Sunday, December 12, 2010

The lottery.

It all began with a lovely date night with my husband on the eve of my birthday.  His company's holiday party, filled with friendly conversation and plenty of martini glasses filled with, uh, cheer.  We had a great time, wrapped up the evening with a gourmet pizza, prosciutto, and olives at a posh Italian restaurant in downtown Chicago, and rested our spirit-filled heads at an oasis in the city.  End scene.

December 11.  My birthday.

I awake in the hotel, no insanity, no headache, no kids yelling my name or demanding things as I emerge from my slumber.  Instead peace and quiet with the love of my life.

Nice.  And.  Quiet.

We take our time stirring, indulge in the custom-order breakfast with compliments of the hotel, and call to check in with our family who are watching the boys.

After our laze, we get ready and head out into the gray Chicago morning to meet up with family and pick up the boys so we can head over to a friends' house for brunch.  As we meet up with the boys, Mikey's little sparkling blue eyes peer over the descending window.  He and Dylan are bundled up in their car-seats.  "Happy birthday, Mommy!"  Michael flashes a broad smile like he has just opened a gift.

After some quick chit-chat, I hop in the car.  And I get the report from Uncle...  Michael refused to wear his cheery red sweater.  Standard.  I can't wait to see what's ahead for the day.  We shove off to the party.

We arrive at our brunch and friends start arriving.  To my delight, I see that Michael is wearing his festive, prep sweater.  I ask Lou how he managed that negotiation so seamlessly, since we have both agreed that Michael is an expert negotiator.  "Actually, Michael was really good about it.  He put it right on when I asked him."  Really?!  My child?  Refused something and then pleasantly agreed?  Clearly, this is not my child.  Or better this is not my life.  I am just waiting for the Ghost of Christmas Past to appear.

The boys are playing and visiting with the other tots.  The adults are enjoying some laughs and the lovely gathering of friends that span decades.  What a great birthday, I observe, watching the pleasantries.  We all have some laughs about Michael and Dylan's slow-motion boxing matches.  Dylan's acting performance, one of my good friends observes, can earn him an Oscar.  Michael's deliberate right uppercut sends Dylan slowly crumpling into a heap on the floor.  Emotionless defeat in the toddler's face.  He slumps and doesn't move.  All the adults are in an uproar laughing.  Yes, these are my boys.  Full of life, funny as hell, and the center of the party.

In my brain, I decide that going home and throwing on my yoga pants and take-out from my favorite Italian restaurant with my husband would be the topper for the day.  Fun, relaxed, and a perfect way to welcome my mid-thirties.

After 3 hours, the kids are melting down as evidenced by Dylan's tantrum once he spots my holding his pint-size dress shoes.  He dramatically throws himself on the floor kicking and screaming.  Writhing around on the floor, he is verbally assaulting me in his own incomprehensible two-year-language and a right jab into my jaw.  After some wrestling and reprimanding, I am exhausted.  But the boys are bundled, ready to head out in the cold, dreary rain that has started to fall from the heavens.

Safe in the car, and my husband in his car caravanning behind us, we begin our trek home.  We hop on a busy street in northwest Chicago, heading for the highway to take us back out the burbs.  Pelting rain and a slushy mess, the conditions are worsening.  But the roads are surprisingly moving.  Maybe we will outrun the worst of the storm.


Screeching metal, my halting SUV hard-lines left toward another lane of traffic.  I recover the car, break and pull over out of the way of other bustling traffic just past a stoplight.  Michael starts screaming and Dylan is dazed and confused.  I start swearing.  I am yelling loudly and shaking frantically.  My brain scurries through a thousand thoughts, all hopeful we are all okay and that the car isn't insanely damaged.  The most prominent next thought is about my husband...  is he okay?  What the hell happened?  I am past being concerned when I see him pull his car over directly in front of my car, and get of his car, his feet landing firmly on the pavement.  Lou and I are both scowling and muttering as we get out of our respective cars trying to compare notes on what happened.

Since Lou had been in his car behind me, he had seen the entire collision.  It was simple.  Another driver had pulled out and hit my car.  I was in the flow of traffic going 30 mph, no turn signal on, no foot on the break pedal, nothing.  Just driving straight behind another car, and Lou's car behind mine.  This driver just pulled out into on-coming traffic.  That on-coming traffic being, Me.  Some birthday.

I stand in the pouring, icy rain as the man walks over.  He is visibly shaken.  He swiftly pulls out his wallet and tugs at his driver's license and insurance card.  He hands them to me and says, "I thought you were stopping to let me pull out."  WHAT?!  I am beyond annoyed at this point.

The passenger door of my car firmly resists as I open it to find a pen and start taking down this young man's information.  Great.  The damage to our car is considerable.  Just ask my passenger side door.  Michael is now crying and Dylan is screaming as I start to scramble for a piece of paper.  I explain to Michael that everyone is safe, everything is okay, but that we will a be few minutes to figure things out after our accident.  I ask for his patience.  He is a good boy, completely confused, but he continues crying.  Dylan, not understanding any of it, is still screaming.

