Sunday, December 29, 2013

Turning Lemons Into Lemon Drops

I'm always trying to teach my son to be flexible. This Christmas break, I had my own crash course in going with the flow, and it was harder than I might have expected.

I was all set to take my M to visit family in St. Louis the Thursday after Christmas. But there was a major plot twist the Sunday before, when I turned my ankle and came down hard on it.

I figured it was a sprain. But it was so puffed and painful by Monday, I decided I'd better pay a visit to my friendly podiatrist, Dr. S, who I'd already seen too much in 2013. Of course, I'd hurt my right ankle, so there was no thought of driving. Instead, I had to call a car service.

Several X-rays later and voila!, lucky me, it was broken. Equipped with an air cast, aka Das Boot, I attempted to hail a car service. Dr. S was sending me to an orthopedist in case I needed a partial or full cast.

But in a scene straight out of an old black-and-white melodrama, it was raining and there was no car to be had for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, given the timing--it was the day before Christmas Eve--I had to get to the orthopedist before he took off within the next hour. Despairing that I'd never make it, I began to cry the ugly cry.

Finally, I went back into the office and told them of my plight, pleading with the receptionist, asking if I was close enough to walk to the orthopedist's. The receptionist, noting how distraught I was, asked Dr. S, who upon seeing me told me it was doable.

And so I set out limping and pitiful in Das Boot, tears streaming down my face even as the rain streamed over my uncovered head. Normally, the few blocks' walk through Brooklyn Heights from Remsen to Amity is a picturesque one, thanks to the gracious old New York brownstones and gaslights. But I was oblivious to them that day. I was, to quote my son, a hot mess.

I finally stopped crying when I landed in the orthopedist's office, despite the fact that it was situated in Long Island College Hospital and featured the word "surgery" on the door.

When Dr. C finally saw me after examining my emailed X-ray, I was relieved to hear that I could continue in the walking cast. However, I would have to have X-rays repeated in three weeks, would probably be in Das Boot for six, and would need a cane for the inevitable slippery January days. (When my concerned podiatrist checked in with his broke-down patient later, he was more conservative, urging me to "baby" my ankle with crutches.)

But I had other things to do first. When I wasn't icing my elevated ankle that Tuesday--Christmas Eve--I was soldiering on, planning a new line of attack on the St. Louis front. I called Delta and arranged for bulkhead seats and a wheelchair at the airport.

Then my Uncle J started calling. He and my Aunt F, both well into their 70s, were concerned about me coming with the boy in tow when I was in such a sorry state. I finally relented. I had to admit it: I had a bag full of lemons in my hands. Time for Plan B, aka Operation Lemon Drop.

I had feared how M might take news of the cancellation, but he was quickly appeased by Plan B. Now I just had to make sure it happened.

After postponing the flight without a penalty--the folks at Delta couldn't have been nicer--I recalled that M is still at the stage where a hotel with a free breakfast and pool makes him feel like he's king of the world. (If there's a hot tub, he's even more jazzed.) And so I began my within-cab-fare Brooklyn-Queens hotel search, not an easy endeavor within a two-day window and on a scant budget. (Much of the St. Louis trip had been arranged with frequent flyer miles.)

I scoured the discount sites for hours. Yelp reviews warned of bedbugs in one place, rude staff in another, and most New York hotels under $250 a night lacked pools. Finally, I found something.

Sure, it was near LaGuardia, where I had to brace for noise. But it looked nice enough. And not only was there the holy grail, a pool, there was breakfast (I would later find out it wasn't free but cost $10 per room per day, one of the many add-ons I would run across in a tourist hotel) and that piece de resistance, a hot tub. Also, remember: I was desperate.

With one room in my price range left, I booked a three-night stay.

Good omen No. 1 came when I called the hotel that Friday after Christmas and learned we could check in early. By 2 p.m., the boy was soaking in the hot tub along with three local men over the age of 80 who belonged to the hotel's health club. It looked like something out of Cocoon, save for my energetic 10-year-old. He was soon schmoozing away, beguiling the old-timers.

Before too long, he had ingratiated himself with one man and his caretaker, even helping with the man's walker and calling the caretaker his "babysitter." (Not that far off the mark, I'm afraid.) The caretaker offered M popcorn and then pizza delivered poolside, cementing the newfound friendship. I often worry that M attaches to strangers too hard and fast, but I agree with her--he made her charge's day.

Day 2, my friend S came over with her two kids, making a full day of it at the pool. There were some rough patches when my boy wouldn't stop splashing and jumping in a "no jumping" zone, but by the end he and my friend's little girl were swimming underwater like "dolphins" together.

Still, I needed to remember that lemon drops are sour as well as sweet. If I wanted to pick the hotel apart, I could complain about the scalding shower, the spotty internet connection, the TV charges, even the occasional, if expected, jet plane noise.

But balancing it out were the lovely staff including J, the bartender who brought up our dinner despite the lack of room service; the man running the cereal-and-muffins breakfast buffet, who allowed M to take eggs from the section reserved for the spiffily dressed Korean Air flight crew; and the obliging dad from Albany who tossed my child in the water, making him squeal with delight (after said dad got my OK, of course).

Meanwhile, the sound of the jets took me back to one of the highlights of my childhood in St. Louis, when my mom and dad packed my two older brothers and me into the VW wagon and took off for Lambert Field, now St. Louis International Airport.

This was a era when cars didn't have seat belts and they'd still let you throw a blanket down on the other side of the landing strip fence and watch the planes whoosh right overhead as they took off and landed. I can't say I grew up in a happy family--what was it Tolstoy said? But these are my own lemon-drop memories, and now I was making them for my kid...right near an airport. 

This break, both my son and I had to become as flexible as Olympic gymnasts. To my mind, we each scored a perfect 10.

To celebrate, I think I'll order up a Lemon Drop tonight, our last at the hotel--the kind with the vodka mixed in.


  1. I...I think I have something in my eye!

    What a fantastic Plan B! I'm so glad it worked out well! Sometimes, we do just need a change of scenery to recharge...even if it's only a few miles from home.

    I'm so sorry about your ankle, though! Please do baby it as much as you can and be careful in the cold, slushy, wet!

    May 2014 be a year of joy, peace, and prosperity of all kinds for you and your family. (((you)))

  2. Oh, maternalinstincts, you're the sweetest! Wishing you and yours all of the above and more. #IWillSurvive

  3. Sounds like you indeed made lemon drops. Great fun and memories. Do you have Uber where you live? Check out the app and always go with UberX, Cheap and all included. I use it all the time for these types of things now in cities that have it.

  4. Thanks for the kind words--and the tip--Madgew!

  5. Oh, Beth, you are an awesome mother. Bet this will be a trip he'll remember always.

  6. Thanks much, Lois. I certainly hope so!

  7. Ah, very nice, Beth. So glad you wrote this. Happy healing and best wishes in this new year.

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