“You’ll write about this. I mean, it’s a blog post: ‘Mom guilt and why it’s never ending.’”
“No matter what you do…” I said.
“No matter what you do,” Jenn said shaking her head while hailing a cab.
We had been in London for 26 hours (well, almost 28 if you count the hour and a half it took to get through customs when we landed), when I got the call: “You need to come home.”
Everett had been admitted to the hospital for a severe allergic reaction to Penicillin. At least at that point they thoughtthat’s what it was. For the sake of me being a virgo story, let me give you the timeline, as I think it adds dramatic flarewill help this all make sense. (Also, I’m writing this from a Korean Spa. I’ve just had milk and honey poured all over my body and I’m high on ramen soup. Bear with me).
On Wednesday morning 3/20- the day I was set to leave-, Everett woke up with a rash. He had finished his dose of antibiotics a few days prior so I wondered if it was a post viral thing or a reaction to the meds. To cross my t’s and dot my i’s before I left my world behind, I rushed him to the pediatrician in the morning to get him checked out. After all, I was leaving on a 4pm flight to London. JUST ME and one of my best girlfriends. No kids. No husbands. No responsibility. THUS, it was my duty to make sure all was good before what felt like I was abandoning the ship. OKAY, let me be honest – because that’s not true and also sort of the point of this post: I didn’t feel like I was abandoning anyone or anything. I felt so completely thrilled and deserving to be able to accompany my talented, interior designer friend on a trip to London to shop for her clients. It was a dream come true, really! We were going to shop for art and décor, drink champagne, see a show, tour modern art museums and even a private house tour, and I would see London in a COMPLETELY different way than I had in 1998…. When I stayed in a hostel by the train station because it was really only the first and last stop of our 2-month backpacking journey through Europe. Lonely planet told us it was too expensive so we spent little time there. Barcelona and Prague was where it was AT. I saw Buckingham Palace, ate shitty fish and chips at a pub in Piccadilly Circus, and got crapped on by a pigeon in Trafalgar square and I was OUT.
But 21 years later, I was going back. As a 42-year-old woman, with a new Anine Bing coat, studded combat boots, and leather leggings – just like the bloggers I was stalking on Instagram for that perfect “London Lewk.” Hashtag INFLUENCED!
So, I take Everett to the doctor… he says he’s having a mild reaction to the antibiotics and not to worry. Benadryl and bye. He will be fine. SO… off I go to Virgin Atlantic where one of the other best things about traveling sans children awaits: 10 hours on a flight with nothing but my own personal thoughts, Mrs. Maisel, InStyle magazine, and the 34 posts and things I WAS OF COURSE going to write because the world was my oyster and I was going to get OH so much accomplished.
But WI-FI. Ahh, wi-fi. The blessing and the curse… As we are oh, an hour in to the flight, I get a text that Peter has taken Everett to the urgent care as the rash, swelling, and now fever and vomiting are now worse. So worse in fact, they say he needs to be transported by ambulance to the ER. I’m not even over the Atlantic yet, and I’m only in the Catskills with Maisel’s fam. This isn’t good. He assures me all is okay and not to worry… they think it’s just a bad allergy.
Hello, anxiety. Goodbye, me getting anything accomplished on my freedom flight.
We land in London at around 9:30am London Time. By now, Peter and Ev are back at home and he’s asleep. Still not great, but they’re home and I’ve been assured that I reaaaally don’t need to worry. They just need sleep. By the time we get through customs and to our hotel, it’s 11:30ish. We quickly change and head out to prance through the streets of Knightsbridge… through Harrod’s and Harvey Nichols (and Zara too. Why is it soooo much better in Europe?). After shopping and prancing, we change and head to Claridge’s for a fancy high tea sesh. I mean, it doesn’t get any more British and dreamy as this….
But the baby… not good. It’s 4:30pm London time, which is 9:30am LA time… Peter tells me he’s concerned and his symptoms are not getting any better. He decides he would feel better to just take him to the ER at CHLA…. Just hearing the words CHLA gives me chills… Again, he tells me NOT to worry and NO. I do not need to come home. It’s all precautionary. Jenn, being the amazing friend she is, tells me we can leave London as early or as soon as we need to… I’m doing my best to keep my shit together and enjoy every single bite of my Dorington ham and truffle sandwich and the Buford brown egg with roasted duck on the most delicious white bread I’ve ever tasted, but my anxiety is a’brewing. When I get anxiety, which isn’t a lot (just kidding!), when I get anxiety – like the real kind- that causes mild panic attacks- I feel it in my face. My cheeks tingle and my stomach goes into knots. To cope with this feeling, a feeling that I hadn’t felt since Oliver’s days of CHLA, I doubled down on the sparkling champagne … as one does whilst in London with one of their best friends and a new Anine Bing coat. (I feel like now is a good time to mention this coat again).
