Note: This post was written several days ago as we were coming into Chicago. I wasn’t able to post it then because the mobile hotspot, although wonderful to have, is beyond slow and sometimes can’t pick up any signal at all. (Thus my slow response to some comments, Facebook posts and emails — apologies!) Despite now being on the second leg of the Amtrak part of the trip, I decided to post as written. 

Well, now that the first Amtrak leg of the trip is (almost) under our belts, I think I can give a pretty fair assessment of how they did. We’ll start with the Albany train station:

The Albany train station is actually the Albany-Rensselear train station, a fact that I didn’t know. It also happens to be a completely useless and unnecessary fact for our purposes. We’ll move on.

Like South Station in Boston, it’s pretty much confined to one big room; the room isn’t nearly as big as South Station’s, though, which meant that we were o.k. letting Lucy and Will wander around a bit on their own. [Um, oops – Mom, you shouldn’t have read that part. Now that you have, though…] Not wander wander – just go on to the bathroom or to the convenience store or to the snack shop on their own. [Um, that probably made things worse.] O.k. So only Lucy went to the bathroom on her own; Lord knows, if Will can’t manage to go into the bathroom at home on his own because he doesn’t like being alone, do you really think he’d head into the Men’s Room solo? Of course not. That didn’t stop him, however, for just taking off at a moment that Kelley was off on a jaunt of his own (moms and dads jaunt, they don’t go to the bathroom; that would be indelicate to talk about; perhaps we should just whisper, >bathroom<. O.k. Done.) Anyway, I had my hands full with James while Lucy and Will appeared to be perfectly fine. Except then all of a sudden Will mumbled something – or maybe it was that he was off and running so fast that the wind had to carry his voice back to me – and he was off. As it turns out, he was only going to the one part of the station that wasn’t visible to me because of the proximity of the ticket desk to where we were: the board that was telling us our train was on time when it clearly wasn’t. This made Will quite irritated. “It’s supposed to leave at 7:05. How long are we going to have to wait?

Well, Will, we’re going to have to wait as long as we need to wait because, (say it with me now): The trains run when the trains run.

“But it was supposed to leave 15 minutes AGO.”

“Yes, Will, I too am aware of the time difference between now and when the train was supposed to leave as you have been making us aware of it since 7:00 when we weren’t boarding even though they told us we’d board 10 minutes before.” [Except it wasn’t nearly that calm. And it also wasn’t right then because, as previously mentioned, Will was gone with the wind.]

Happily, we had nice, dry-humor type red caps – except without the red caps, as you can see by the picture – who

This man has no red cap.

were helping us with all of our luggage and being nice to us and telling us what the latest news was about the train’s arrival (i.e., that there was no news, but still, they were nice about it). (Amazing what tipping a guy $15 to bring our bags in from the parking lot to the train station will get you!) When the train finally did arrive, the lead red cap guy not only came over to us to tell us that he needed to take the lady in the wheelchair down first (no sleeper car for her = no reserved seats; we were happy to oblige) but that he’d be back for us. And, not only did he come back for us as promised, but he loudly and assuredly pushed his way through the restless crowd surging towards the elevator because we’re sleeper car people and we get to go first.

To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less about going on first – heck, we had rooms assigned to us and everything. As long as I knew that the train wasn’t going to leave without us, I didn’t mind waiting. That said, I also didn’t mind getting Will and Lucy and James onto the train and out of our waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) area. Thankfully, I was holding adorable baby James kind of like a masthead, so all the people who were annoyed by the special treatment us sleeper folk were getting were then lulled into happiness by the cute smiling baby. Except for the crazy lady who pushed her way right behind us (mumbling, “I just need to pass out my pamphlets” – oh dear), who, as Kelley likes to say in Boston traffic, used her blockers, i.e., us, and got herself on that elevator too.

Happy children in the dining car (even before dinner arrived)

What I did particularly like about being part of the ‘sleeper car’ special people was that they also let us go on the dining car first for our dinner. Given that it was already around 8:45 p.m., I’m not sure that dinner is the exact name for it. ‘Late night snack’ might be more appropriate. Kudos for us, though, that we for once realized that, not only did “train not on time” = “dinner not on time,” but we even acted upon it and got Lucy and Will macaroni and cheese at the train station for dinner. (Bonus: turns out James likes mac and cheese, too! Good to know for those occasions when we forget to bring his baby food. Not that we’re those kinds of parents or anything.) The down side to that was that they weren’t very hungry by the time we got to eat; the up side, however, was that they weren’t nearly as cranky as they (o.k., we) have the ability to be.

