Making cookies with Grandma
Sometimes the journey makes you appreciate the destination that much more. I know many of us have received this advice, and it applies to so many situations: Becoming a bar/bat mitzvah, graduating college, navigating your first "real job" and things like what I experienced just last month -- traveling from Washington, D.C. to central Illinois with an 18-month-old.
The car was fully loaded with the luggage, the cooler stocked with snacks, the child resting in his car seat. The clock read 8:33 a.m. Wow! Most weekdays it's a fight to get out the door before 8:00 a.m. Considering we were leaving for a week-long vacation and it was only 30 minutes after the usual departure time, this was a Nobel Prize-level accomplishment.
At our first stop, the clock read just before 11:00 a.m. We were making excellent time. I wondered aloud to my wife about the possibility of getting to her parents late that night instead of having to stop at a hotel along the way. At the time, we were on pace to arrive before midnight. As we pulled out of the truck stop in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, it sure seemed plausible, but it would only take about 30 minutes for our exciting and optimistic plans to completely unravel.
My son, Johnny, gets carsick sometimes. The doctor says it's a normal thing for infants and they usually grow out of it. Well, Johnny proved to us three times on the way to my in-laws that he refuses to grow out of it.
After each incident, I would look at the clock as we pulled away from another gas station, truck stop or highway shoulder and do the math in my head. We were laughably behind, yet neither of us wanted to stop at a hotel only to wake up and deal with this all over again the next day. By about 9 p.m., we finally got him to sleep and resigned to push through, taking turns sleeping ourselves so we could just get there.
It was shortly after that decision that the annoying rattle our car had been making for a while -- the one our mechanic assured us was nothing to really worry about -- started gaining some, umph. Before long, it was more of a roar, and then there were funny car smells. It was after midnight, somewhere in Indiana. We pulled into a truck stop in Mclean, Illinois for some snacks to keep us going, and then the car wouldn't start up again. We were just over 90 minutes from our destination, it was after 1:00 a.m. and we were stuck.
Here is actually, where the story starts to change for the better. We dragged a very confused 18-month-old into a truck stop to try and figure out what to do. The people there were really lovely. They offered us free juice and cookies for the baby. When my wife ordered a sandwich they refused to let us pay. One of the employees actually locked her keys into her car while trying to give ours a jump and refused to take any money for the kit she had to buy in order to break into her own car. They basically let our family loiter for over three hours while we got ahold of my mother-in-law, who picked us up around 4:30 a.m.
We finally made it to bed just before 7 a.m., so almost 24 hours (accounting for the time change) after we had left home. As my head hit the pillow, I took a deep breath before nodding off to sleep and took in the familiar smell of the wood-burning stove used to heat the home in the winter. The fire had burned down hours ago, but the faint, smoky smell was still in the air, surrounding the home with its tender warmth. Just before nodding off, I heard sounds from the kitchen of Johnny babbling to his grandpa, who took over childcare for a few hours so we could sleep. We left the two of them eating cereal together.
I can't say I learned some grand lesson from all of this. Maybe we learned it's time to start flying home or just give up long trips for a few years. In all seriousness, however, there were two moments during the whole ordeal that stuck with me, and they weren't low points -- they were times when I caught myself smiling.
At one point we were coming upon a traffic jam on the highway, and at that very moment Johnny got sick again. With no exit in sight, I just pulled over to the side of the highway. I imagined what the drivers slowly passing by were thinking as we frantically pulled our kid out of the car like there was a fire. We ripped off Johnny's clothes and as we went through the luggage for clean ones, he stood there in his diaper, smiling and waving at the cars and trucks rolling by. Everyone, including the people in those cars, was laughing.
The next moment was when our car broke down, and it became clear that we were stuck. In my weary head, I turned to gratitude. I was grateful that we were at a brightly lit, clean and familiar truck stop. I appreciated that there was a repair shop next door that confirmed they would be open the next day, Christmas Eve. We would have a way to repair our car in time for our trip home. Lastly, we had somehow made it far enough that my mother-in-law could actually retrieve us.
I think Johnny was especially glad about that last part. He smiled like an angel when his grandma finally arrived. After a long and perilous journey, over rivers and through woods, it truly was a wonderful visit to her house.