I tried to focus on the gorgeous lobby, my second glass of sparking rose paired with quintessential scones and clotted cream and an amazingly delicious Paris-Brest with caramelized hazelnut. Oh, and some tea. Because duh, we were there for high tea, but high champagne should definitely be a thing. ANYWAY, as I finish the Paris-Brest and the Claridge’s blend (such a rookie/tourist move, I think. I should really know more about teas), my anxiety suddenly soars. Should I be on a plane headed back? (If you are reading this and are wondering why I wasn’t already on a plane back home at this point: CONGRATULATIONS. You are getting the whole point of this post, which is in NO WAY about my Anine Bing coat in London, except for maybe a little). I tell Jenn I need to step out. I need to go call Peter again. Also, I’m now certain that I am having a reaction to the hazelnuts. When I went through my big allergy scare over the summer, (for my fellow WebMD nerds: my Eosinophils were through the roof and there were many diseases floating around for ruling out) hazelnuts (and almonds) were flagged as major no-no’s. However, I had been eating almonds for months again with little to no reaction (unless you count helacious gas. You can’t die from that though, so I’ve chosen it as something to just live with). But now, my face was tingly again and my tongue, on the right side to be specific, felt sort of big. Could I be allergic to BRITISH almonds and hazelnuts? Maybe they farm or grow them differently. Maybe there’s a deadly leaf in the Claridge’s blend. Goddamn it, I should have stuck to Sparkling rose. That has never been an issue- no matter where in the world I go. Alcohol and me do juuuuuust fine .
I step in to the lobby to call Peter. I’m trying not to pace and talk loud like an ugly American. I’m working so hard to fit in. I take the call as if I’m a business woman there for Fashion Week (if it were in London), or to go to a very important charity event hosted by Harry and Meghan. For a moment, I’m so taken by the tile and beauty of the hotel, I feel like I really could be anyone… Until I hear Everett crying in the background of my phone call and my tongue- the right side- now feels like extra dry and big.
“Peter, please tell me: Should I come home?”
“No,” he said whispering. “He’s really going to be fine. We’ve already been seen by the doctor. They actually said he tested positive for flu. So now they think it could be a complication from that.”
“But what should I do?”
“Stay and have fun.”
“But I think I’m having an allergic reaction to hazelnuts. Is that possible? Maybe Everett and I both have some sort of rare allergy… or sickness? Can you ask them? If we both got something?” I’m fully pacing and talking loudly. My chill factor is zero. No one thinks I’m an art curator at all.
“Babe, you’re fine. I know you’re worried but you really don’t need to be.”
I hang up and take a deep breath. I tell myself, that if Peter needed/wanted me to come home he would tell me. But should I be making this decision for him? Should I do what I assume every wonderful, caring, and no-refined sugar giving mother on Instagram does and GO HOME?
FUCK. I have to poop. (Another fun symptom of anxiety).
Btw- if you’re squeamish and turned off by TMI type stories and a ridiculous amount of sidebars, non-sequiturs, (and parentheses), you’ve come to the wrong place.
But back to having to poop. God, this bathroom is gorgeous.
I’m back at the table now and Jenn can tell I’m nervous. She can’t tell my tongue is on the verge of blocking my airways, because I’m eating and drinking again, which I tell myself is a good sign as I would have been dead by now (btw, that’s always what I tell myself when I’m about to go down a hypochondriac rabbit hole: “You would have been dead by now if it was ____” a heart attack, an aneurysm, anaphylaxis , etc etc. It’s a great calming method. Give it a try.) Anyway, I’m at the table and I fill in Jenn about my conversation with Peter. She is understanding and again reminds me that we can leave when we need to or even shorten trip if that would help.
In my head, I thinkyes, going home or shortening trip would help ease my anxiety, and obviously help Peter and comfort Everett, BUT: I don’t want to go home. Like, really don’t want to go home. I want 5 days in London, as planned. As dreamt. As charted and sorted and heavily researched. As a grown ass woman, with one of my favorite friends in the world, looking at art, eating fancy and delicious foods, and fulfilling my love of travel and exploration. I don’t WANT to go home. AND THEREIN LIES THE SOURCE OF THE ANXIETY:
FUCKITY FUCKING GUILT.