Happy Daddy and Baby James

Dinner turned out to be, well, not bad. No steak, despite it being on the menu because, apparently, “The fumes from cooking it will kill the chef and then you,” according to the waiter – which makes me wonder why it’s on the menu other than just to say, “Psych!” but that’s neither here nor there. The roasted chicken wasn’t half bad, though, and the mashed potatoes were the exact kind of processed scoop ‘o potatoes that qualifies for me as excellent. Will’s pizza was the standard kids’ menu pizza fare, so not bad; Lucy’s chicken fingers, though… I wouldn’t recommend them.

Other downsides were that the car was, literally, arctic. Also, we had to walk through about 7 cars of very unhappy non-special-sleeper-car people who were also hungry and wanting the dining car but had to wait for us to go first. (Honestly, if I hadn’t been waiting with three children for over two hours I might have felt worse. I also might have felt worse if I weren’t normally one of the non-special people. Dear Reader, however, I did not.) And at some point midway through dinner, Will’s excitement about being on a train turned into concern that the train was so wobbly. (“Did they do a practice run before this?” Uh, yes, Will. They do this trip every single day.) And then Lucy said that she couldn’t stop thinking about the picture of a burned out Amtrak car that had been on the front page of the Portland newspaper the morning before with the headline “We Were Surrounded By Flames.” (“Are you sure they did a practice run, Mommy????”) Which of course made me have to remind myself not to panic – holygoodlordtheyneverdidapracticerunthattaughtthemhowtodrivethroughawalloflfames – and just say, we’ll be fine (while looking desperately for wood to knock on). (Of course, it just occurred to me that if we did have to drive through a wall of flames wood would be absolutely no help at all. Still, hoping that knocking on metal has the same effect.)

Oh, and the waiter forgot to bring the rolls.

[Editor’s note: Since George did point out that my postings on Facebook so far have not done anything to suggest a reason that traveling by Amtrak is in any way desired, please see the photo below for the view from our dining car.]

Sunset somewhere west of Albany

The Room(ette)s

Enough about the food! What you really want to know is about the rooms, right?

The roomettes are definitely more ‘ette’ than ‘room.’ I’d say that the rooms are about 6′ long by 4′ wide. Actually, I have no idea if that’s accurate because I have no concept of measurement. But the two seats that face each other stretch out into a bed and I think someone about a foot taller than me could lie on it. Also, I’m sitting and looking at Lucy and I think that she might be able to lie with her head at the window and her feet slightly out the door. Then again, I’m not really sure how tall she is either so that might not help much. What I can say with absolute certainty is that they are small. (Originally, we had planned on just getting one roomette for the family. Although the Amtrak guy didn’t laugh out loud when Kelley said that, he did suggest we should consider two. Thank you, Amtrak guy.) I am missing Kelley and James very much right now as they sit in their room across the hall and down one; but when Kelley and I are in the same room I get irritated immediately because of the lack of space (not because of Kelley himself, but because two non-petite adults in one of these rooms don’t work out so well). And did you happen to see the picture I posted of our bags? Although we did check the big suitcases, even with the extra little storage bay up across from the upper berth it’s not nearly enough.

The upper berth is actually on a track that allows it to stay even more upper than for sleeping so that the two people sitting in the room aren’t entirely claustrophobic when it’s not down. To be honest, at 4’11”, it didn’t feel that much worse when it was down. Plus, when it’s down it means someone else is up there, which frees up some space down below.

There’s a table that folds out between the two seats (and has a checkerboard on it – nice touch), that is both not big enough and too big at the same time. Funny how that works. It’s also a hunk of metal – not a good thing for James to bonk his head on. And then there’s the >bathroom< area.

The >bathroom< area is directly next to the seating/sleeping area. In fact, you’ll see from the pictures below that there is little-to-no space between them. Not the most sanitary or comfortable set-up as far as I’m concerned. (And if you’re traveling with a companion you better be sure that that’s someone you’re very close to. Because you’ll either be getting a lot closer soon, or one or the other of you will be spending some time out in the narrow hallway over the course of the trip.) I also wouldn’t suggest having the cheesecake for dessert if you’ve got a bit of the lactose intolerance. Or, under any circumstances, the chicken fingers.

