There are lakes in Iowa. Real ones. With cabins and everything. Here I thought Minnesota had a monopoly on that sort of thing.
I’m kidding, of course. It’s just that you can’t believe everything you read, and I’d never been to a lake in Iowa prior to last weekend. The destination: Lake Okoboji. The reason: Making Waves, a first-time event put on by Children’s Miracle Network. It’s a practically free mini-vacation for families with kids stricken by serious health problems. Thanks to the generosity of sponsors, participants were able to stay at a resort, eat food, visit a water park and an amusement park and go on a boat ride.
However, there was a lump in my throat for a good chunk of the 24-hour stay. It caught me off guard.
For starters, being with so many hard-luck families made it hit home that we’re a hard-luck family. That should have sunk in by now after 3 years of pretty public ups and down with two sets of premature twins, but apparently it hadn’t. This just seemed different. There were wheelchairs and g-tubes and cancer patients and obvious struggles. And we fit right in.
While I tried not to read too much into it, there seemed to be an underlying sadness and/or wisdom in every face – they all seemed weathered. Again, just like us. It’s hard to know why adults end up that way, but there was very little guesswork necessary with the kids. One girl really stuck with me. She’s maybe 7. Probably a cancer or leukemia surviver. Short, soft-looking blonde hair. I felt sick as I watched her wait in line for a ride – it seemed patently unfair that such a beautiful child should know such pain, hardship.
Meanwhile, our own miracle baby wasn’t herself during the trip, sort of lethargic. Vomiting more than usual. On the ride home, she spiked a fever of 104-plus. We nearly stopped at a rural ER. Once again, I found myself taking mental notes on how work and life could be rearranged in the event that she again wound up being hospitalized for an extended period of time. Thankfully, it hasn’t come to that. But it could, if not now then anytime in the future. It’s likely the same for everyone at the event – we’re too often waiting for the bottom to fall out.
That’s nothing new; I just didn’t think it would stand out so much in this room. Oddly, the situation drew more attention to our various conditions – at least in my mind. Like, it’s easier to hide in the healthier segment of society.
Upon returning home, I felt bad for letting my mind go in that direction – I should have been focused on the positivity of the opportunity rather than the difficulties that brought us together. Maybe that will be easier the next time. Because there was no shortage of smiles.
Okoboji reminds me of Detroit Lakes, Minn., in terms of size, location and amenities. We hit up an oversized indoor waterpark – the kind that has tube slides sticking out of the walls. My oldest daughter loved those. We ate pizza outside, overlooking the lake.
The signature amusement park is charmingly old school. There’s a wood roller coaster – one of 13 still standing – and a mirror maze in addition to more modern rides and attractions. It’s located right on the beach, adjacent to small shops and restaurants. My favorite was the Nutty Bar Stand, home to the best frozen bananas this side of the Bluth family. The weather was amazing.
It felt good to get out of town as a family, something we’ve rarely done the last three years. It felt good to share war stories with other survivors, to have a shared understanding. It reaffirmed our belief in CMN.
It’s just unfortunate that we or anybody else had reason to be invited.