I have a tendency to go overboard. Particularly when it comes to my oldest son’s birthday. I’ve done it every birthday for the past 8 years. I plan a big party with a custom theme and a homemade character cake of his choosing. I hand make party bags and table centerpieces. I prepare ridiculous amounts of food. I obsess over every detail and I knowingly set unrealistic expectations for how long it all will take me and how smoothly the preparation process will go. I intentionally drive myself to my breaking point. I’ll spare you underlying psychological reasons I do this.
Since moving to NYC it has become increasingly difficult to maintain full control over his birthday events. I have necessarily had to outsource, because there’s not much you can do party-wise in an 850SF apartment. So this year, one night while I was lying in bed checking my email way too late, I got a brilliant idea after seeing a promotion in my inbox. Why not celebrate his birthday with a few friends at Great Wolf Lodge? It’s one of his favorite places. We had already promised the boys a trip back this winter. He has a small group of close friends. It would be comparable from a cost perspective to finding something to do in the city.
So I sent a quick text to my husband, who was traveling, to confirm he was on board. “Sure. Sounds great. GO TO BED,” was his response. But I couldn’t just go to bed. I had to make this happen. NOW. About 10 minutes later, I had a confirmation email in my inbox and the wheels that were already spinning in my head kicked into high gear. I had to email parents to confirm they would let their kids do this, and their kids would be comfortable doing this. I had to make a food plan (because I can’t do anything without a food plan). I had to figure out what to do with my youngest son (because I thought it would be nice to not have him cramping his brother’s style for once). I had to figure out how to get us all there, because we weren’t all fitting in our car. I had to make custom gift bags for each of the boys to keep them occupied for the 90 minute car ride. (How did I ever survive the 24 hour drive to Grandma’s in Florida when I was a kid?)
Just like that, my job for the next two weeks turned into party planner. I created detailed lists leading up to departure day.
Lists of each snack and meal I would prepare for the kids.
Lists of each item I needed for their gift bags.
Lists of ingredients to purchase in order to execute the snack and meal plan.
Lists of things to pack. Lists of people to call and contact.
Lists of how I was going to get everything on my lists done.
I was focused. I was driven. I had everything under control. No detail was overlooked. Nothing was going to get in the way of this perfect birthday weekend I had planned. Before I knew it, it was Friday morning, the day before our departure. Monogrammed gift bags were ready for each boy. Rental car was lined up. Grocery and supply shopping was finished. Laundry was done. Everything had fallen into place as designed, and all I had left to finish up was the baking: birthday cake, chocolate zucchini muffins, and chocolate chip cookies. (I did mention I have a tendency to go overboard, right?)
I started my day with a workout, as I had missed quite a few recently between snow days for my youngest and my focus on marking off items on the birthday plan lists. As I lay on the gym mat, stretching out the sore spots in muscles out of practice, relishing a few moments of quiet before the baking extravaganza that lay ahead of me, my quiet mind was suddenly snapped back to attention. I haven’t received the “Looking Forward to Your Stay Email”. Don’t they always send a “Looking Forward to Your Stay Email” the day before? My stomach lurched. I had that feeling. That, something is wrong, feeling.
I pulled out my phone and searched for the confirmation email. Yes. Here it is. I clicked it open. Guest Reservation Details: Number of Guests- 2 Adults, 5 Children, Arrival Date: 1/22/14, Departure Date: 1/23/14. My brain imploded. January 22nd??? No. It’s supposed to be February 8th. I frantically searched for another confirmation email. This has to be a mistake. Nothing. I immediately pull up their website (thank you, smartphone) to confirm what I already knew would be true. Sold out. Aaaaargh!
I’m now running behind to pick my youngest up from an early dismissal day at school. As I scramble the few blocks up to his school I dial the number to Great Wolf Lodge, because of course this couldn’t wait until we got home. Thank you for calling Great Wolf Lodge. This is our busiest time of the year. We appreciate your patience. You are number 34 in line to speak to a representative. Aaaaargh! After five minutes, the gracious hold recording offers to save my place in line and call me back when a representative is available. Against my better judgment, I acquiesce. My son is ready to walk home, so I make sure the ringer on my phone is turned to the highest possible setting and off we go. My mind is filled with what if’s and whys. What am I supposed to tell my son? How am I going to explain to a group of boys who haven’t stopped talking about this for the past two weeks, that it’s not going to happen? How could I screw this up? Why didn’t I review that email when it came? My younger son is talking to me, but his words are floating in the space just outside my brain. I have no idea what he is saying.