Fold-out sink in Amtrak Viewliner sleeper cabin.

The fold-out sink is quite cute – that’s my favorite part I think – although the cute little cups for water aren’t bad either. I like how there’s no drain until you actually tilt the sink back up into it’s compartment. At the same time, I wish I had noticed that part before spending a full minute trying to figure out what to do with all the water before tipping the sink back up to where it was supposed to go. Thanks to Lucy, I finally figured out that the holes at the back of the sink were what the water was supposed to drain into. The one complaint sinkwise is that that’s also where the outlet is. It seems to me that there are other places for an outlet to go other than near the main water source of the room, but that’s just me.

Oh, dear. I’m sure I could go on for even more time (just realized I never mentioned the back of the toilet that falls onto you when you’re, um, jaunting), but, Chicago is coming up soon. So if you’ll excuse me…

[I’ve had some requests for more photos from the roomettes. Because my connectivity is such a bitch at the moment, I’ll hold off on posting until I’m somewhere that posting pictures is easier; and I’ll probably post to Flickr so that the album is more viewable. I’ll post a link from here, though, once they’re up.]

Or, rather, Albany. (“Albeenie” is what Will used to call it when he was too young to be able to pronounce it correctly. He is now fully capable of pronouncing it correctly, but doesn’t. I’m not sure if that’s deliberate on his part, or because we haven’t really corrected him because it’s pretty cute. I’m sorry to say that I think it’s the latter. Note to self: let him know before he, say, tries to run as a senator from New York.)

Anyway, here we are, getting on the Mass Pike — nope, make that, I-90, as we have just crossed the state line into NY, our 4th state of the day — so that we can get on the train in Albany. Why, you ask, would we take the train from Albany when we have a lovely train station all of our own in Boston? Well, because Amtrak decided to begin doing trackwork between Boston and Albany on July 9. We found this out by printing out our itinerary and noticing that the starting station had been changed to Albany. When Kelley called to say that a mistake had been made, they said, Why, no, no mistake. We changed that for you because of the trackwork. We’re going to bus you from South Station to Albany instead.

To which, of course, we said, no thanks. It’s, let’s just call it exciting, enough to take three kids, ourselves, and all of our crap to Albany in a car. Can you imagine us doing this on a bus? Can you imagine how many friends we’d make over the course of the three-hour trip? Yeah. Me too. Thus the drive to Albany on our own.

Well, actually, not quite on our own. Thanks to Wendy, of Wendy Cow House fame, (a.k.a. Kelley’s mom), we are able to drive the van to Albany and then have her drive it back to her house in the Berkshires and leave it there for the next several weeks. This will also mean that, on our return trip, we’ll be able to just get off the train in Albany rather than have to get off in Boston and then turn around and drive back to the Berkshires and upstate NY for the final week of the trip. Given that little bit of convenience, it’s kind of hard to be overly aggravated about the change of departure. However, it does remind me of the way the trains run in Italy. “Soppressato!” Or whatever the correct way of spelling it is. No matter how you spell it, though, it means the same thing: the trains run when the trains run. What are you going to do about it? Nothing. Exactly. So sit down, relax, and have a drink. (That sounds a lot better in Italian.)

Because of the travel time, today has been pretty low-key. We did manage to get out of Portland on time this morning. We even managed to get in a round of mini-golf at Pirate’s Cove in Old Orchard Beach, ME. For those of you familiar with the Pirate’s Cove on Cape Cod, it’s pretty much deja vu all over again, albeit a whole lot dinkier. I got the feeling that this was the first location they had and then they did it again, but better, on Cape Cod. The first few holes felt identical to the ones on the Cape, there’s even a lagoon in front. No pirate ship, though, and, thankfully, no “Fire at will!” (For those of you who don’t know, Will thought this was, “Fire at Will!” It took us the first four or five years of his existence to figure out why he resisted going there all the time.) It was also relegated to a back street in the town, which meant that there was no breeze to speak of. (To be honest, I’m getting a little tired of the feeling of sweat running down my back. I guess heading to, say, Arizona, isn’t the best idea, considering.) We had gotten there right at 9:15 a.m., though, so we were able to do most of it before it got too hot, and, happily, before the two camp vans showed up with 30 6-8 year olds. I would have liked to spend a little more time in Old Orchard Beach itself — I’d never really heard much about it; it has quite the kitsch-yet-cute air about it, what with its amusement park on the beach and various shore-type clam shacks, motels, etc. As it turns out, my parents spent some time there back in the day. It is just this moment occurring to me that they decided not to take us there, despite my mom saying that she kind of liked it. Hmmm. What gives, Mom? O.k., o.k. I suppose the fact that you took us to places like California and Europe makes up for it.

