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July 22, 2024

Traveling With Kids

By Tyler Willson

"There is no more room honey." I said, the exasperation in my voice as thick as the cloud of steam my breath made in the frosty air.

"Well we can't leave it behind, Will!" Mariah answered, her exasperation just as thick but without the cloud of steam. She was inside the warm apartment with the baby, while I was out in the cold packing the car.

I sighed deeply and took the box from her and trudged back across the parking lot to the car. I heard her shut the door behind me and I pondered several different strategies to get her to pack the car while I waited with the baby. None of them seemed likely to succeed, so I resigned myself once more to my fate.

I opened the back door carefully so that nothing would fall out. We had traded our two-door in for a sedan six months ago in preparation for the arrival of our first child. Then we realized, that even though there were twice as many doors, there actually seemed to be less room than before. No matter, nothing had to be back there but one infant seat anyway, so there was no need to find something bigger.


Then it came time to move.

Being in the military meant that moving was somewhat simplified. The movers came on time, packed up our few belongings and left us with an empty house. Well, mostly empty. Mariah kept on carrying more and more stuff to the back bedroom that we had designated as off-limits to the movers. I kept telling her that we would not have room for it all in the car, but she simply dismissed me with a flick of her hand. "Well, we can't do without this for a month, so we will just have to find room."

Now, I was the one with the responsibility of finding room.

Despite my care, a grocery bag filled with baby diapers fell out onto the hard packed snow of the parking lot. I cursed under my breath as they scattered out across the dirty snow. I set the box in my arms on the top of the car and knelt down to gather them up. When they were all back in the bag I tied the top closed firmly and set them on top of the car next to the box. I stuck my head inside and considered carefully how I could re-pack the car to include this one more box.

Ten minutes later, I had everything stuffed back into the car. The infant seat looked like it was at the bottom of a deep canyon between two tall piles of bags, boxes, and other assorted stuff. I had long ago given up any hope of seeing out the back window; it was stuffed full of stuff as well. As long as there was room for the baby, we would make it just fine.

A plaintive meow came from somewhere in the pile of stuff, and I stuck a finger through the airhole in the cat carrier that formed the foundation of one of the sides of the canyon.

"It's all right Figaro, just go to sleep. We will be in Utah in a few hours, and then you can get out and explore Grandma and Grandpa's house." I had tried to figure out an affordable way to sedate the cat for the trip, but the vet's suggestion of medication was way beyond the budget of a lowly Corporal. So I called my Dad for advice.

"Try cough syrup." He said.

"Cough syrup?" I asked. "What kind? And how do I give it to him?" I was incredulous, and Mariah's eyebrows arched as she heard me ask the question.

"Probably Nyquil, or anything that says Nightime or warns of drowsiness. That way you can be sure it will put him to sleep." Dad sounded pretty confident, so I shrugged my shoulders. "OK, we'll give it a shot." Mariah was not so optimistic.

"You can't just give a cat cough syrup!" Her voice was slightly scornful. However, my newlywed sensibilities were just a bit offended at the way she so easily dismissed my father's advice.

"My dad knows what he's talking about. He grew up on a farm, and has been around animals all his life. It'll be just fine. We'll test it out first, to see how it works. My Dad usually knows what he is talking about." I said, daring her to disagree. She looked at me for a minute, and then shrugged her shoulders.

"OK, give it a shot. See what happens." She said, walking away.

That settled it. I could not let her simply dismiss advice from my Dad that way. I immediately ran to the store and picked up a bottle of Nyquil. I hated the stuff, personally. It tasted to me like a cheap version of Jagermeister, and it never failed to keep me up most of the night with night sweats and confused, frustrating dreams that never fully materialized into something restful. Nevertheless, it was time to show my wife that I was more than capable of solving problems and providing for my family, and I had to at least conduct the test. I found a measuring syringe with some kind of pink substance crusted inside it, leftover from whatever medication we had given the baby last. Apparently whoever used it last had been too lazy to wash it out afterward. I did seem to have a hazy memory of finding some infant pain medicine in the middle of the night and guessed it was probably me. I rinsed the syringe out, then filled it with the cough syrup.

Then, I found the cat.

He already hated me, for reasons we had tried to guess but which generally eluded us. His hatred was generally expressed in the form of urine, which he particularly liked to place on any Army gear I left within reach. I had to be very careful to keep all of my gear up and off the floor, lest it acquire a very distinctive odor which would take several thorough washings to get rid of.

As I approached him with the syringe hidden behind my back, he gave me his normal baleful glare and stalked away with his tail stiff in the air. I decided that a little bit of strategy was in order, and I went to the fridge and got a piece of baloney. I knelt on the floor and tried to be as inoffensive as possible. The cat approached gingerly, sniffing at the outstretched meat. I drew my hand in slowly, drawing him closer until I could reach the scruff of his neck. Then I sprang the trap.

I picked him up by his scruff, and brought the hand with the syringe out from behind my back. The cat was struggling to escape, making angry growling noises deep in his throat. I thrust the nozzle of the syringe between its slightly open mouth and quickly depressed the plunger all the way. The results were, to say the least, spectacular.

Figaro climbed up the arm holding him, and down my back, then ran full speed into the wall behind me. He turned about forty five degrees and took off full speed again until he hit the wall, this time at a glancing angle. He continued this bumper car routine as I followed him, frantically trying to catch him and keep him from injuring himself. It was lucky that the movers had already taken all of the furniture, and that the house was empty. Otherwise, he would have caused even more chaos. Eventually, I stopped pursuing him when I saw the futility. Instead, I just stood there, watching and imagining ways to dispose of the body without the ASPCA finding out what I had done. Mariah was also watching, laughing out loud.

