Traveling while in 2021- From Disney to Dismay, Firsts to Unfortunate Seconds and more

The clock turned 2021 and we found out we could be vaccinated and move about the world a bit. This blog is a bit like a long chapter of a book. Be forwarned. By the following picture you’ll get the whole gist. Our FIRST Disney trip, pandemic fun/school/visitors in KC, Eli’s freak injury, Drew’s 40th in Las Vegas, Osborne family vacation in Michigan, November in Vancouver, and a Colorado Christmas.

In March we went to Colorado for some of Spring Break and Oakley’s first days of downhill skiing! We had two lovely days of skiing at Loveland with Grandpa Mark and Oakley picked up on it with bravery and coordination.

  • Pandemic impact: No group lessons available. Drew and Linds taught their first, and last, person to ski.

In April we had a dream trip to Disney World/Universal Studios from April 26-May 2, 2021. OUR FIRST TIME as a family- it won’t be our last. The trip was a perfect convalescence of the skills and temperaments of Drew and me and a great age and stage of life for our kids. I had the crazy idea and early energy to get the trip off the ground, Drew slowed us down and detailed his way through each piece of the plan to make it delicious, fun, easy, less line-y, and magical. Nothing we planned to do got rained out or canceled for COVID, or ride maintenance issues, or any easily occurring mishap. For all the details, and I mean, very detailed details, complete with all the appropriate Disney acronyms, check out Drew’s TouringPlans trip report.

In May- we made it through the end of a crazy Covid-impacted school year. One absolute highlight was the shared experiences of middle school that Andi and Eli got to share. They were both on the broadcasting team and ran track and cross country on the same team. The Spring track season was supposed to be eight meets but was impacted by weather and covid and decreased to four meets. The kids were resilient to overcome changes, cancellations, and disappointments. Oakley was a champion second grader with his mask and his bus rides and his mid-year teacher change. He stayed happy and healthy all year.

In June, Eli and Andi and I got to go to Wyldlife camp at Clearwater Cove with 16 of our middle school friends. To getaway to a resort designed to delight teenagers, with the freedom offered inside boundaries of adult leadership and camp schedules gave us a week where kids heard God pursues them, Jesus listens to them, the Spirit is inside of them, and we, adults, like them. They had a ton of fun.

In Late June-we filled our family schedule with really meaningful events and it was supposed to all be fine.

The plan: (June 24- July 3rd)

  • Thursday- Send Eli to Bartle Boy Scout Camp for his fourth year. June 24th until July 3rd.
  • Friday- Drive to Colorado for Grammy’s memorial service and special time with the Henke/Sustad family all together.
  • Saturday- Celebrate the life of Dee Henke. Linds serve as officiant, Andi sing, Drew share. (June 26)
  • Sunday morning- Fly to Las Vegas for an adults-only 40-year old bday bash for Drew’s 40th (June 27-June 29)
  • Tuesday- Return to Denver. Linds to go meeting in Golden. Drew work and kids play in Denver.
  • Thursday- Drive home to KC.
  • Saturday- Pick up Eli.

Eli was set and ready and got to Bartle safely on Thursday. Our road trip to Colorado was smooth and the family dinner Friday night was a great time to prepare for the service Saturday. A joy-filled ceremony of honoring and remembering Grammy happened Saturday with many loving friends and family in attendance. We enjoyed a dove release in the park afterward and a lovely dinner hosted by Maama.

Sunday morning was early for the adults headed to Vegas. We met up with Zach and Christine at the Golden Nugget and enjoyed the sites, sounds, and eats for all afternoon. We had fun at the Meow Wolf Omega Mart and a delicious celebratory (HBD Drew!) dinner at a tapas restaurant.

Monday morning we paid to swim and hang out at the eight stadium pools at Circa. Floating and finding shade, chatting and relaxing, we were living it up.

Drew hopped out to answer a call on his phone and stayed out of the pool long enough that I got out to join him. Turned out, it was a parent at Scout camp letting us know that Eli had been in an accident. Something about a tree and his ankle and maybe his head. We didn’t know much but the guy on the phone seemed calm and didn’t make us think it was an emergency or any significant medical event.