My one regret of the day was that we didn’t take the opportunity to dip our toes in the Atlantic, given that we very much expect to do that very thing in the Pacific in another couple of weeks. However, on our sunset cruise the other night (did I mention that? I think I did not; mea culpa), we did get far enough into Casco Bay that there was nothing between us and Portugal except the Atlantic Ocean. I think that that’s kind of cool. Check it out:

Portugal, six days ahead.

O.k. We’re coming up on the train station so I’d better sign off for now. I’m both anxious and excited for the evening ahead. It’s been a long time since I spent the night on a train — over thirty years, I guess — and I’ve never been in a roomette. My parents tell me that the service is much different than it used to be — I have romantic memories of porters and white-coat waiters. (Um, the white-coat waiter part might have been part of a dream. Or a movie. Like maybe Murder on the Orient Express. Let’s not be repeating that one!) We will soon see!

This whole blogging thing is going to be harder than I thought! Not only is it tough to find the time to write things down, it’s even harder to remember what actually happened. How, you might ask, is it that hard to remember what I did today, much less yesterday? I’m getting old. That’s the only thing I can tell you. Well, that and being bombarded by various children’s requests and requirements. It’s wearing down my brain. So before I forget…

With Kelley in a session all morning yesterday, the kids and I hung out with my parents and Jess who, as you saw from yesterday’s pictures, have joined us for the Portland, ME, part of this trip. Thanks to a suggestion of the people organizing the conference, I signed Lucy and Will up for some of LL Bean’s Discovery School classes. These are short 1.5 hour courses on various outdoorsy activities. A very nice thing is that kids as young as 8 can take part, depending on which class it is. That worked quite amazingly well for Lucy and Jess and the Archery class.

Doesn't Lucy look awesome? Thanks, Jess, for the great photo!

Sadly for all of us, it did not work out quite so well for Will. The LL Bean marketing folks and the LL Bean Discovery School folks don’t seem to be quite on the same page. I might not have even done the archery class if I hadn’t seen the flyfishing class they offered — and for kids as young as 8. Fantastic! However, once we got there it became clear that they didn’t actually do fishing — it was flycasting instead. Although it’s possible that he might have ended up having a good time, what he really wanted to do was fish. Casting wasn’t going to cut it.

I’ll spare you the details of how annoying it was to have everyone look at me like I was crazy when I expressed some confusion about the fishing vs. casting thing. (For a fisherman, yes, I realize that the difference is quite clear. But for those of us fishing-novices, when you see a class called “flyfishing,” call me crazy, but you expect fishing to be involved.) Thanks to modern-day technology, my mom was able to locate a miniature golf course 4.9 miles away from Freeport in Brunswick, ME. Hooray! Plenty of time to get out there, play a quick round, and get back in time to pick up Lucy and Jess.

Plenty of time, that is, if Brunswick were actually 4.9 miles from Freeport as opposed to around 12. And, as I have

Uninspiring mini-golf course

learned over the past few days, 12 miles in Maine is a good 20 minute ride minimum. Details, details. We got ourselves out to Brunswick and found the mini-golf that looked none-too-confidenct inspiring, but that ended up being quite lovely. (Gotta love well kept up, air conditioned offices with bathrooms on the inside, friendly people, and, to top it off, crunchy cheetos that can be purchased for 50 cents.

I do have to say how incredibly wonderful my parents are, as they were game to play 18 rounds of mini-golf in the humid, sunny, high-80s weather with Will, especially as I was out of the picture for at least the first 7 holes, thanks to needing to exchange the stroller for the baby carrier and, along the way, deal with a blow-out diaper. Always fun. I also have to say how great Jessica was, because knowing that she and Lucy were hanging out made me not stress quite as much about getting back to Freeport a full hour after she and Lucy had finished. Luckily, Lucy has her stash of cash, so she was able to buy herself lunch (and chips and ice cream and soda) while waiting. Of course, one of the first things she said was, “Why did Will get to play mini-golf and I didn’t?” which wasn’t exactly what I’d been thinking at the time. Perhaps if we were another day or so into the trip, I might have had to give her the line my parents used to give me: “Because we love him best.” (Which I of course have to say isn’t true, just in case Lucy reads this one day. [So, Lucy, if you’re reading, THAT ISN’T TRUE.) Since we are only two days in, though, I managed to just smile and calmly explain that it was because Will’s class didn’t work out for him and he couldn’t do archery. To which she then proceeded to tell me all the reasons he could have done archery, but merely chose not to. Sigh. Teenagerdom, here we come.

