I gathered my running gear over the course of the past week. Loaded a small bag with foodstuffs: multigrain cereal, small boxes of coconut milk, protein bars, bananas. I made homemade granola and then used it to make granola bars, adding generous amounts of chocolate chips: my teammates would appreciate the treat. Friday, today, I’d pick up a small red clip-on blinking light per race regulations, throw my headlamp and reflective vest (also per race regulations) into my bag, stuff a wool jacket, raincoat, hat, gloves, and wool socks into my pack, and pick up our team captain before heading up to Vermont to meet the rest of our team.

Ben’s fever would break soon, right?

Tomorrow, you see, is the Vermont 100 on 100 relay, a 100-mile relay race I’ve run once before. It’s a beautiful run through the heart of Vermont. Each person of a 6-person team runs 3 legs of the race, averaging 15 miles total. While one person runs, the rest of the team drives in their van to the next transition area, and the next runner gets ready to catch the baton (or snap-on wristband, as it tends to be).

I was runner #5. My legs would have totaled about 17.5 miles. We’d all spend Friday night in a ski condo near the finish line, then get up at (or before) dawn Saturday to drive to the start and register. Based on the estimated pace times of the runners on my team, our team was to start the race at 8 a.m. and was predicted to finish around 9:30 p.m. Night runners have to wear the lights and reflective gear.

The race ends at a beer-filled BBQ full of exhausted, laughing runners. Crazy people who have just spend an entire day running (or hanging out in the transition areas when not running). I love this sort of scene. It’s such a high. Last time, after the race, we drove back to the condo and sat around in an exhausted stupor, sipping beer and watching–I kid you not–a documentary about the Western States 100. I mean, can you get more running-geek than that?

But all week Ben, age 14 months, has been fighting a fever. It started suddenly Monday evening but didn’t stop. By Wednesday it was 103, 104, and he was lethargic. The doctor, when I called, said if we can’t bring it down with acetaminophen or ibuprofen or baths to bring him in. Or if he stopped drinking. Wednesday evening he vomited water but then laughed, played, had a normal temperature, ate dinner (he hadn’t eaten all day), seemed fine.

Of course the fever came back with a vengeance that night and Thursday morning he was at 104.1 again and listless. I took him to the doctor, who thought we should head to the children’s hospital for evaluation, blood tests, and possible IV rehydration.

The time in the emergency department was a lot of waiting, of course, with frequent nursing mixed with reaching for Daddy, punctuated by a lot of screaming and crying (all three of us, for the crying part) when Ben was catheterized (by someone who seemed to hate penises, if you ask me) and when they tried to get an IV line in. That was pretty horrible, the first time. As a former regular blood donor, I know what it feels like when they fish around and keep trying to get the vein. And my veins aren’t teeny-tiny miniature veins collapsed flat from dehydration. And they’re never fishing around on the back of my hand. And I wasn’t a terrified toddler/baby.

So I finally shouted “Enough!” but the woman didn’t stop. I may then have said “Stop it!” and she finally did, and it turns out she thought that when I’d yelled “Enough!” she thought–she actually thought–that I was telling Ben to stop screaming. Really. The baby I was sobbing over and cringing for and desperately trying to calm by stroking his head and singing “Twinkle Star” in a quavering-with-tears voice–I’m going to yell at him? To stop crying?

Let’s move on. Please.

The next person to attempt running an IV line was actually from “the IV team,” which as far as I can tell means “total pro who does her best to get a vein into view before stabbing for it.” To make a long story short, they decided to admit Ben due to dehydration and run an IV drip into him, because his serum sodium and other electrolytes were low.

We’d dropped off Max at my brother’s house on our way to the hospital. For him, that was a real treat. Two cousins his age, my wonderful brother and his wonderful wife, toys, bike outings, ice cream, crafts, playgrounds, homemade cookies…we knew we didn’t have to worry about him.

C slept on one of those excellent (or not!) hospital pull-out chairs, and I slept in the crib with Ben and his long IV line. He was utterly exhausted by the time we went to bed around midnight. So was I.

But the race.

I’d emailed my friend/the team captain from the emergency room to warn him I might not make the race after all. I later emailed the whole team, in case anyone could find a sub for me. One teammate, Jeff, said he could, if I could decide for sure by noon today. These aren’t just “teammates.” They are old friends, running buddies, people I haven’t seen in a while because they live or have moved out of state. So this race was a reunion of sorts.

I still thought that maybe, just maybe, if Ben was fine, we could leave the hospital, scoop up Max, return home, and I’d grab my running gear and food and go, heading into the race with a three-night sleep deficit but still eager to run my 17.5 miles through Vermont. I’d spend Saturday laughing and snacking in transition areas, changing into dry gear in the van, happily spent by the time we hit the post-race barbecue.

At 3 a.m.–after that goddamned IV machine beeped yet again, seemingly every 15 minutes, because despite my utter carefulness to keep the line free despite all our tossing and turning and “let me nurse at that other breast, please” in the crib, any time Ben flexed his hand the line kinked, the drip was occluded, and the machine would beeeep! beeeep! beeeeep! until the nurse would come in to reset it–I emailed Jeff and told him to tell his friend she could have my spot.

And yet I still held out hope. By morning, after we’d managed a few hours’ sleep and Ben awoke thirsty and hungry and ready for fun, we thought maybe I could still go the race. Chris and the kids would be fine.

But three nights of super-crappy interrupted sleep, plus what if Ben felt traumatized by all of this and wanted to nurse a lot over the next few days, and what if Max’s homecoming wasn’t totally smooth, and would I really be able to relax three hours’ away and out of reach and worried about my family…I knew I was making the right choice, ditching the race. Of course it helps that my team had a sub for me.

And as it turns out, the transitions to home were a little tough. Ben has barely slept since his morning nap yesterday, so despite his vigor and his joy at being home, he was tired and cranky and falling and wanted to be held, to nurse. Max, for his part, had his own stuff to work out upon getting back into the bosom of his family, needing lots of cuddling and attention and more attention and perhaps a whole truckload more. We got them to bed blessedly early and honestly, I know it’s best that I stay home to help care for my family and getting a little bit of rest instead of piling into a car at 5:30 a.m. with enough running gear, food, warm gear, rain gear, and night-running gear to get me through a very full day of running, transitions, more running, rain and thunderstorms, night running….

….aw, dangit, of course all this talk of running kind of makes me wish I were up there getting read to run the 100 on 100.

I’m a better runner than I was the last time I ran the 100 on 100, but my life has changed in other ways, too. I’m responsible for more than just myself now.

We’ll have a mundane, quiet family weekend. Max will have his first soccer “practice” tomorrow. I’ll run 16 miles on Sunday with my friend/running partner. The kids will play. Maybe we’ll go out for ice cream or go to the beach. There won’t be any fevers, sudden health problems, nonstop nursing needs, or tantrums due to wanting Mommy or Daddy’s attention. And if there are, I’m here to help deal with them.

I can run the relay next year.

Follow-up: Saturday morning at 4 a.m. I awoke to Ben’s cries. When I walked into his room, instead of the usual “Dada,” he said “Mama!” A few hours later, sleeping in my bed again, Max woke up next to me (when did Max get into our bed, and why is he naked?) and asked, “Mommy, are you going running today?” I told him I wasn’t, at least not for some epic long run this morning. Then: “Is Daddy going to work today?” No, Daddy’s home today.

Huge grin and ecstatic hug from Max. “So we’re all going to be together today?” he asked, still grinning. “Yes, honey.” He was so happy.

Plus then Chris woke up sick.

So yeah, the right choice. Thanks, universe, for confirming it so soundly.

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