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‘How I lost my sanity the first time’

I’m the oldest of three girls and we all have handfuls of children. Sometimes when we get together, we get the bright idea to take all our kids on an adventure. Typically, the planning of this event is fun, but the actual implementation of it is a huge blow to our mental health.

Afterwards we typically say things like, “We are never doing that again!” until the next time when we do it all again.

One particular misadventure will forever be remembered by me because it enforced some truths:

1. I got my math skills from my mom.

2. It’s impossible to remember how many children you have with you when you have more than five (might as well be 25).

3. It’s cute to think that walking from the Willis Tower (formerly Sears) to Navy Pier is doable (heavy sarcasm).

For this “good time together” we had decided to take the kids into the city for a day of walking around and sightseeing. However, there was one small snag in our plan. Maisy wasn’t with us, she was at summer camp, and, boy, did this throw us off all day. You’d think moving from nine to eight kids would be welcoming, but that’s a hard no in this instance.

Anyway, the day in Chicago had been fun – we’d gone all over the place. We had done the touristy stuff; strollers and all. Then my college friends called and asked to meet for supper. This was exciting – I hadn’t seen them in years! We all decided that we would meet them at Navy Pier around 5 p.m., since we were doing the touristy thing.

So, our fearless leader (my mom) looked at the map and said, “Oh, we can walk that,” to which we all heartily agreed. She was right. Totally walkable. Looked like the distances we normally walk back home. HA! This was a lie.

Those Chicago city blocks are equivalent to about four blocks back home. Only the city blocks back home don’t have stoplights, lots of people, street vendors or surprise puddles of mystery liquid to step in. Needless to say, it’s easier to navigate a sidewalk in central Illinois vs. Chicago, Illinois.

But, whatever. We were having fun.

You know what though? We weren’t. Several kids were trying to toss their bodies into the stroller as we trudged along on this hot day. I gave a piggy-back ride, and carried a toddler at one point. The older children were complaining constantly, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to die.”

My mom, sisters, and I were thinking the same thing. For one short second, I entertained the idea of just taking up residence on Michigan Avenue, becoming a panhandler and living my not-so-best life, because I couldn’t even anymore.

That’s when mom saw the water taxi sign and all our dreams came true.

“Maybe we should take the water taxi?” she said.

But, before she could finish the sentence we were carrying strollers down the rickety metal steps to the water taxi dock. It was like an assembly line of harried mothers, passing children, and strollers down the line to the sketchy-but-heavenly docking station to buy tickets.

I think had they been $1,000 apiece, we would have gone ahead and paid that hefty price out of desperation.

I remember standing there, one kid hanging from my arm, another sitting on my feet, children in a stroller, children running dangerously close to the dock and causing me to have 400 heart attacks, and hearing the cashier ask us how many children we had. Normally we would have said, “nine.” I have four, Katey has three, and at the time, Lydia had two. But Maisy wasn’t with us, and for some reason that change in quantity completely bewildered us.

My sisters, mother and I all just looked at each other. It was as if the woman had been speaking in Greek. I think I made a, “How many kids do we have?” face at my sister Katey, and she made one back like, “You know, I don’t know.”

My mom said, “Um, six?” But, we knew that wasn’t right. Lydia chimed in and attempted seven. That wasn’t it either. Finally, I looked at the lady and said, “We don’t know, you tell us.”

She laughed at me, thinking I was joking. I stared back at her, serious as the day is long: “For real, please tell us how many kids we have. For the love of all things holy TELL US HOW MANY KIDS WE HAVE.”

In this moment I can look back on that and understand why the cashier was so taken aback, and dare I say slightly terrified of me. I was dirty from hours on the city street, my right eye was twitching from a headache, and I had reached the point where everything was funny (but it wasn’t).

The young taxi cashier paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and then with a heavy sigh said, “Eight. You have eight kids.”

Eight! We had eight kids!! High-fives all around! We had an absolute number now. Sure, we couldn’t remember their names, but now we had a number. This was a relief finally knowing how many there were for sure, because for a while we thought we’d lost a couple.

We loaded onto the water taxi and heaved huge sighs of relief.  I was so thankful to sit and have the kids near me, not running down a city block. I didn’t mind that I had lost the capacity to count. However, my super smart sister Katey kept saying, “Math. I can’t believe I lost the ability to math. I love math. Who am I?”

The taxi arrived at our final stop, after a relaxing trip down the river, and we discovered that we had two blocks yet to walk, a flight of stairs to climb, and it was rush hour. Thrilling. However, we knew how many kids we had now and this was enough to help us power through.

This was the last time we attempted an adventure like this. Whenever we start planning now, we make sure we can drive there.

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