The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around Portland and, to Kelley’s dismay, visiting gift shops. We did make it to the Portland Lobster Co. (where we had attempted to have dinner the night before but couldn’t find a table) for an early dinner, where we found that the clam chowder wasn’t nearly as good as it had been at DeMillo’s the night before. They did, however, allow us to have lobster rolls at dinner time so that was a plus for Mom and me. They were also quite noisy, being open air and on the pier, and had coasters — a plus for James, not to mention all the diners who had the pleasure of our company.

We rounded out the evening with a lovely sunset cruise. We didn’t actually see the sunset quite so much thanks to the clouds, but it was really nice to be out on the water (especially on such a ridiculously hot day) and see Portland from that viewpoint. Plus Jessica got another awesome photo of one of my kids, this time Will:

Tomorrow we begin our second leg of the journey with an early start so that we can take a Pirate’s Cove detour but still make it to board our train at Albany on time, around 7 p.m. And then on to Chicago.

I’ll try to post tomorrow about today’s activities. Wish me luck — our drive to Albany is the first time I’ll get to try out the hotspot that Kelley spent hours working with various Verizon reps to activate. If it doesn’t work, you might be able to hear my screams all the way in Boston. If it does work, though, I’ll be able to bring you up to speed on today’s activities and maybe even clear out my inbox enough to begin receiving emails again. Signing off until then…

As Lucy and Will were brushing their teeth before bed, I happened to look in the mirror and, thanks to the light hitting exactly in the wrong way, saw nothing but gray in my hair.

Lucy’s response to dismay: Mommy, it looks really pretty. Like lots of highlights.

Will’s response, delivered while looking at her like she was crazy: Uh, there’s a lot of white stuff there.

Sigh.

A is for Apple
B is for Balloon [although, I have to admit, I read this as Barroom the first time through]
C is for Car
D is for Dinosaur
E is for Eye
F is for Fahad
G is for Green
H is for Helicopter
I is for Ice Cream
J is for Jet
K is for Kitten
L is for Lance
M is for Marcel
N is for No
O is for One
P is for Panda
Q is for Quit
R is for Rascar [i.e., race car]
S is for Sami
T is for Truck
U is for Ubr [your guess is as good as mine]
V is for Violin
W is for Will
X is for Xray
Y is for Yellow
Z is for Zoo

So there we were in the bathroom tonight, me putting the toothpaste on Will’s toothbrush as he was talking about the plastic boat he saw under the big table in his room.

“Oh, [????],” he said, “I didn’t know I had three boats.”

“What did you just say?” I asked.

Silence, of course.

“Did you just say ‘shoot’?” I said, hopeful.

Guilt all over his face, he looked at me. Then he shook his head.

“You didn’t just say ‘shoot’?” Doesn’t hurt to give him another chance, right?

No, he shook his head again.

“So you really said, ‘shit’?” I asked.

Taking the toothbrush from me, he started brushing his teeth. He nodded.

Mommy, I blame this on you.

Had to share this morning’s conversation with Lucy and Will:

As we were getting ready to leave for school, Lucy mentioned that she was sad because her best friend (Lydia) had a new best friend (Hannah), and that even though they were all sitting in the same group at school, it was ending up being not fun at all because Lydia and Hannah always chose each other for partners and not Lucy. Ugh. If there’s anything that I have absolutely no answers for, it’s that.

I also happen to know that there’s pretty much nothing to say to make her feel better. So what I said was: I know how sad it makes you. It’s an awful feeling. And sometimes it has something to do with you, and other times it doesn’t, so the important thing is how you handle it.

Then I found myself telling her how I had this friend who was following, like, 54 of the 52 people following her on Twitter. Who was one of the two she wasn’t following? Yep, me. “But,” I told Lucy, trying to get back to a point that would actually make sense to her, “even though it made me sad, I know she’s still my friend and I’ll just make sure to be the best friend I can be to her anyway.”