It was hard to hear. 

Really hard to hear Eli was hurt and we were so far away.

Really hard to hear. The music at that pool, and around Vegas in general is SO LOUD.

The gut punch of the news and the slow sinking in of “What do we do? What can we do? What does Eli need?” took all afternoon. We stayed at the pool waiting for the next phone call. We were comforted immediately that Steve (Poppy) was on his way to find Eli and would meet him wherever needed.

The news came in call after call with increasing detail. Eli was seen at the camp medical office and put in an ambulance to head to a rural hosptial to examine his lower leg and some facial abrasions.

Then we heard the ambulance team decided to bypass the small hospital and go straight to Children’s Mercy in Kansas City. Steve was there to be with Eli through the first brain scans and leg xrays. The story of the accident and the injuries was confirmed:

 On day 5  Eli was working to clear brush on the ground to build a path. A tree limb freakishly fell on him, fracturing his skull at the forehead, knocking him out, and somehow in a fall, breaking his lower right leg. He had a mirco-skull fracture and a concussion as well as a broken tibia and fibula. He required surgery the next morning- Tuesday, June 29th
Back in Vegas, we knew we HAD to get home. Who and how deliberations lasted just long enough for the last flight on any airline to expire. Drew left me at the hotel to head to the airport anyways (with the van keys in a pants pocket…so he brought those back to me…) and was able to keep refreshing the Southwest page to find one seat back open on the 9pm flight…for an extra $400 of course.
June 29-  Drew makes it from Vegas to the hospital arriving at 4am. Faithful and strong, Eli was sleeping and Steve was still bedside. Eli had surgery at 7:30am to fix his broken tibia with a now-permanently there rod. The fractured fibula would heal on its own. His fractured skull would also heal on its own and multiple CT scans were clear which matched Eli’s self-described lack of headache or memory loss.
June 30- Eli woke up in “the worst pain of his life” at 2am after surgery, same day physical therapy, the total body trauma, and the wearing off of pain meds. He was able to rest more and was discharged later that day.
Meanwhile back in Vegas… it’s still June 28th and we still had a night left to celebrate Drew’s birthday, without Drew. We did dinner at a cozy, historic, delicous and very delayed-in-customer service Italian restuarant, walked the brightly lit strip, loved the Bellagio sites, and took pictures…me joining random sibling couples and quite numb.
We flew as a crew back to Colorado early Tuesday morning and I had to make a decision. Drive exhausted and overwhelmed back to Kansas City Tuesday or wait until Eli was out of the hospital and I was more rested, and drive Thursday? So I chose Thursday and attended my Young Life meeting inbetween. I was a shell of a person but with my team which felt okay. My mom and family took care of Andi and Oaks who held together well despite feeling angst and agony for their brother.
We reunited and were bequethed gifts of support in three major ways for the first very impactful 10 days of July. 
1. People gave us gifts we needed and enjoyed. Lots of food and snacks that were Eli appetite specific. Those hit the spot. Many dinners and food that helped us take that big chore off the list. Neighbors, good people, and family gave Eli fidget toys and elaborate Lego sets, and new games. We had visitors sign the guest book which is very sweet to look back and see.
2. People gave advice, encouragement and wisdom. My medical professional friends were extremely on point to provide wisdom when I wondered how bad it was to know Eli had a “traumatic brain injurty” and the accidental finding of a questionable thyroid nodule that would need follow-up. Beyond texts to calm down from our NP, our aunt MK also an NP, friend Kristin was gracious to come over and help peel off the scarey sticky bandages.

3. People gave us presence. Two men came to our house and sat on the couch with Eli. Uncle Zach came for three days to spend hours with Eli; empathy the only agenda. I cannot write it today without tears. The impact of his presence on those days overwhelms. Our youth pastor, pursued coming alllll the way up with specific favorites in tow, and spent almost an hour letting Eli tell the story and share his whole truth.

We were impacted by the ways people gave when we needed help and hope.

