‘life is what happens to you…

while you are busy making other plans.’ ~ john lennon

We had been planning to take the girls to Disney this February for a while. It’s one of the few times of the year that Frank is guaranteed to get vacation time and it’s actually a great time to go to Disney – low crowd volume and comfortable temperatures. A win/win in our books.

We booked our flights, we booked our Disney vacation and started counting down the days to a magical experience.

Oh, and was it an experience.

In the days leading up to our departure, the weather in Illinois took a nose dive of epic proportions. School was canceled three days in one week – one day for snow and two days for extreme cold. We started wondering if our flight would depart. Visions of standing in the airport wearing Mickey Ears and telling the kids “bummer, man” broke our hearts. So we did what any rational pair of parents would do: we cleaned out the minivan, tanked up, packed for a road trip and got the heck out of Chicago. As we drove expeditiously down I-65 through Indy, the Polar Vortex swooped in behind us. While Chicago endured painfully cold temperatures in the -30 range (-50 wind chill), we soaked up a balmy +22 at a lunch break in Nashville. We laughed maniacally as we passed signs warning Tennessee drivers of the dangers of their cold snap, cautioning them to stay off the roads. HaHa! Silly Tennesseans – +22 degrees Fahrenheit is a sign of an early spring in Chicago!

2019 atlanta pic

We made it to Atlanta!

By the time we rolled into Atlanta, the temperatures were in the 50s and the girls shed their winter coats. We snapped a picture in front of a favorite pizza place in East Atlanta. The Georgian lady who took the picture was bundled up from head to toe. She seemed ready to admonish us for our parenting skills when she saw our girls running around without jackets, but when we told her we were from Chicago, she nodded understandingly and took the picture without further comment.

As Chicago continued to battle extreme cold into a second day, our salt-crusted minivan rolled onward into Orlando. We could easily spot the out-of-towners by the sheen of gray that coated the bottom two thirds of the minivans that we passed.  Shiny cars with Georgia and Florida plates besmirched by the unwashed crossovers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio… like refugees from the badlands of a Mad Max movie, we cruised down to the promised paradise of fast passes and meal plans, giving a knowing nod to each other at 75 mph.

Stands of palm trees greeted us at the Florida border and the girls could barely contain their joy at the warm sunshine that awaited us at our Cracker Barrel lunch stop. Frank suggested washing the car, but we decided against it. The salty coating became a banner of triumph – our vacation would not be ruined!


“It’s a small world after all!” Turns out, it’s also a small minivan, too.

We arrived in Orlando at the Fort Wilderness Cabins with plenty of time to explore and marvel at all things Disney. It was barely 65 degrees and the sun was setting when we set off to check out the pool at the cabins. To our surprise, we found three swimmers and a chilly mom enjoying the water. Northerners, of course!

Our vacation was lovely. We spent our first night at Fort Wilderness Cabins and the rest of our stay at the Polynesian. The food was delicious, the theme parks comfortably attended and easy wait times for all of the rides. Memories were made, no doubt about it.

And then came the ride home.

We knew that we had to minimize how much school the kidlets missed.  The polar vortex threw a wrench in our absentee planning.  The day before, we simply said “we’ll get up early, go as far as we can, and when we get tired, we’ll pull over and get a hotel.”  And that’s what we did.  We got up at 4:45 central, wondering if we could do the Orlando to Chicago drive in one day. We eyed the girls, checked our supply of snacks and figured we would drive in the direction of Chicago and see what happened.


Not 30 minutes outside of Orlando, Ellie started puking. And running a fever. We stocked up on garbage bags and weighed our options: we could stop and Ellie could puke in a hotel room while the four of us watched or we could keep driving. Ellie wasn’t complaining, just puking, so we pushed onward. She puked through Florida and she puked through Georgia and she puked through Tennessee. We stopped at a Panera outside of Atlanta for lunch, and Ellie and I sat in the car working out the most optimal positions for the garbage bags.

Somewhere around Kentucky, Ellie started to feel a little bit better. She looked pale and felt feverish, but she got really excited about eating at Cracker Barrel for dinner. She cautiously ate some food and seemed slightly improved. Onward through Kentucky!

We stopped when we got to Indiana and changed the kids into pajamas. We enjoyed a rousing game of 20 questions and Annie and Carrie enjoyed some cookies they had been eying since Chattanooga.

Then, just south of Indy at 9:00 central, the kids are in their jammies, starting to fade into the dreams of children that have just been to Disney World:

“Mom, I don’t feel good.”

I turned slowly in my seat and was surprised to hear this statement coming from Annie. NO! Poop. (Not the actual word we thought loudly in our heads…)

With the speed and precision that only a mom who has been dealing with barf all day can achieve, I pulled out a black garbage bag for Annie and set her up with it. The opening of the bag had a three foot diameter, an easy target to hit at close range for a four year old.

“Just everyone go to sleep!” Frank pleaded while driving.

If we could just get home… 3 more hours…

A few minutes later Annie started puking, but her accuracy was lacking. Instead of puking straight forward, or even a little bit to the left or right, she turned her head a full 90 degrees to the side. When we pulled over at the gas station to assess the damage, we realized that Carrie had taken a significant puke hit – but had somehow slept through the initial barrage.

Waking Carrie up to tell her she had puke on her was both a parental nightmare – but also a strange sort of highlight as well. “Carrie, baby, don’t move, sweetie. Wake up, but don’t move, ok baby doll?” The look on Carrie’s face was a combination of stunned concern and contained anger as she grappled with the new information we were trying to share with her.

Bewildered horror flashed across her face as she assessed the damage. She raised her hand up and in a high screeching voice said, “It’s on … my…. thumb!”

Oh, honey pie – it’s not just your thumb, I thought – trying not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

At a gas station, in rural Indiana (is there any other kind of Indiana?) in driving, cold, 33 degree rain, I purchased a tub of Clorox wipes, paper towels and more garbage bags from a 20-something gas station attendant.

“You know what this is all for?” I asked him. He shook his head. “Puke. My kids puked.” His eyebrows shot skyward. If that isn’t good birth control, I don’t know what is. You’re welcome, young people of Indiana.  Gaze upon your future and weep.

I went outside to find Carrie next to the minivan, standing as still as a statue with a semi-permanent look of horror on her face. Over the next 20 minutes, we cleaned up Carrie, Annie and the minivan. We checked the weather in Chicago and found that all of the early predictions for an ice storm (because, of course) were actually coming to fruition.

I’ll spare you the details of the discussion that occurred between Frank and I as we weighed our options, but we eventually came to an agreement that five of us in a hotel room with two puking children was far worse than doing our best to make it home to Chicago. So onward we went.

By the time we made it to Chicago, the worst of the ice storm had passed and the roads were cleared and salted. We rolled into our garage at 1 a.m. with 14 miles left on the gas tank on the minivan.  If a hubcap had rolled off our car as we pulled into the driveway, we would not have been surprised.

The lessons from this trip are many. One, we are so grateful that none of this vomiting occurred while we were at Disney. It was awful driving home, but at least we didn’t miss out on the actual Disney experience. Two, we can do hard things. Three, we can laugh at just about anything. Four, always fly (preferably Southwest, now with service to Hawaii!).

For those wondering, our flights in both directions took off on time, despite nasty weather

2 thoughts on “‘life is what happens to you…

  1. Dang! What a great memory to share when they are older though. Good work getting them all home. Btw I agree, Southwest is the way to go!!

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