It did seem to help a little. And then Will chimed in, saying to Lucy, “Did you tell her? I would just tell her that she’s making me sad. Antonio’s my friend and he doesn’t make me sad.”

Lucy, of course, glared at him. Sympathy, Will. Sympathy, not solutions.

“Antonio will always be my friend,” Will continued, oblivious. “Ezra’s my friend, too.” Ezra, i.e., Lydia’s brother. “Ezra will always be my friend.”

Since this didn’t help things at all, I ended up spending the next several minutes trying to make Lucy feel better. As we were leaving the house, Will, exasperated, just said to me, “Why don’t you just tell her to be happy? Why do you need to say all the other things?”

Lucy, being more Lucy-like, rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t work like that. You can’t just make something happen. If you wanted John McCain to be president, you can’t just go up to Barack Obama and say, You’re not president any more. Things don’t work that way.”

Will looked at Lucy then looked at me. He looked at where Kelley’s car would have been if Kelley hadn’t had to leave for NY an hour before. Even at six, he knew enough to realize there was just too much estrogen involved for him to get any further. “I’m out of this,” he said, holding up his hands and shaking his head. And then he played with his cars.

*****

Been absolutely crazed lately — three major work projects (6-month; 1-year; and 2-year projects) culminating during the same three week period that also had the Gala (last weekend) and Jess’ shower (this weekend). Oh, and everyone getting sick, etc., etc. I say that all just so everyone knows that yes, I owe everyone emails or calls on just about everything — and I owe a resolution to that last post. (Sorry to leave you hanging.)

So, the big update: Will’s not allergic to peanuts. He still can’t have other kinds of nuts — I’m particularly concerned about almonds — but PB&J sandwiches have come back to the household. Of course, in the last two weeks he’s visited the dentist (he might need to have a crown — have you ever heard of a 6-year-old with a crown?), the eye doctor (he needs glasses), the neurologist (the tics just keep on coming), and the walk-in clinic at his pediatrician’s twice, thanks to his croup coming back (a week after Lucy’s came and went). So, well, yes we need to get him back to the allergist, but the poor kid hears the word ‘appointment’ and practically has a panic attack. We need to call, but he needs a break.

At 8 a.m. this morning, with our 2 tablespoons of peanut butter in hand, Kelley, Will and I presented ourselves at the Children’s Hospital Allergy department so that Will could do his Food Challenge.

What’s a ‘food challenge,’ you might ask? Well, it’s when you take the thing that you’ve spent over a year avoiding due to its potential to cause the death of your child and, yes, you feed it to him.

Now, of course, the reason you do this at the hospital is so that, should that worst-case scenario seem imminent, there are presumably enough qualified medical personnel on hand to bring him back to life. Still, as he sat there, looking suspiciously at the nurse who’d just given him the spoonful of peanut butter and telling her that he wasn’t supposed to eat it, I had to use every bone in my body to resist telling him to drop it and run.

“It’s o.k., Will,” I said instead. “That’s why we’re here. To have you eat peanut butter.”

Since that night a year ago November we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what caused him to have such a ‘sudden and severe’ (the clinical terms, apparently) reaction on the side of the highway. There was no x-ray taken in the emergency room so no one was able to tell whether the top of his throat was closed (which would indicate anaphylaxis, i.e., what happens when you eat something you’re severely allergic to), the bottom of his throat was closed (which would indicate a severe case of croup or, alternatively, an asthma attack), or, simply, if he’d swallowed something and was choking on it.

The fact that he’d been asleep for three hours prior to suddenly waking up coughing pointed away from the choking idea, whereas the fact that his inhaler only seemed to make things worse made it seem like asthma wasn’t a factor either. In nearly a third of fatal anaphylactic shock cases, we were told, the case is never determined. Since Kelley had eaten a bag of nuts in the car two hours before the reaction occurred, however, it sounded like that could be the culprit.

When something like this happens, of course, the heavy artillery comes out. We carry EpiPens wherever we go. We read labels for hidden dangers. We know the doctor’s office phone number better than the phone numbers of most of our family. We also go to the doctor on a nearly monthly basis, whether for asthma check-ups or further allergy tests.

Over the past year Will has had skin tests to see what he might be allergic to. (Just about everything, apparently, although some things more severely than others.) With the peanut test being inconclusive, he had a second test (negative), and then a full-on blood test (negative). With food alergies, though, as anyone who has dealt with one knows, two negatives don’t necessarily make a negative. In order to be completely sure, you need to actually eat the food.

