Hallie and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The day started with an inauspicious beginning: I was up nursing Geoffrey at 4 am when I heard Teddy crying for me. I went into his room and found him standing up, sobbing. By the time I soothed him back to sleep, Geoffrey was up squawking again because he lost his pacifier, and by the time I calmed him down Teddy was back up. I did this jack-in-the-box routine for several more hours until finally I just gave up and called it a morning.

Jo Jo came down with a mystery virus Tuesday night—it’s a weird bug going around, where the kids spike a high fever for a day or two and then it disappears. I wondered if Teddy was coming down with it, but he seemed happy and was eating his breakfast so I forgot about it. We were planning on driving up to our house in Canada the next day and I had a whole lot of packing to do.

Mid morning the phone rang. It was Jo Jo’s local audiologist.”I’m calling to go over the results of Johanna’s hearing test,” she said briskly. “I just got the report from Yale.”

I was surprised. We’d taken Jo Jo to  Yale for a sedated hearing test a few weeks ago, but as far as I knew there was nothing to talk about. When the audiologist had walked out after the procedure, holding a groggy Jo Jo in her arms, she’d smiled reassuringly and told me everything was fine.

“Yeah, it’s such a relief that the test was normal,” I said.

There was silence on the other end of the phone. “Your daughter still has hearing loss,” the audiologist said finally. “It falls into the slight to mild range, but it needs to be treated. I want to send her to Blythesdale Children’s Hospital to meet with the audiologist there.  A sound enhancement system in her classroom may not be enough. She may need a hearing aid.”

I was stunned. “The audiologist there said she had normal hearing and to get it rechecked in a year,” I said, thinking, it’s Yale, goddamit. Can’t I trust anyone to get anything with my daughter’s health right? “If you hadn’t called me to go over it, I wouldn’t have known,” I said. “I can’t believe this.” I’d done all my research on hearing loss and knew now that even slight hearing loss could cause major setbacks in speech development and, ultimately, in learning how to read.  “What a major screw up.”

The audiologist sighed. “I’m just as surprised as you are, frankly,” she said. “I can’t imagine what they were thinking.”

As soon as I hung up the phone, my sitter walked in. “Teddy’s burning up,” she told me.

I walked into the playroom and found Teddy lying listlessly on the ground, hugging his blankie. His eyes were glassy and red. When I took his temperature it was almost 104.

“These things always happen right before you’re supposed to go on vacation,” the pediatrician said cheerfully an hour later in his office.  “The fever only lasts a day or two. You’ll probably be able to get up there Sunday or Monday.”

A few minutes later, we were back in the car driving home, Teddy listlessly sucking on a few goldfish crackers. I was about to make a left turn off of Morgan street onto Strawberry Hill Court when I noticed a black Dodge making a very wide turn onto Morgan street. So wide, in fact, that it seemed to be coming right at me. It was. A minute later the car was smashed against mine. I could see the driver, an elderly woman with white blonde hair. Her eyes were wide in shock and we were so close I could see her heavily lipsticked lips forming an O.

I frantically turned around and began patting my son. “Teddy, Teddy are you okay?” I asked hysterically.

He was pointing at the wreckage in front of him. “Bus,” he said somberly. “Nana hit our bus.”

Nana is Teddy and Jo Jo’s word for my mother. “Sweetie, that’s not Nana,” I started to say but then I stopped. The woman had backed up and was starting to drive right past us. “Wait!” I yelled, leaping out. “Come back here. You just hit my car!”

She rolled down her window. “Oh dear,” she said apologetically. “I’m really sorry about your car, but I’m in a bit of a rush. I need to pick up my husband from the doctor’s. He’s ill and can’t walk. Can we do this later?” “I have a two year old with a temperature of 103 in the car,” I said through gritted teeth. “We will do this now. Right now. Otherwise I will take down your license plate and report you as fleeing an accident.”

She sighed. “All right then,” she said and pulled over to the curb.

I followed her.

“Again, I’m so sorry, “ she said as she climbed out. She reeked of perfume, something floral and unbelievably heavy. “I told the rental company to get me another car. It’s those damn side view mirrors. You can’t see anything out of them. Oh what an adorable little boy you have there. Hi sweetie!” she said, knocking on the glass. My son just stared at her. “Juice,” he finally said. “Teddy want juice.”

“I need to take down your license and insurance information,” I told her, fumbling through my diaper bag for a juice box. I had never been in an accident before, but it seemed like the reasonable thing to do.

“Oh dear,” she said again. “I don’t have my insurance information. It’s in the glove compartment of my car, which is being repaired in Norwalk. This is a rental car. But I can get you my driver’s license number and my contact information and I’m sure we can work this out.”