I FEEL GUILTY FOR WANTING TO STAY AND I FEEL GUILTY FOR NOT BEING HOME.
I FEEL EVEN WORSE FOR TELLING MYSELF I SHOULDN’T FEEL GUILTY. SHOULDN’T I FEEL GUILTY WITHOUT HAVING TO ASK MYSELF IF I SHOULD FEEL GUILTY OR NOT?!!!
NOW I DEFINITELY FEEL GUILTY. BUT I DON’T KNOW IF I HAVE GUILT OVER THE RIGHT THING.
AND MY TONGUE. Will I even survive in London long enough due to the Claridge’s blend tea virus I’ve caught and my new Paris-Brest allergy? This isn’t good.
As Jenn and I make our way to the theater, I am in a whirlwind of panic and stress. But also, trying to stop and smell the roses. Literally, every apartment is covered with gorgeous flower boxes. Each door is more gorgeous than the next and I feel like a real adult. The weather is perfect, my coat is BEYOND, and I’m certain if I lived here, I’d find my way into a royal friendship. BUT THE GUILT.
We enter the theater and I’m a little taken aback by the lack of metal detectors and bag checks. When I go see a crap show at the Pantages, someone checks us… Wow. Okay, London. I dig you. Our seats for Come From Away (a show I know nothing about) are amazing. Jenn and I decide I should take the aisle in case I get a call from Peter. At this point, he’s still in the ER just waiting to get admitted. I tell myself that it’s okay to put my phone away for 90 minutes, that it’s okay to sit back and enjoy the show- though I’m sure I won’t be able to because the right side of my tongue is no joke and oddly now my shoulder is tingly too. (Is this what death feels like?)
But wow. Not only did I survive, but 90 minutes and no intermission later, I’m on my feet CHEERING. I want more of this incredible show. Planes getting stranded in Newfoundland on 9/11?! Who even knew?! What an incredible story and what a perfectly uplifting show to see in LONDON WITH ONE OF MY BEST FRIENDS. LIFE IS SO GOOD!
We make our way back towards the hotel… It’s about 9:30pm and we’ve been in London for 12 hours, and roughly 3 hours of airplane sleep, so the jetlag is setting in. No need to paint the town red tonight… in the morning our plans are to go to the Tate Modern and then a fancy lunch in Mayfair followed by an afternoon at Selfridges, then a dinner at the swanky Chiltern Firehouse, which I had to book legit 3 months out. And I thought LA reservations were bad!
I’m desperately tired but also feeling guilty for closing my eyes and sleeping as Peter hasn’t slept either since he’s been now in two ER’s with Everett. It’s approximately 3pm in LA… Peter andour trusted doctor/surgeon friend (oh, who basically saved Oliver’s life) once again tell me they’re merely keeping him for observations overnight but NOT to come home. A full-fledged doctor tells me this. I can’t feel guilty now, right? Just to make sure, I text two of my closest and trusted friends back in LA and ask IF I CAN ENJOY MYSELF AND ALSO LET THEM KNOW PETER SAID I SHOULD ENJOY MYSELF AND THE DOCTOR SAID I DIDN’T NEED TO COME HOME.
I text Peter one last time:
So, I close my eyes. And we sleep. Like reaaaally sleep. Until 10:50am the next day. FUCK! We missed the TATE!!!! It’s okay, I tell myself, we can go there AFTER lunch… We needed the sleep.
But also… there’s a gazillion texts on my phone…
“He’s still VERY swollen and tender to touch”
“Rash really bad”
“Definitely severe but not totally out of the ordinary”
“Vitals are perfect”
Once again, I ask “Should I come home?”
IS IT OKAY TO ENJOY MYSELF YET?
Jenn and I get dressed and make our way to Mayfair. Holy, charming. We moved up lunch resis since we missed the Tate in the morning and now the plan was to eat lunch then go to the Tate…
Lunch at Kitty Fisher’s is charming AF and delicious in every way. But half way through the meal I get a call from my mom (it’s like 5:30am LA time): You need to come home. Followed by a text from one of my dear friends: Peter won’t tell you this but I think you need to hear it- you need to come home.