To be honest, I was less nervous about it I thought I’d be. Considering that, as we were in the height of the aftermath I wanted to just go and sit in the parking lot of the Emergency Room and have him eat a PB&J sandwich so that we could know once and for all, well, it was kind of nice to know that for once I seemed to be in synch with the world of science. It was kind of like getting the EpiPens — a calming of the nerves, so to speak.

And, after sitting there this morning for three hours in the safety of the nurses and doctors who work at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, I was feeling all good and proud of myself that we’d made it through. He ate one spoonful of peanut butter, and then another. No swelling, no hives, no death. Thank you, God.

So I wasn’t at all prepared for the nurse to tell us as part of our discharge, “As you know, the reaction can take place up to 24 hours after exposure.”

Um, come again? “24 hours?” No. Suffice it to say that I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that at all. Even me, who worries about everything in the world, thought that all I needed to be concerned about was the 6-7 hours after he ate it. After all, that was the time period everyone seemed concerned with when they were trying to figure out what could have cause him to nearly stop breathing that night.

Still reeling from the fact that they were sending us back into the non-medically-trained-staff world of our daily lives, I almost missed the part where she said, “And we’d like him to eat 2 tablespoons of peanut butter each day for the next three days. Oh, and you shouldn’t do it before sending him off to school because you want to be in a position where you can watch him for the signs for at least half an hour afterwards. Be sure to have the EpiPen with you at all times. Bye, now.”

O.k. So maybe she wasn’t quite that flip. Actually, she was kind of great — both throughout the morning and at the end of it, taking the time to deal with my sudden inability to leave the protected womb of that hospital room and answering all my questions with confidence and reassurance. Still, I am now sitting here on my couch, TV off as I listen for him to suddenly wake up coughing like on that night a year and a half ago.

I look at the list of the symptoms we’re supposed to be watching for:

* Anxiety

His or mine?

* Itchy Skin

The kid has the driest skin ever. I’ve never known his skin not to be itchy.

* Throat Tightness

For a year I’ve been asking him if his throat is o.k. The more I do, the more anxious he gets. (Which means that I have no idea if the bullet point #1 anxiety, should it occur, is anaphylaxis-related or mommy-induced.)

* Hives

No way in hell he’s getting a bath until this testing period is over. I don’t care if he’s so dirty that he looks like Pigpen. I am simply not capable of thinking clearly enough to make the distinction between hives caused by his dry skin reacting to the bath and hives caused by peanut butter. I pick the free pass on that one.

* Facial and/or Lip Swelling

I guarantee you that if you look at your kid to see if his lips are swollen (and therefore indicating that a potentially fatal reaction is about to occur) you will see a set of lips that are swollen. And, by the way, allowing him to have a Pixie Stik as a treat after dinner is a very bad idea. Sour/sugary abrasive dusty candy does not a non-swollen set of lips make.

* Vomiting/Diarrhea

* Stomach Cramps

Well, yes. These are kind of obvious. But when you’ve spent the last month trying to avoid getting the stomach bug that various friends and family members are getting, how the hell are you supposed to know if it’s just a case of bad timing?

* Coughing

* Sneezing

He has a cold. ‘Nuff said.

There are a few more items on the ‘Watch For’ list, “fainting” and “loss of consciousness” among them. I figure that if those happen, I’m pretty clear on the need to dial 911. Then again, he’s now asleep in bed. Kind of hard to determine whether someone’s lost consciousness when they’re already out cold.

The rule of thumb, apparently, is that if two ‘systems’ are affected simultaneously — i.e., if he’s vomiting at the same time he’s got hives — then it’s an anaphylactic reaction. Although he’s coughed throughout the day, sneezed quite a bit, and been itching his skin for hours (“But it’s just normal itching, Mommy”), I’m fairly certain he isn’t experiencing anaphylaxis. Yet. And I am desperately trying to believe the words that our asthma case manager said to me the week after this happened — despite the dark, despite the highway driving, despite the fact that you’d heard him cough on countless occasions before: “You knew.”

We knew that the cough was different that time. We knew something was wrong enough that we pulled off onto the side of the highway. We knew something was wrong enough that we called an ambulance to meet us on the Mass Pike at midnight on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving.

