When I was in college, I drove down from Missouri with a carload of friends for Mardi Gras. I had seen probably more than 100 parades myself, of course, but my friends were all from St. Louis and had only experienced a watered-down Saturday-only freezing-cold version of Carnival. It was a whirlwind. We left after our Friday classes and drove straight through the night, arriving in New Orleans around 2 a.m. and crashing on my dad’s floor. We spent the next four days in a haze of drinking, costuming, stumbling around the Quarter, eating greasy food, drinking some more, bouncing around to various parties, making friends with strangers, dancing, and drinking some more. We were in rough shape when we packed back into my ’89 Camry early Wednesday for the drive home – hungover, dehydrated, tired.

I still found that entire experience more restful (and a lot more fun) than the Carnival I just had. I consumed no alcohol – well, I guess I did share a beer with my husband during Endymion – and yet I still ended up taking a trip to the emergency room, barely sleeping, and losing my keys. And I ache all over. For all of these things, I blame my children.

The “barely sleeping” thing is not unique to Carnival season. Ruby is and has always been a terrible sleeper. Georgia still wakes up at least once a night. I have no one but myself to blame for this really. I should’ve Ferberized them when I had the chance; now I just grin and bear it and repeat my mantra, “It’s just a phase.” Still, the long-ago days of sleeping where we fell and waking up at noon to refuel with bloody marys and french fries seems like paradise.

The ER visit … well, that’s not unique to Carnival either, really. Ruby was “looking at [her] sparkly shoes” on Monday night at Orpheus and walked into a trash can, gashing open her eyebrow. I have written before about the hassles of joint custody, but I have to say that honestly, having a coat at the wrong house when it gets chilly is really nothing compared to having your child injured at your ex’s house with no way to gauge the severity of the wound to your neurotic maternal satisfaction. Ruby was already asleep by the time her dad called me to tell me she’d been hurt, so I asked him to bring her to my house on Mardi Gras morning. (With the weather, it’s not like any of us were going out anyway.) The cut looked nasty, and I, being the gemaphobe I am, was horrified at the possibilities of what could have been lurking on the edge of a trash can on the parade route on Lundi Gras, just waiting to take up residence in my child’s delicate, tender facial flesh. After striking out at a few urgent cares (all closed), we ended up at Children’s Hospital. I know the Children’s ER well thanks to Ruby’s … adventurous spirit, so much so that when the woman doing intake asked me, “Have you been here before?” my response was to burst out laughing. The cut was cleaned and bandaged, antibiotics were prescribed, and we were on our merry way within two hours. Still, it was not how I had planned to spend the day.

And the keys. I almost wish I had a story about how I got so wasted after Endymion that I lost my keys … except that these days, with that story would also come a crippling two-day hangover. No, I didn’t lose my keys in the thrilling chaos of Carnival. My toddler hid them. They are somewhere in the house; that much I know. They are not: under my sofa cushions, in her toy box, in her playpen, in the box of mismatched socks, under my bed, in any of the pots and pans, or in the lower drawers of my dresser. They will undoubtedly turn up somewhere random (in Barbie’s Dream House? The Lazy Susan? The bathroom cupboard?) sometime in July – or else about an hour after I get the last needed key copied at the hardware store, but for now, I am at a complete loss.

As for the aches and pains, I have been carrying my kids and putting them on my shoulders and walking a whole lot more than normal. I am out of shape, and I am old.

I am much more wiped out than I was when I did this more than a decade ago, and I had more fun back then – and I still had my keys at the end of it. But this time is special, too, in a different way. It’s all, as I keep saying, just a phase.