I START TO SHAKE. Jenn helps to calm me down…. The next 30 minutes are a complete blur. “Can you get to Heathrow in an hour and a half?” my friend back in LA texts. (I’m literally paying the bill at the restaurant, while simultaneously talking to Virgin about moving my flight… which they don’t have until the next day as I’ve missed all direct flights out of London to LA at this point). Via text, or maybe over the phone, (I can’t remember because I’m racing through the streets of Mayfair with Jenn as she hails a cab and I mentally brace myself for the onslaught of anxiety that I’m about to experience), my savior of a friend says she can get me on a flight out of Heathrow at 4pm- it will connect in DC, putting me in to LA the next day at 1:30am- but I need to get to the airport in an hour. Is that doable? Oh, and don’t bring a bag. JUST GO.
Jenn gets me in a cab to Heathrow (Did I even say goodbye?) I don’t even have a confirmed ticket at this point but I’m told by the time I get there I will be good to go. Like a crazy person, I run to check in and am fairly certain I will get flagged as I go through security since I have a one-way ticket booked ten minutes prior to boarding and my carry-on consists of my makeup, my toiletries, a pair of underwear, and my Anine Bing coat which is now in a ball. My stomach is in absolute knots.
I race to the gate as I realize I never got the kids any souvenir from London, let alone a bottle of water to take with me on the flight. WHAT LUNATIC FLIES WITHOUT THEIR OWN BOTTLE OF WATER, not to mention some sort of snack for when I inevitably starve to death over the Atlantic? By now my anxiety is through the roof though and getting on the plane is my main focus. Food can wait. They do have wine, right?
As I wait in line to board, I face time Peter. Everett is swollen and looks, well, Frightening and frightened. Now I know I NEED to get home and I cannot get home soon enough. I am the worst mom ever. I tell him I’m coming home to see him and give him as many kisses as I can. My heart hurts and when Peter says he’s happy I’m coming home, it actually breaks. What kind of monster am I? Am I? Do you think I am?
I find my seat. I’m next to a woman that has no idea what she’s in for. Within seconds, I unload on her, telling her everything that’s happened within the last 24 hours. I spare no details and of course, whip out my phone so she can see the evidence- pictures, texts, selfies I don’t mean for her to see. It’s basically diarrhea of the mouth (similar in length and detail to this post). This lady, who I am convinced works for the CIA because she is vague about her job except that she does “IT”, seems to be listening, I think… or silently judging me. I ask her, A COMPLETE STRANGER, what she would have done (she’s traveling back to Minneapolis after 3 days on “another work trip”). She gives me the ugh, every mom’s worst nightmare spiel but doesn’t reaaaaaally tell me what she would have done. Does she know I need her to forgive me? Does she know my guilt needs to be quelled in order for me to get through this flight? I order a chardonnay from the flight attendant the first chance I get, and spend the next 80000 hours trying to log on to mother fucking go-go inflight and trying to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. (Oh, couldn’t have picked a better book as I too lose my fucking marbles).
The next few hours suck. So, I will cut to the chase (I mean you’ve only been reading for 16 hours at this point). At 1:30am in the morning, I pulled up to Children’s Hospital. It’s eerie, magnificent and relieving all at once. I make my way to the 5thfloor… There he is. Fast asleep. Hooked up to machines… I don’t wake him but I want to. Same with Peter. He’s so sound asleep.
I whisper, “Hi babe, I’m here.” He throws his arms around me and tells me how happy he is I came home. We sleep on the couch (for those familiar, it’s hardly meant for two), but we’re so tired that spooning and breathing in each other’s face for 4 straight hours is just fine. Because 4 straight hours of sleep is the most either of us has had in 72 hours really.
After I came back, and told this story, (don’t worry, I made it much shorter for them) everyone asked me if Everett immediately jumped into my arms and was happy to see me. The truth? No, not really. He was really sick. But I do know that within hours of me being there, his rash cleared up, his fever broke and we were discharged and sent home.
The cluster fuck of guilt that came from that experience has made me feel mad at myself, bad for myself, and grateful all at once. Guilt is a gnarly thing and is about as destructive as another negative emotion, if not worse. I don’t know what the solution is or how to stop the guilt like I stop the body hate thoughts (okay, I don’t really stop those, but I’ve seen some awesome quotes on Instagram that are really inspiring for the day I DO stop doing that), but I’d love to get there someday.
I’m literally finally able to sit down and write about this… from a Korean Spa. Where I was scrubbed, rubbed, and slapped (but like in a good way). I’ve had a huge bowl of ramen and a nice long sit in some tea bath and Himalayan salt room. I’m calm. Focused and for the first time in 3 weeks. And I’m not feeling guilty. Okay, maybe a little guilty. But not London guilty. Speaking of London guilt, is it possible I’m allergic to kimchee? My knee feels very itchy all of a sudden…