The fall of the smart house

October 8th, 2008

Could be a metaphor for our economic collapse, and it is, but it’s not.

By my bleary reckoning, it might have been 4 a.m. when Georgia got out of bed, walked across the darkness, said “I don’t feel well,” and threw up on the white wool carpet in my sister’s tony new townhouse.

It was a stunning flood of Mexican beans and rice and milk, a regurgitation that transfixed a mother into the gripping awareness that the day to come wouldn’t be going her way. At 9 a.m. my daughter and I would be boarding an airplane for a flight from Houston to LA. This was a new one for me: traveling with a five-year-old through the turbulence of stomach flu.


She spit up at steady intervals, giving my lame hope of a less paralyzing diagnosis no time to coagulate. It was the crowning blow to what had been a triumphant return to my old hometown.

I’d been hired to do two days of media training for the wealth management division of a regional bank. Damn I’m good! I’d brought Georgia along to visit old friends and family. I can do it all! On the eve of leaving, we’d gone out for a Houston twofer: Tex-Mex and margaritas. Life is sweet, with salt on the rim!

I was satisfied that I still had it. (The business thing.) I’d figured it out. (The mommy thing.) I was a sassy smartass at the top of my game.

Two hours later, I hunched over the wheel of my rental car heading up the interstate, one eye on the rear view mirror watching Georgia double over into a plastic Target shopping bag. My baby would have to fly 2,000 miles with her face in that bag. What else could I do? I’d never done this. I’d never been in this bind. I knew nothing. For all my bravura, the smug congratulation of the night before, we were starting all over again. Day 1.

About then I realized: It’s always Day 1, you dummy.

I begged and consoled, consoled and begged. “If you make it home I’ll buy you a Barbie Smart House,” I said, kissing her sweaty neck, shielding her convulsions in the window seat.

This was a mommy Hail Mary. The Barbie Happy Family Smart House was an $80 obscenity, just the latest in an onslaught of overpriced molded plastic monstrosities that possessed my daughter, still immersed in her all-Barbie, all-day play stage. I’d refused it a dozen times over. Drawn a line in the sand. But now I reached for it like a miracle cure.

It worked. By the time we made it home, she was sipping Sprite and bubbling with nothing but anticipation. I was so grateful and proud and humbled. It had become the happiest day of our lives.


I’ve wised up so I’m not running the Chicago Marathon this Sunday. My former running partner and I are staging a marathon of another kind, a garage sale. No, it won’t be worth it, but this time the Smart House is going.

It’s Day 1 all over again. The happiest day of our lives.

And what’s this? See if you’re a quack happy winner of our latest giveaway here.


  1. I just went through the very same thing when traveling to Texas in June to visit my parents. I still feel the anxiety of the whole situation. I hope you make loads of money with your garage sale.

    Comment by Kristin H. — October 8, 2008 @ 5:09 pm

  2. good luck with the garage sale,
    what a story i read in awe.. i think i would have just pulled over and wept.
    well done you are one sassy chick!

    Comment by Honey — October 8, 2008 @ 5:10 pm

  3. Hooray for de-cluttering! And welcome to day one yet again.

    Comment by Shalet — October 8, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

  4. i just love you.

    Comment by latisha — October 8, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

  5. There is certainly something to be said for having day 1 all over again – I kinda of like that actually. Cat

    Comment by Cat — October 8, 2008 @ 5:38 pm

  6. Ain’t it the truth!

    Comment by Mama Zen — October 8, 2008 @ 7:23 pm

  7. Oh boy did this post echo with me and have me send all my sympathetic/empathetic vibes to you. We traveled once when our then almost 1-yr old had stomach flu. Which we did not learn until we had already boarded the 2+ hr flight from Minneapolis to Boston (we pity whoever followed us into the bathroom). Where we also had to rent a car and drive north for an hour through Boston rush hour traffic… my bones felt your pain! If an 11th month old were bribe-able, I would have done it, too! You are so right, it is always Day 1. Anonymous in Mpls.

    Comment by Anonymous — October 8, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

  8. It’s always Day 1. I’m going to stencil that on the wall of my office.

    We had Day 1 yesterday, having to do the sad duty of cradling precious kitty 1 of 2 at the vet as he informed me her pelvis was crushed from an unwinnable fight with a car and then sitting all day waiting for the kids to come home so they could be told.

    One, 9, full of grief yet stoic – the other 5, never a cat fan – requesting immediately that we obtain a puppy as replacement.

    Ah the days roll on – but it’s always Day 1 all over again. What a thought. Thank you.

    And good luck with the marathon sale.

    Comment by Renae C — October 8, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

  9. sick babies on trips, it does not matter if they are an infant or 12 (as in my recent trip to Flagstaff).
    Day#1, ain’t it the truth.

    Comment by Bridge — October 8, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

  10. Wow, this post really spoke to me. It hit home because I got stomach flu, then Anise got it (vomited every 20 minutes ALL NIGHT), and I was just thinking today that just when you feel that you’ve got it together someone gets sick, and you start all over again. If we try to “get there” we never will. You are right, we are already here.

    Comment by Mika — October 8, 2008 @ 11:09 pm

  11. Near the end of a long series of flights from Canada to Thailand, a feeling of relief and pride set in: our 3-year-old and 18-month-old had done well. No tantrums, no spills, no fighting, nothing wrecked or lost. Then just as we touched down, my daughter heaved and vomited all over me, herself and the airplane seat. Day 1!

    Comment by Lana — October 8, 2008 @ 11:44 pm

  12. I just love those aha moments when you realize that you just won’t have it the way you thought you would AND THAT IS OK. Beautiful realization, but I am sorry your girl is a sicky. That part is just no fun.

    Comment by Mindful Mama — October 9, 2008 @ 12:14 am

  13. i loved this story, karen. i loved it and felt it down to my gut, having been there, traveling with sick kids and nothing else to do except bribe and pray and do a combo of both. oh yes.
    day one. its so good.

    Comment by Holly — October 9, 2008 @ 4:09 am

  14. thank you, from a devoted lurker.

    Comment by kristen — October 9, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

  15. The flight from hell.
    When I was seven, it was the Barbie Townhouse – I loved all three stories of that thing.

    Comment by DQ's Windmill — October 9, 2008 @ 2:06 pm

  16. You are amazing!

    Comment by Wendy — October 9, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

  17. And you just finished with lice. Wow.

    Comment by Jenell Williams Paris — October 11, 2008 @ 12:02 pm

  18. you tell this story so well it takes me back more than a decade to when my youngest stepdaughter was spewing all through the night. those are tough years for everyone! Amen to Day #1.

    Comment by joinmeonthepath — October 11, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

  19. Oh Karen, can I relate to that story! I remember that helpless feeling of not being able to do SOMETHING to make my babies feel better when the stomach flu hit. A difficult lesson in how not in control we really are.

    Day 1! I LOVE that and will remember it with fondness for you in mind.


    Comment by Debra W — October 11, 2008 @ 8:31 pm

  20. I’m glad that plane ride is behind you.

    Comment by Shelli — October 13, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

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