had become the trip of a lifetime, and Caroline was the lucky daughter that won the lottery.
You can guess what came next: All of my kids suddenly became Supreme Court Justices. This trip wasn't "fair!" Tough.
The daydreams that danced in my head sounded something like this: What would my first Amputee Coalition Conference be like? What would I do there, and who would I meet? What new things would I learn? And what new products would I find?
Meanwhile, my daughter's thoughts and dreams probably sounded more like this: I wonder if I'll get my own bed? Is a "Sheraton" a nice hotel? I wonder what channels they get...Disney, I hope! Maybe even Nickelodeon? Will my mom let me stay up late and watch whatever I want? Hmmm...What's room service really like? Does a man in a tuxedo deliver it with a silver dome cover and then unveil it like on "Jesse" (Mom hates that show with a "heated passion," whatever that means.) Will room service deliver cheese burgers? Dessert? I wonder what they have for breakfast? Will my mom let me spend all this money?
As the miles traveled under our car and we got closer to our destination, our hopes only got higher. We sang and danced along with the radio. We enjoyed long, comfortable silences. And she suffered through a few of those longer, awkward, "birds and bees" talks that have to be reserved for when a tween is strapped down and doesn't have to make eye contact - she became my captive audience, and a gulping, gagging POTT (prisoner of "the talk"), not to be confused with a political POW (prisoner of war).
We finally arrived at the conference, and our "Mommy-Daughter" our dreams were fulfilled. Caroline got a double bed, all to herself! To her, the Sheraton was a five-star hotel. They had cable, so she got to watch the newest episodes of all the Disney hits. Its room service measured up as well - cheeseburgers and fries, ice cream sundaes, pancakes, eggs, and bacon were all on the menu (and they were quite reasonable, thank goodness!
One of my favorite parts of the weekend was when I overheard her child-like voice on the phone, apprehensively placing our room service order: (and I quote) "l would like, please, a plain cheeseburger with pickles, ketchup, and a Sprite. My mom would like, please, a plain cheese pizza and Kendall Jackson."
Caroline's favorite part was something she'd never even heard of - an "Expo." She'd never dreamed of so much "free" stuff! Pens, ear buds, pens with a stylus attached, key chains, candy, more pens, t-shirts, food, a selfie stick, and even more pens! The reps for each company were generous, too; we were even able to get enough "free stuff" to share with all the other Seaford kids. So, while mom was talking with sales representatives about new kinds of hands and feet, Caroline was filling up her bag (and her mouth and her pockets) with "free stuff!"
I should also mention here that Caroline truly loved being an only child for four days. She got to sit "shotgun," and she got to make all of life's biggest decisions - where we stopped for lunch, what we watched on television, even what time we went to sleep each night.
I was trying to be the "cool" mom, relaxing all the rules and treating her as an equal. I knew I had taken things a bit too far when Caroline started to instill order herself.
At one point, she told me it was time to turn the lights off and get some sleep as we "had an early event the next day." She kept us prompt for each breakout session, too. Then, on our last night, when I returned from the closing reception; I found her eagerly waiting at the door with her eyes on her watch, mumbling a passive-aggressive comment, something to the effect of "I hope you had fun down there tonight, little lady..." I stifled a giggle when I realized that she had treated the time I said I'd be back to the room as my curfew!
Don't worry. The appropriate order was instilled by our last morning together. Caroline whined about being hungry and complained when I told her she'd have to help me put on my leg, brush her teeth, and pack up her suitcase before we went to grab breakfast. She loudly complained: "Why did we have to brush our teeth when we were just going to mess them up with bagels and cream cheese? Why do we have do go home? Why can't daddy hold down the fort for one more day? He's not really going to run away and leave Ben in charge."
Phew! Order was restored! And Seaford legend has it that I let Caroline watch one more Disney sitcom (which turned into the requisite three) before we hit the road.