Top News

HEATHER HUYBREGTS: When 2020 gives you lemons, all you can do is choose to laugh or cry

An unplanned camping trip led to a rough night for mom Heather Huybregts - but that's pretty much how 2020 has been going so far.
An unplanned camping trip led to a rough night for mom Heather Huybregts - but that's pretty much how 2020 has been going so far.

If you like to laugh uncomfortably, do I have a story for you...

We were getting a puppy. We drove an hour to meet her when she was brand new. We named her Betty. We bought all the things and read all the books and watched all the puppy training videos. We even got her name engraved on a little faux-silver dog-tag. Her bed - ranked #1 in Canada for “dog anxiety” - arrived yesterday. So did the new deep freeze we ordered specifically to store her raw food.

"A puppy! How could we be so lucky, in a year that’s been so unlucky for so many,” I often thought while lying in bed reading Puppies for Dummies.

We were to pick her up one Saturday morning in early August. On Friday, I received a message notifying me that the entire litter had died.

Parvovirus. OK, yeah. That sounds more like 2020.

Since we had promised the children a Saturday morning road trip with greasy breakfast sandies and doughnuts, we hit the road anyway, accepting an invite from friends to join them at their rented, ocean-side cottage for the afternoon. It would be a quick turn-around but worth it for the scenic and social distractions.

The afternoon was as easy and breezy as the beverages and the kids were laughing and running freely. So, when our friends gently nudged us in the direction of staying the night, we couldn’t readily identify an equally appealing reason not to. Despite the lack of available bedrooms, there was a spare tent. Which solved the only possible problem that could arise when spontaneously camping with young children...

By the time the campfire was peaking, it was well past the youngsters' bedtime. Drained from puppy grief and hard ciders, I volunteered to hit the hay with the three-year-old. Only to find the tent empty. Hayless.

That’s the thing about impromptu camping - while you may have shelter, you forego luxuries like bedding. And oral hygiene. Two things I’m, unfortunately, a huge fan of.

Guilty for the imposition but too exhausted (tipsy) to drive home, I snuck two pillows and a blanket from the cottage. We were like Cousin Eddie and kin, pulling up to the Griswolds house with nothing but a rusty RV and an unwarranted assumption that our blind-sided hosts would feed our children.

The thing about spending a night in a tent by the ocean is YOU'RE SPENDING A NIGHT IN A TENT BY THE OCEAN. Sure, it’s awesome in theory. Or if you are in a MEC ad. Or if the ocean is a tropical one. But at night in Newfoundland, underdressed and next to the Atlantic, it’s bloody cold.

I wrapped myself around my hot-blooded three-year-old, trying to absorb some of his heat. I was desperate to pee but terrified to move as 1. I didn’t want to wake him; 2. I was frozen; and 3. The route from the tent to the cottage was concealed by total darkness. But my half-hearted kegels were no match for that crisp, Atlantic breeze.

After a brief wrestling match with TWO layers of impossible tent zippers and silent panic through crushing claustrophobia, I was free and only 12 mild ankle sprains over grassy terrain in total darkness away from the sweet, sweet heat of indoors (and a toilet).

Just in time to greet my seven-year-old, standing in the doorway. He couldn’t fall asleep in the single bed he was sharing with his little buddy. Thankfully, my dear friend forfeited her futon to us. My husband valiantly took over tent duty.

Inside the cottage, we even managed to score a small blanket and two pillows. My lil' dude was asleep almost immediately, but I was still chilled to the bone and about as sleepy as Jim Carrey on his third espresso, held conscious by my furry teeth and commitment to make the most of my three per cent remaining phone battery.

Just as the screen blackened, my husband entered the cottage carrying the three-year-old; he, too, lacked the stamina for a polar slumber and eagerly climbed onto the futon. I smiled as hard as I could (with just my mouth, my eyes screamed “looming defeat”) as I relinquished my pillow and wrapped both boys in the single blanket.

They slumbered deeply as their mother curled up at their feet. Like a sad retriever.

I’m not sure what I would consider the highlight of that night... Stumbling blindly back out into the black hole to wrestle the double Alcatraz-calibre tent zippers open once more and beg my unconscious husband to let me drive us all back home? Nah. Perhaps it was my two buddies, fresh in from the campfire, eating the crunchiest chips ever created mere feet from my futon and engaging in a serious conversation about snacks, their grizzled voices cranked to “old-timey preacher” volumes. I listened to them, fondly, while burying my chin into my cradled knees to tame my chattering and soak up my tears.

The spine-tingling shrieks of "night terrors" from my friend's daughter was something to witness... But no, the highlight, for me, would have to be the profound honour of silently diagnosing my dear friend, Steve, with shockingly severe sleep apnea as he battled through some hellish layer of sleep. It was not unlike listening to a heavy-set crew in steel-toe boots dragging a grand piano across a wooden floor all night. They would occasionally stop to trick you into believing they found the perfect spot, then wink and give that thousand-pound Wurlitzer another tireless heave.

And just as I thought I couldn’t be colder or further from sleep, my unconscious three-year-old reminded me, quite literally, that we had not, in fact, completed the nightly ritual of peeing before bed.

Our one blanket was drenched - like my last remaining shred of hope/sanity - in urine.

I floundered through darkness for a pair of tiny pants belonging to another poor soul who, once again, didn’t ask to be robbed of his belongings by our band of thoughtless gypsies.

I blindly pawed through every cupboard I could find, looking for something to cover the kids with.

I kissed the boys - who had not been phased by (or conscious of) any of these late-night happenings - as I wrapped them in a mattress cover.

I found the least soggy corner of the futon and assumed fetal position once more. Occasionally I would reach for any object I could find to hurl across the room at Steve to make sure he wasn’t, in fact, choking on his own tongue as the soundtrack of his snoozefest would otherwise indicate. Once I confirmed that no amount of airborne sock balls or pens would stir him from his respiratory crisis, I gave up. I closed my eyes, imagined my skin was a heated suit and, sometime in the wee hours of morning, finally shiver-cried myself to sleep.

That night felt like torture. It felt never-ending. And no amount of regret, pondering, tossing, turning, or whisper-cursing to myself was going to change the reality of its harshness. I had no choice but to ride it out.

And time inevitably passed. Eventually, the sun began peeking through the window. I gazed out at a big ol’ glistening ocean. Soon, the kids were whispering and giggling up in the loft. Bacon was crackling and coffee was brewing as my favourite people slowly began staggering into the living room with smiles and bloodshot eyes.

I recounted my night to them. All we could do was laugh. Because what else can you do in those situations? Dwell? Feel bitter?

2020, like that night, feels like a test. It feels uncomfortable. It feels neverending. At times it feels hopeless.

This year has been rife with change and loss and grief. All I can control is how I respond to it. And the best response for me, at least in hindsight, is usually laughter. We laugh with the people we love. Laugh at our mutual hardships. Laugh at our collective weaknesses and fears. Laugh at the helplessness. Occasionally, we ugly cry. But then we blow our noses and laugh at that, too.

Because sometimes, life pees on your last blanket. And we can choose for that to be defeating or hilarious.

*cue the uncomfortable laughter*

Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger, YouTuber and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, NL. Her column appears biweekly.


Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories