"Use this to score two points - or 3 if you're distant.
Your next clue is there as if you had wished it!"
Per the request I'd received - in writing, no less - from my eldest niece, I developed a treasure hunt that rhymed - as did Smallest's on her recent 5th birthday - but that was "harder."
And harder it was - it required the puzzle of riddles and obscure but clever hiding spots. I worked diligently on that project and made the trek to my parents' house to attend an 8th birthday party.
It started going wrong before I even arrived.
Mom was ill and while it sounded like a stomach bug to me, I am now shocked from my previous view of health - the 'it'll be fine...' perspective - to the 'Oh, Dear Lord, this could be the end of it all' paranoia that invades oh-so-many of my thoughts. So I fretted through the drive and coaxed her to take medicine and drink something and rest.
And then I stood trembling in the hallway, miserably afraid.
The girls arrived just after 6PM, fresh from tumbling class. Brother had placed a new bicycle on the front porch to greet Little One and he looked shaken and sick as well. As they came in, he sat in Dad's recliner, leaning back and elevating his feet, neatly exposing the culmination of my treasure hunt with the Stuffies hiding under the chair.
"Dammit," I muttered when Smallest One scampered over to cuddle her new turtle Stuffie when she saw it. But I was struggling with a days-old headache and months-old worry. Little One, sweetheart that she is, decided to tackle the treasure hunt straightaway as the end had just been ruined.
We'd made it to the tire swing out back and encyclopedias downstairs and the dishwasher soap under the sink. I left her there - on the floor of the kitchen - as the next clue lead to the recliner that had already been revealed.
I was speaking softly to Mom as she lay curled in bed, asking if I could bring anything to her, when I heard Little One crying. So I hurried back down the hall to find her utterly discouraged, unable to decipher the last clue and weeping as if her heart were broken.
We finished the treasure hunt and I made pigs in blankets per her request. Mom, unable to get out of bed, ignored Smallest when she demanded Grandma get up and make her pink milk and lay down with her! Little One curled up quietly in her room, disappointed that Grandma, Aunt and Uncle missed her birthday party. That the happy birthday song was a bit weak. The decorations sparse. The treasure hunt damnably difficult.
And sometimes I suppose it goes that way.
"How's work?" Brother asked as we sat together, looking at the photo-topped cake that required an odd-but-edible film atop the frosting.
"Not great," I replied.
"Me, too," he agreed. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Nothing," I replied, still staring at the cake that bore a photo of Little One amidst One Direction that I'd created myself.
"Me neither," he offered. I glanced up at him and nodded, watching him mimic the gesture.
And when asked recently for a happy story - in a terribly sweet gesture, really - I blinked back tears. Because I don't really remember being happy lately. I cope. Endure the moments where I must be awake. Battle back from panic and despair.
But happiness? It seems like a distant memory, honestly.
But at least it's almost bedtime again.