It was lonely and disorienting for all of Eli’s plans to change. No more swim team or flag football. No more trampoline or scootering, bikes or moving without crutches. Many many doctor appointments (16 in 8 weeks) and no invites to hang with friends.

The emotionally maturing 14 year old boys did come around despite being slow on the entering in. At first, I literally called them to come over or grabbed them from the street. We brought Eli to a pool Wyldlife event but I had to take him home early. Too hot to stay seated in a chair while everyone else played. However, his spirit was high and his tenacity through pain and discouragment remained steadfast. Eli has a great personality for pushing through.

Perhaps the most helpful was the Scouting community– both our local troop, the regional corporate VIPs who came to the hospital to drop off a gift, and the Bartle community who sent love, took down the tree, named the path after Eli, and welcomed him back later in the summer to finish his ranking up requirements.

Back to the travel calendar

IN JULY- We had some repeats. Eli back to Bartle and Drew back to positive.

Eli had an amazing time spending two nights alone outside, on crutches, with a new “blood brother”, a kind advocate from 395, and a welcoming host troop from Johnson County. I spent one night and Drew went down for the ceremonial celebration.

July 31- August 7th- Osborne family vacation 

We headed off all together with Eli almost healed up to the best beaches in the U.S.- Barrien County Mighigan. We had a cozy house with an awesome yard and hot tub near Grand Mere State Park. We were all together with all the Osborne’s for a fun family five day trip. We went berry picking and dune hiking and beach swimming for a blast of three days.

On night three, Drew got a sore throat and had a feverish sleep. Packed together with 18 of us, all fully vaccinated except the six kids in-elligible,  we were going to be shocked if it was COVID and shocked if we didn’t all get it. Turns out, Drew did have COVID and everyone had been super exposed. We masked up for any inside times that last day, stayed all away from poor Drew *NOT HIS SUMMER* and drove home early. (Eventually, it was clear vaccines work since no one else got Drew’s Delta infection). We were supposed to vacation two more days in Chicago and you know, not have Drew drive with COVID in an kN-95 on my birthday...but it was summer 2021! 

In August- Eli was checked out by neuro to swim *but not dive* and his orthopedist encouraged a swim workout. He started high school swim on August 9th and was a conference-qualified swimmer by October. We canceled three of those PT appointments and checked out with therapist Kayla who Eli really appreciated on September 20th. Oh and Patrick Mahomes was in house that day!! We snuck a picture and Eli got a legit head nod from our local champ. A-mazing.

September- Camping with the cousins was smooth and turned out to be the last time we saw my granddad Don. He came to the campsite for an afternoon where we shared comfortable conversation and he, a nap in a chair. Drew somehow knew it was time to lean in and listen and won’t forget that crisp Colorado afternoon among aged wisdom.

November- The Sustad Siblings united for the 3rd time in 2021 when the Sustad sisters trekked to Vancouver. Three aunts and two nieces plus one adventurous and hard-working dad made for a profound time of processing pain, digesting what will be different, and playing lots and lots of fun things with the very vivacious Vienna and Aria. Oh, and so many nachos.

December- Christmas in Colorado was a magical gift of togetherness and transition. Our Mom had moved out of our growing-up house and our Henke grandparents had both passed. Scot came alone as the ending of his marriage was in a messy stage of making Christmas across country lines difficult. Our extended family was celebrating moves and upcoming marriages, some cancer, and a cousin back from college. Almost everyone was in Colorado for Granddad’s service. We were gifted Ray’s house in Longmont for this gathering- the space and place were such a gift.

All together with all of that, just before the year ended, we contracted COVID all together as a family. 

Well almost. From our Colorado Christmas house of 15, five kids and six adults would test positive and feel poorly. NOT Drew this time. Wahoo. It meant we returned to have Christmas on the driveway at the Osborne HQ and would miss many hugs with our faraway Chicago family so close but out of reach.

Alas, we started the new year sick and very much back at home.

In reflection, it makes me tight in the shoulders, teary-eyed, and too grateful to write much more. The year was full.

We learn the most in great suffering and great joy and for sure, 2021 held plenty of both.





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