On the Monday morning after this all happened, we sent Will to school with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t even a full 48 hours later, and at that point, no one had indicated that this could have been an allergic reaction. At that point, no one had yet mentioned that he was about this close to dying that night. At that point, I hadn’t yet had my near-nervous breakdown in the parking lot of his school when I left him in that room and realized that one of these days, I could be saying good-bye to him for the last time.

He didn’t die on that day, though, nor did he have a reaction of any kind that anyone can remember. So tonight, as I am sitting here and straining to hear any signs of distress, I will cling to that. He’s eaten peanut butter without any reaction. He’s had test upon test to bring us to this point. And, according to the discharge paperwork, he ‘was able to complete this challenge,’ which means that, according to all that is known, he ‘has likely outgrown the food allergy.’

But oh, how these next four days are going to suck.

A few weeks ago, a terrible thing happened: we gave Will a stack of books before checking for dead flies.

Now, in most households, you wouldn’t expect this to be something you’d need to do. Will, however, is petrified by (of?) flies. Over the fall, our house seemed to be invaded by big, fat flies, making their presence known. Every night before bed we did a fly check and kill; God forbid you went anywhere without a fly swatter within range. Even now, I quake as I realize I have no idea where one is. I still shiver at the memory of the bloodcurdling scream from when that slight buzz was heard.

So, now that you know the history, it might not surprise you that, on that fateful night, when Will turned his head to the stack of books that has become in his mind one of the things that makes all the world right, the sight of a dead fly on Fizz the Fire Truck’s book binding shook him to his core. Since that night, we’ve had to inspect each book before putting it on the bed. He refuses to go near the trash can where the dead fly was disposed of. And, each night since then, I’ve had to come up with the three things he can think about so he won’t be scared.

Despite all this, I had no idea what the root of the fear actually was. This conversation from earlier this evening shed some light on the subject. It started with the requisite, “Mommy, are there any dead flies on the books?”

“There aren’t any dead flies on the books,” I answered, trying to keep the impatience out of my voice. “Besides,” I said, “they’re dead. They can’t do anything to you.”

After looking at me for a good, long moment, Will said, “But what if they turn into zombies?”

“They won’t turn into zombies,” I answered, silently cursing Fahad and Antonio, the two boys in his class that keep talking about zombies and beasties. “That doesn’t happen.”

Undeterred, Will said, “But dead people do.”

“Do what?” I asked, not sure where he was going with this.

“Turn into zombies,” he replied.

“No,” I said. “That doesn’t happen either.” (Being the Buffy fan that I am, I did knock on wood.)

“What about baby Jesus?” he asked, taking things down an entirely different road.

“What do you mean baby Jesus?” I said, trying to hide my surprise. I mean, I know this kid has a lot of things running through his head, but this isn’t exactly something I would have come up with, even with my own overactive imagination.

Solemnly, he said, “Baby Jesus came back to life.”

And here’s where you need a little background. Over the Christmas vacation, we had quite a conversation on our way to NYC, during which the subject of Baby Jesus came up. (One of these days, I’ll try to get that conversation down as well. It was a good one. Trust me.) Needless to say, there was some talk about that third day.

Ummm… “Baby Jesus is different. He was very special. When he came back to life it was good; he watches over people. He didn’t turn into a zombie.”

“Don’t say that word,” Will said.

“Zombie?” I foolishly repeated.

“I SAID DON’T SAY THAT WORD!!!!!!”

“O.k., o.k.” Dumb mommy. That’s, like, one of the first things you’re supposed to learn in Mommy School. I must have missed that class. “Pretend I didn’t say it.”

“I don’t want to talk about this any more,” he said. “What else should I think about? And don’t say anything about the thing happening tomorrow.”

Almost making the same mistake again, I said, “You mean-”

“I SAID DON’T SAY IT!!!”

Sigh. Right. “Then think about Jasper, Sour Patch Kids Watermelon, and opening the presents from your birthday party.”

“What else?”

Ugh. More than three things? “I can’t think of anything else. After that, just count to 1500.”

“I can’t count to 1500. I don’t know anything past 9 billion.”

Oh, my God. Do not laugh. Do not even crack a smile. That might have been the only lesson I did learn, but at least I’ve got that one down. “1500 is less than 9 billion.”

He looked at me suspiciously. I saw my opening. “Good night, Will. I love you.”

“Me too, Mommy. Good night.”