Agitated, I begin writing down all of the other driver's information while Lou call the Chicago Police Department from his cell phone.   The cold rain is unrelenting and it is obvious that we are not going to get anywhere with the state of affairs.  The Chicago Police suggest we head over the nearest station to file the report.  I jot down frantically scraps of information as my shocked brain can digest them.

Name...  "Mikey, everything is fine."

Address...  somewhere in Maryland...  "Mikey, don't repeat the naughty words mommy said."

License plate number...  "Lou, 4560 Pulaski?  Is that the closest police station?"

The rain is blotting my hair and dripping in my eyes.  And then pen stops DEAD in my right hand.

I focus and refocus on his drivers' license.  No way.  I don't believe it.  His birthday.

December 11.  Today.

I snicker slightly at the absurdity.  I realize in that instant that this is fate's way of checking in with me.  A gentle reminder that all is okay with the world.  That there is a plan for me.  A plan for us.  Beyond what I can even fathom.

A collision's timing so unbelievable, you couldn't write it to be more ironic.

I lean out of my car and say, "Hey, man, it's my birthday too."  He responds, "Aww, no way, really?"

We hurriedly wrap up the business, give the young man the address of the Chicago PD, and we drive off headed for Chicago's Finest.  I learn that the other driver will not be able to come to the station immediately as his car will not budge from the spot where we crashed.  Stuck, he sits and waits for someone to pick him up.

I ponder this as I stand in the sterile, cold police station filing the report.  The officer is coolly pleasant.  I say to her, "It's my birthday."  She looks up and looks back down to keep writing the report.  "And, it is the other driver's birthday too."  She looks up again.  Not realizing fully what I said, I underscore, "both of our birthdays...  today."  Now, she smiles at me and laughs.  "You should go play the lottery."

Only 1,000 babies are born each year with CF in the United States.  Every time 2 carriers of the CF gene have a child together, there is only a 25% chance the child will have CF.  I would take 75% odds to Vegas.  The point is that the odds are against me and my husband having kids with CF.  For that matter, odds support that CF is rare.  But we had not one sweet angel with CF, but two.  And with the absurdity, I have often joked with people to not bother talking to me about odds...  that we already won the lottery in our house, the genetic lottery.  And one of our kids with CF also has food allergies.  And the odds keep me baffled.  How these things are possible are beyond me.  But it is simply part of my family's reality.

So, as the officer quips about the lottery, I start racking my brain for the possibilities of today.  The consequences of today.  The other driver and his path after today.  And what this all means.

Finally, the officer finishes scribbling, she hastily tears off my carbon copy proof the accident and shoves it across the counter.  Well, of course, proof beyond the undeniable gouge in my car's bumper and audible groan from my car door.  I get in the car as Lou hops out and the boys are dreaming sweetly, angelically in their car-seats.

Our cars pull out and we head off to battle the bumper to bumper traffic on Illinois' esteemed Kennedy tollway.  I am surprisingly lonely in the crawling traffic.  The thick, charcoal clouds and ruthless precipitation make the idling car void of any warmth, both literally and emotionally.  The searing red brake lights are irritating.  It is quiet except the pattering of the rain and the squeaking sweep of my windshield wipers.  My birthday.

My cell phone rings breaking the monotony.  The other driver on the other end of the phone explains that he is almost at the police station.  He asks me for my information, and I quickly counter that the police have everything he needs.  "And, oh," I laugh, "Happy Birthday."  You can hear the smile on his face on the other end of the line, "Oh yeah, you too.  Happy Birthday."  I hang up.

It is another hour before we swing open the door to our home, where the warm, glowing Christmas trees greet us.  And our insane chocolate labs keeps crying with joy that we have arrived home.

Quick decisions take shape for the two crabby boys to eat, do their breathing treatments, and snuggle into bed.  I want nothing to do with my designer boots or dress cloths.  Comfort is the prescription for me.  I rummage through a laundry basket and, score!, find my trusty yoga pants and favorite grubby top.  My husband leaves to pick up some reliable take-out from our choice restaurant, since clearly I am in no mood to make a meal.

I sit down.  No TV.  No iPhone.  No children.  No distractions.  Just like my quiet morning, my evening finds a serene moment, which is a rarity in my life.  Today's insanity was about pause.  I have my health.  I have a beautiful, healthy family.  I have food, a safe home, and warm clothes.  I have loved ones, family, friends, and wonderful support.  These peaceful thoughts envelope me.

It is in the this calm that I realize on my birthday that I have indeed won the lottery.


  1. You are my hero! Your outlook on the positive , humor and seriousness of the hand your dealt come with such peace and love. I really admire your strength Mary.

  2. wow....amazing..I am speechless.