I learned a lot of things in 2014.
Like: Trying to feed a toddler quinoa is pointless.
Ordering a second bottle of champagne is a bad idea.
And, the wheel of fortune is a rough ride.
We learned that last one back in November after a trip to New Orleans. Matt and I were there to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary with three days of boozin’, snoozin’ and bayou-zin’ (not a real thing). We had left the triplets back in Reston, Virginia, with their gramps and grandma for their own decadent weekend of Chuck E. Cheese, indoor playgrounds, fruit smoothies and—their favorite—shiny pieces of trash.
We picked New Orleans because I used to live there a long time ago and hadn’t been back since, and Matt had never been at all. As we walked from our hotel into the Quarter, I was telling Matt about Bourbon Street during Carnival season—the wad of humans surfing a wave of garbage into daiquiri bars and strip clubs—leaving cameras, wallets and clothing in their wake.
“I used to find a ton of money on the street,” I told Matt as we made our way down Canal. And—no joke—just at that exact instant, a man walking by pelted a fistful of change at our faces. The coins scattered along the sidewalk as our jaws dropped open.
It seemed that magic was afoot.
The next day, walking back to our hotel after beignets in Jackson Square, Matt announced he needed a massage because his back was bothering him. As we turned the corner a Chinese woman jumped out of a door and screamed at us, “YOU WANNA MASSAGE?” And just like that, we found ourselves in a seedy massage parlor, with a man grinding his elbows into Matt’s back while I snapped photos of it gleefully.
Obviously these two incidents were just coincidences—right? Wrong. Later that night, over drinks with our friends Jeff and Libby, we told them of our magical powers. Just as we finished impressing them, a mysterious bearded bartender stuck his head through a nearby plant, handed us four free shots of whiskey, and disappeared back into the foliage.
“You are magic!” Libby exclaimed. We were. We really were.
Then we came home, where the buzz wore off and the magic dried up like a baby alligator head in a New Orleans souvenir shop.
Matt’s dad and stepmom picked us up from Dulles in our van, already loaded with babies and baby gear. As soon as we opened the door, the smell hit us like a ton of bricks. It was the unmistakable fragrance of Bourbon Street.
Gramps and grandma had a barf bucket positioned between them in the front of the car. Just before leaving to pick us up, they had been hit suddenly and violently with some nasty bug, courtesy of Chuck E. Cheese and his sewer pizza. I felt terrible. While Matt and I were stuck in Houston, secretly hoping our flight would be delayed a little longer so we could catch up on Serial, his dad and stepmom were chasing after three active toddlers while deathly ill. These people were heroes.
We managed to drop the grandparents off at home and make it back to Richmond without incident. But, as we were laying the boys down in their cribs, Finn suddenly lurched up with a belch. I scooped him up just as he ejected a stream of vomit out of his mouth and onto my neck and the curtain behind me.
When someone vomits on your neck, you can be at a loss for what to do. I stood there, in a stupor, as Finn kept at it. Finally, as the barf tapered to a close, my brain switched back on. “You give him a bath,” I said, pushing the small, putrid human into Matt’s arms. “I’ll clean.” As I mopped up Finn’s dinner, I prayed that was the end of it.
But it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. A few hours later, a second belch jerked us awake. This time it was Bran, quickly followed by a belching Jem. The rest of the night was spent sitting on the floor with a baby in each of our laps, holding a bowl under their chins as they burped and spewed.
This was the triplets’ inaugural stomach bug, and we were really afraid that we’d get it, too, and be so sick we couldn’t take care of them. Lucky for us, the next morning they all seemed to be feeling great—rising to their high standards of cheerful disobedience. But later that night, just as things started to feel safe again, I lurched up with a belch.
Honestly? It wasn’t that bad for a stomach bug. One of my favorites, actually. After one trip to the bathroom it was over and I could get back to watching Dateline.
The next day we left to spend Thanksgiving with my family on the Eastern Shore, and I was pretty confident that we would be arriving disease-free. My sister Gillian and her family—including my two-month old nephew—were already there. I tried to keep my distance from him just to be on the safe side, but he looked so much like a particular Cabbage Patch Kid from our youth that I eventually broke down and grabbed him with my toilet hands.
This is not the part where I tell you that I got my newborn nephew violently ill with the stomach bug. If that had happened I would probably have slunk off somewhere to die from guilt. No, little Jon Scott escaped unharmed. But his older sister, Emmeline, and my brother-in-law, Scott, got the pukes right in time for their return trip to Texas. And my poor mom and dad were laid out, plus my brother and his whole family.
I still feel terrible when I think about the amount of vomit we caused. That Thanksgiving will go down in history as the worst, but also the first one where we all looked pretty svelte afterwards. Which, I guess, is something to be thankful for.
We learned some valuable lessons from this week of heaven and hell. One, that New Orleans is a place of curious magic. And two, all that magic—not the voodoo of Marie Laveau, the soothing ether of Aaron Neville’s falsetto, or the healing remoulade of Bubba Gump—is any match against that dirty rat Chuck E. Cheese and his filthy ball pit.