Worst. Day. Ever.
As I pushed 17-month-old Kendall in her stroller out of our London apartment towards the tube, just after noon, I could feel the excitement bubbling up in my chest.
With my husband practicing for Wimbledon, this day would be a Mommy-Kendall day and I was taking her to our favorite place — the aquarium.
We hadn’t visited the London aquarium before, but we had in America, Australia and Japan.
We both unabashedly love fish and penguins.
We scanned our tickets and zoomed through the entrance to the tube, only to be halted at the two flights of stairs leading to the train platform. I waited a minute for someone to walk by me so I could ask for help.
Because of my scoliosis, I am advised not to lift more than 20 pounds. Kendall, plus the stroller, easily weighed more than that.
No one came, and as I heard a train approaching, I lifted the stroller up and climbed the stone steps as quickly as I could.
I arrived on the platform just in time to see the last car whizz past. I waited until the next train arrived. However, I never boarded the train.
The electronic signage on the train differed from the signage on the platform. The train thought it was going one place, while the platform another and I didn’t know what to trust.
The London tube system is not easy to follow.
It is nothing like, say, New York City, where I used to live, where trains travel North-South or East-West only. In London, a train line could travel North-South-East-West and diagonally.
I waited for a long while and boarded the fourth, still conflicted, train.
As soon as the doors closed, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. The conductor announced the train would be skipping multiple stops and wouldn’t be ending at its usual destination.
I needed to transfer trains at one of the stations that we would skip.
I pulled out my tube map and tried to find a new route to the aquarium.
Nothing offered a quick or close alternative.
I was starting to feel claustrophobic, like I was trapped inside a speeding bullet.
So at the next stop that offered any kind of transfer at all, I got off.
I pushed the stroller towards the next train, only to be stopped by a very steep flight of stairs.
The tunnel was deserted. No one was around to help me. So, I picked up the heavy stroller with child and slowly marched upwards.
On the next level, I discovered I needed to walk up another flight of stairs to transfer to the train line I needed. Or, I could exit the station via an escalator.
I chose to leave. My back had begun to ache already.
I walked south. The aquarium was on the river and I felt that, based on the map, the walk there would be less than an hour.
The sun intermittently shone through the very typical London clouds, and I was beginning to find the joyful beat in my step once again. We passed throngs of people, smartly dressed shop windows, and iron gates blocking tiny private parks. All the while I kept checking my map to ensure we were on track.
We stopped for sandwiches at a quaint cafe on a narrow, twisty, cobblestone street. Then we pushed on.
When we came to a much larger and more populated street, I checked my map. My heart sank.
I must have exited the cafe the wrong way. We had walked in a giant loop for hours.
I shouted into the air and then turned the stroller back around and walked south. The real south this time.
We walked past giant lion statues, double decker busses and purple banners commemorating the Queen. The sky was getting darker and just as Kendall fell asleep, it began to rain.
When we finally reached the river, I could see the aquarium on the opposite bank, just beyond the London Eye Ferris wheel.
But first I had to cross a giant bridge — a bridge whose elevator wasn’t working.
The rain had driven people into hiding. No one passed to help. I begrudgingly picked up the stroller and carried Kendall up the stairs onto the bridge.
I carried her down the stairs on the other side.
As our destination came into view, the rain came down harder.
That’s when I noticed the maze of people waiting outside the aquarium. I asked the employee clad in plastic how long the wait was.
“An hour,” he replied. “But, it’s already almost five and we close at six.”
What! It had taken me almost five hours to walk across London? I was shocked.
I found shelter inside the neighboring building and I locked us into the handicap/family toilet.
I changed Kendall’s diaper for the first time, I suddenly and sickeningly realized, in hours. As I stood her onto the ground, the wave of disappointment crashed into me.
I had wanted to give Kendall a fun day away from the daily tennis and all I had ended up giving her was the world’s longest walk.
The tears came with force.
Kendall tenderly wiped away my tears from my cheeks with her thumbs, exactly how I wipe her tears away.
Out in the lobby, I called my husband to tell him how I had the worst day ever. More tears surfaced. Kendall again hugged me tightly and wiped my face.
She smiled. She hugged. She was so patient.
I was pleasantly stunned at how selfless she was in that moment. She wasn’t upset about our epic walk and lack of fish at all. We had spent the day together, and that was fun to her.
When life gives me “worst days ever,” I try to remind myself about Kendall’s demeanor on that day.
She could have easily been the one crying, but she wasn’t. Instead, she remained joyful and gave of herself when I needed her most.
Andra Kucerak Guccione is a Jefferson resident whose husband is a professional tennis player.