 “Fine,” I said. “In the meantime I’ll call 911. We need to file a police report.”

She got flustered. “Do we really need to do that?” she asked nervously. “It might take a while, and I need to pick up my husband.” She pointed to a medical building a couple blocks down. “He’s right there. Can I at least get him and come back?”

She was making me feel like an ogre, or at the very least a bully who picked on little old ladies. “If I have your license information, I guess so.”

I called 911, and then called Jamie, and then called my insurance company. A few minutes later the woman came back. “I called the rental car company and they gave me my insurance information,” she said brightly. “There’s my husband,” she said, pointing to a white haired man sitting in the passenger side of the car. He stuck his head out of the window and waved.

“Oh my,” she said, shaking her head. “I knew I should have insisted they give me another rental car. That car is just so dangerous to drive, with those awful side view mirrors.”

“I’m not sure how those mirrors could have made a difference,” I said. “You were coming straight at me. You had to have seen me.”

“Well those turns are tricky,” she chirped. “The exact same thing happened to me in a parking lot a few weeks ago. That’s why my car’s in the shop in Norwalk now, being repaired.”

I stared at her.

“It was the other driver’s fault,” she said brightly.

She smiled sweetly at me. “Do you know how long this is going to take? I’m about to run out of gas.” She lowered her voice. “I meant to stop on the way to pick up my husband, but I was in such a rush I didn’t have time.”

She seemed like such a warm cookies and milk Nana type, and I wondered if I was being too hard on her. But then I reminded myself that most Nanas wouldn’t try to flee the scene of an accident. “You can turn your car off,” I said grimly.

“I don’t want my husband to get overheated,” she started to say, but just then a police car pulled up, followed by Jamie.

“It’s all my fault,” she chirped as the police officer got out. “I take full responsibility!”

A half hour later we were home. I was fine, Teddy was fine, and the car, although banged up, was miraculously fine. Jamie and I drove it to the Toyota dealership to get it checked out and were reassured it would be okay to drive it up to Canada.

Still, there was no sugar coating it: my day had been crappy.

There was one silver lining, though.

Around 4 pm I escaped the house to run some errands. I was desperate for some alone time. As I was pursuing the baby section of Bed Bath and Beyond, I saw another mother with a newborn baby girl.

“Congrats,” I said to her. “She’s beautiful. I have a two month old at home.” She smiled at me. “Isabella just turned a month old,” she said, and we exchanged idle new mom chit chat for a moment. It turned out Isabella was her third, too. I don’t know what spurred me, but somehow I felt like I had to confide in her. “I had the crappiest of days today,” I told her, and it all came spilling out: the kids with the 104 degree fever, my worries that Geoffrey would get sick too, the pediatrician appointment, the car accident.

“That’s outrageous,” she said sympathetically when I’d finished. “You shouldn’t worry that you were too hard on that woman, though. She clearly shouldn’t be driving. The next time she gets into an accident she could kill someone.”

“I guess,” I sighed. Isabella began fussing and I leaned in closer to see her. “She has such gorgeous black hair,” I said.

Her mother bent forward and adjusted the bottle in Isabella’s mouth. “She has a cleft lip and palate.” She said it in a matter of fact manner, but I could detect an undercurrent of anxiety in her tone. When she pulled away I saw the gap in the baby’s upper lip between her mouth and nose.

“Oh,” I said. I wasn’t sure what to say. Then I remembered those early months when Jo Jo was an infant, those awkward, painful conversations with people who just didn’t know how to respond when I told them my adorable little baby had Down Syndrome. I decided being straightforward was the key. “Did you deliver at Stamford?”

“Yes,” she said cautiously. “She was in the NICU for five days.”

“My oldest, Johanna, was in the NICU too,” I said. “She had to have intestinal surgery when she was five days old.” The woman looked shocked. “She has Down Syndrome,” I explained.

“Oh,” the woman said, a look of pity crossing her face, and then I watched as she mentally corrected herself. “Where did you have the surgery done? We’re going to Yale.”

The conversation flowed from there. We talked about Birth to Three, and the services Isabella would need, and I asked for her email address so I could email her the names of my favorite therapists.

“I’d love it if we had a playdate,” she said shyly. “My two oldest are 4 and 2, so the same ages as yours. It would be fun to get everyone together.”

“That would be great,” I said, and I meant it.

When I walked out, I realized I never would have met her if I hadn’t had such a terrible day. I wouldn’t have felt the need to get out of the house, and I wouldn’t have been in Bed, Bath and Beyond, and I wouldn’t have felt so exhausted and anxious that I would drop my guard enough to unburden myself to a complete stranger.

I guess that old saying is true—if life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Or, in my version of it, you can sometimes find a real gem in a pile of crap.