I’m trapped in my reverie and we are standing at the corner of a busy intersection, waiting for our signal to cross. An ambulance crosses our path, sirens blaring, and I snap back. I recognize just how loud it is and quickly glance down at the phone resting in my left hand. One missed call. Aaaaargh! We are less than two blocks from home. But it can’t wait. I have to fix it. NOW. I re-dial the number. Thank you for calling Great Wolf Lodge. This is our busiest time of the year. We appreciate your patience. You are number 37 in line to speak to a representative. Aaaaargh! My son is still talking to me. I am still unable to process what he is saying. The gracious hold recording once again offers to save my place in line and call me back when a representative is available. No thanks.
My son is still talking. “I’m cold mommy. My face is cold.” The young woman walking in front of us turns to him with compassion and says, “I know sweetie, I’m really cold too.” She gives me a dirty look and I am slapped back to reality. Oh my gosh. I’m one of them. I’m one of those women I see heartlessly dragging her kids along, snapping at them. Not seeing them. Not hearing them. “I know bud. We’re almost home. I’m sorry I forgot your face mask.”
Back in our apartment, my turn with the next representative finally arrives. She is friendly and pleasant. I know it isn’t her fault. It is my fault. I take a deep breathe and explain my situation to her. “A few weeks back, I made a reservation online to stay tomorrow night with my son and his friends for his birthday. Today, when I pulled up my confirmation email, I noticed that it indicated the date of my stay is January 22nd, the date I made the reservation.” “Ok, give me your name and confirmation number and credit card you used to make the reservation and I will look into it,” she replied.
She placed me on hold. The seconds ticked into minutes. The minutes ticked into a quarter hour. With each passing moment, I knew that whatever was going on at the other end of the phone, it wasn’t good. Finally, she came back. “Ok, I do see your reservation, and I do see that it was processed for the same day you made it. I’m going to connect you with the hotel directly. I am just in central reservations and there is nothing I can do for you. You are going to have to speak to someone there.” I knew what this meant. She didn’t have a room to give me.
The tears I had been desperately holding back came. “Does this mean you can’t give me a room? Please, can you help me? I can’t disappoint my son.” Perhaps she was a mother herself. Perhaps she knew the crushing blow of unmet expectations. Perhaps she simply had compassion for a stranger. “Ok, hold on again,” she told me.
As the seconds turned into minutes again, I stood in the middle of my kitchen, surrounded by bags of flour and sugar, jars of oil and vanilla, watching my perfect plan crumble to pieces. So I gave up, and I started praying. God, I know this is silly. I know I am totally undeserving. No one is sick or dying or starving. I know this. But I also know I am at the end. There’s nothing I can do to change this. All there is left to do is look to you. However this ends, it will be.
And I felt at peace. I knew that whatever happened, it would be ok. My son would be ok. I would be ok. We would be ok.
A few minutes later, the reservations representative was back. “I talked to the hotel for you. Unfortunately, we do not have a comparable room to offer you, as everything is completely booked. We can, however, offer you the Majestic Bear Suite for tomorrow night. It’s not a kid-themed room, but it’s the largest suite we have and will comfortably accommodate your group. We will honor the rate you were charged when booking your reservation and we will apply the forfeiture deposit we charged to your credit card to any balance you have at the end of your stay.”
Tears filled my eyes again, but this time they were tears of gratitude. “Thank you, so, so much,” I told the faceless stranger on the other end of the line. “Thank you. Thank you.”
The final 12 hours of preparation for our trip were filled with road blocks and things gone wrong. Not one, but two cakes baked, that didn’t turn out; a car plowed in to its parking spot by two feet of now frozen snow; a birthday boy who woke up in tears with a sharp pain in his neck and an inability to turn his head. But still there was peace, because I knew it didn’t have to be perfect. I knew I didn’t have to be perfect. I knew we didn’t have to be perfect. We just had to be.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7