“Having a baby changes everything.”
I can’t remember which company laid claim to that ditty (maybe it was Johnson’s Baby Shampoo) but they sure hit it square with that one. Having a baby really does change everything, from the way I now take a shower – as quickly as possible – to how long it takes for us to get anywhere – which is forever. Last weekend we added a new chapter to our still-in-the-works manuscript How Drastically Life Changes after Baby (or maybe we should call it Time: You Never Knew How Much You Had Before Baby.) Anyway, the most recent family episode involved baby’s first road trip. Or the longest six-hour drive ever.
We loaded the car on Thursday. During the three hours it took to simply remember everything we needed, then pack it into the vehicle, I kissed goodbye any lingering aspirations I had of someday downsizing the family SUV. We have just one kid and weren’t taking the dog, or skis, or golf clubs, and still somehow managed to fill an entire truckload worth of, what? Baby stroller, cooler, Pack ’n Play… OK, I know it’s not P.C. to claim that we drive a big car because we “have” to, on account of all the “necessary” gear we bring everywhere, but I know that there are plenty of other families out there like us – ultimately utilizing public transportation, walking with the stroller, and biking with the trailer after we get ourselves and all that gear out of the car.
So finally we’re ready. There’s just the one last detail: Putting Elle into the car seat. We have learned that this step must, most definitely, be the very last in the multiple-stage process of going anywhere with the kid. Because if you put her in before your sunglasses are on your head, or the keys are in your pocket, or your wallet’s in your purse, you will pay. It may be only an extra minute or two that she’s unhappily restrained, but those minutes can turn a parent from slightly frazzled into fully spastic.
Another trick we’ve picked up along the way is to have naptime coincide with car trip time. It may seem irrational to wait 45 minutes, after the car is completely packed and waiting in the driveway, to get in – but again, it is done in the name of parental sanity.
So, in preparation for our trip to visit family in southeastern Colorado, we follow all the rules promising the best car trip with baby possible. Everything is logistically positioned for optimum reach-ability within the car: pacifier, bottle, toys. We’ve timed our departure for post-morning nap, assuring Elle will be sufficiently tired so the post-strapping in fuss will end in sleep, and as quickly as possible.
Miraculously, all of the above elements preceding our road trip are executed flawlessly, or as flawlessly as is conceivable when dealing with the inherently fickle nature of life with baby. Elodie falls asleep by Trout Lake. Life is good.
By Dolores, we are faced with a dilemma. We want dried cherries from the Dolores Market; they are the only dried cherries worth eating, in our opinion. However, our angel is still sleeping, and we’re only in Dolores, and if we stop she’ll inevitably wake up and we’ll feel compelled to spend the next hour showing Elodie the Dolores sights – or as long as it takes until she’s tired enough to let us strap her back in again! (Need I point out that my child is not a fan of the car seat?)
Our mouths are watering for sour cherries, so I jump out of the running car at the corner and Craig circles the block, maintaining optimum baby-pacifying motion while I dash for the cherries. The plan would have been a success (Elodie didn’t wake up) except for the major letdown of the Dolores Market being SOLD OUT of our favorite dried cherries. We settled with chocolate-covered raisins and continue towards Durango.
At Durango’s outskirts, we debate: Soldier on, since the baby is still asleep, or stop in Durango before she wakes up and realizes she is not only strapped into the insufferable chair, but is also hungry and sitting in a wet diaper? We go with the less dicey Plan B. She’s bright-eyed when we unload in Durango, and happy to get a milk meal and touch stuff at the East by Southwest sushi restaurant. Life is good. My dad calls and wonders when we’ll arrive – he estimates three and a half hours, and tells us he’s making a dinner reservation.
The sudden inclusion of a deadline imperceptibly changes the course of our rambling car trip eastward. We regret our ready agreement to dinner plans three and a half hours later, when fun, sunny, carseat-free Durango is long gone and Elodie’s awake and pissed off. Plus it’s starting to rain. And we’re supposed to be at a restaurant in 45 minutes, and we’re more than 30 miles away.
We readily decide that dinner reservations can be changed, since our child’s happiness (and ultimately, our good temper) is more important. We pull over on a muddy side road, and Elodie gets a dry diaper, a little snack and some time to stretch. She’s much a much happier camper for the remainder of the ride, but we sure are glad to be pulling up to my dad’s place when we do.
Our trip homeward takes a much different course, both figuratively and literally. We drive a different way, and also have a different agenda. We don’t have to be home by any certain time, and this allows us the freedom to maintain a (mostly) happy atmosphere within the car. We play in a park in Pueblo, where Elle rips fistfuls of grass out of the ground. We hang out at a gas station in Canon City, playing a riveting game of Where’s the Baby. We stop for dinner at Bentley’s in Salida, where Elodie gets mesmerized by Michael Phelps demolishing his competition as it is broadcast on the bar’s outdoor movie screen. It’s after dark by the time we leave Salida, and we decide that we don’t HAVE to be at work first thing in the morning… Elodie is thus introduced to car camping, plus we get to share a nice, leisurely breakfast the next morning at The Bean in Gunnison.
We do, eventually, make it back home. We’re still cleaning out the car, the inside of which looks like my younger brother’s closet. We’re also still talking about how nice that park in Pueblo was, how good dinner at Bentley’s was, how nice it was to spend the night under the stars on Monarch Pass and get a bonus Monday morning breakfast together. And despite the inevitable hiccups, and diaper blowouts, and periods of in-the-car screaming here and there, we’re looking forward to the next family road trip.