"That sure calmed him down! He won't make a peep during the whole trip now!" I glared at her while dodging the cat which streaked past me, now dangling strings of slobber from its mouth that looked like shoelaces. I tried a new approach to catching him.

"Here kitty, come here, I am sorry, sorry for that, let me help you with that slobber..." visions of our cleaning deposit going up in smoke as the strings of slobber left their tracks across the carpet.

Eventually, the cat calmed down enough that I could catch him and wipe the drool from his mouth. He seemed no worse for the wear afterwards, though his hatred of me seemed doubled.

So it was no surprise that as I tried to comfort him through the airhole, he responded with a hiss and a snarl. I snatched my finger back quickly, and muttered my wishes for his quick demise under my breath.

I pushed the pile inwards, and then quickly yanked my hand out and slammed the door. It held, although I could swear I heard the car groan with the pressure. I walked back to the apartment, and went inside.

"It's time to go!" I announced proudly. Mariah had just finished feeding the baby, and was wrapping her up in a blanket.

"Did you get everything in?" she asked. I nodded.

"Yeah, just barely. We just can't open either one of the back doors until we get there, or else we might have an incident." Mariah either ignored my sarcasm or didn't catch it because she was concentrating on the baby.

"Do you think she'll be okay on such a long trip?" she asked me. I shrugged.

"I can tell you, that if we get in a wreck she'll be the safest one in the car. If the rescuers can find her in the rubble that is..." Mariah glared at me.

"That isn't funny Will. Don't even joke about that kind of thing." I felt a bit sheepish, she was right. I couldn't imagine anything bad happening to my little family.

"Yeah, we will be just fine. Let's go. There is a storm coming, and I don't really want to be traveling in it." I said, trying to regain my place as protector of the family, instead of the guy with the inappropriate sense of humor. It seemed to work.

"We're ready. Let's go!"

Mariah and I had only been married for just over a year when Susanna was born. Only a month later, the Army informed us that we would be moving from Fort Carson, in Colorado Springs, to Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Washington. It was exciting, but we were a little unprepared for the rigors of travel with a young child. As we rolled out of Colorado Springs that morning, it was overcast and threatening and the roads were snow packed. We drove carefully for the first couple of hours before stopping. We were somewhere between Denver and Grand Junction when the baby started crying. Mariah reached back into the canyon to try and comfort her, but eventually decided it was time to stop.

"We need to stop. She's hungry and I need to feed her."

I looked for the next exit, which fortunately had a couple of different gas stations. I pulled the car back into a secluded corner of one, to give Mariah some privacy while she was nursing. She turned around in her seat and struggled with extracting the baby from her seat while I walked into the gas station to buy some drinks. When I came back out, Mariah was feeding the baby. As soon as I opened the door, she said,

"Will, her diaper leaked, and she needs a new outfit. Can you get one out for me?" I must have appeared to have forgotten where the baby clothes were packed, as I stood there with my mouth open for a few seconds.

"Do you remember where you packed her suitcase?" Mariah asked. I certainly did. It was at the bottom of the trunk.

"Didn't you pack an extra outfit in her diaper bag?" I asked incredulously. That diaper bag usually had half of the house in it. How could it not have at least one clean outfit?

"No, I took that out to make room for some extra diapers, just in case. I didn't want you to have to dig through the car if we ran out of diapers." Mariah said, without a trace of irony in her voice. I made sure to put plenty in mine to make up for it.

"So, to save me from digging for diapers, I now have to dig for an outfit. Great." I was trying not to be snippy. Much. Apparently I missed that mark by a little. Mariah's eyes narrowed.

"Don't blame this on me. You should know that babies need clean clothes a lot. You should have packed it somewhere easy to get to." I thought for a second about whether I wanted to pursue this any further before deciding that I didn't. I settled for an exasperated sigh and turned away without replying and closed the door. I walked back to the trunk and opened it carefully. The lid sprang open and a bag filled with paper plates, napkins, and plastic utensils spilled out onto the ground. I swore carefully, and bent down to gather them up. It seemed like this would be a recurring theme for a while. I declared the entire bagful of picnic supplies to have been contaminated, and threw the whole bag in the dumpster. Score one point for lightening the load! Then I returned to the task at hand.

No Chinese puzzle had ever been constructed so deviously as the stack of suitcases, bags, boxes, and assorted bundles that packed that trunk. I pulled the blankets and pillows out first, and not wanting them to suffer the same fate as the picnic supplies carried them up and put them in the driver's seat.

"How's it going back there?" Mariah asked cheerfully. I grunted what I hoped was an amiable and optimistic answer and closed the door. Next, I began making a stack of bags on the ground next to the car. Finally, I spotted the baby's suitcase all the way to the rear of the trunk. I tried to unzip it and get something out from its current location, but the zipper pull was (naturally) underneath another bag. So I decided it would be easier to just yank the thing out from under everything, and get it out where I could open it. I grabbed a handful of bag and strained backwards. Nothing. It didn't even budge. I would obviously have to excavate a little more to free it from its resting place. I stacked some more suitcases and boxes on the ground next to the car, until I was positive I could get the baby's bag out. I grabbed a handful and tugged again, grunting with effort. It remained solidly attached to something, and I stopped pulling when I heard seams popping somewhere. I removed everything else in the trunk, until the bag was still the only thing left. It still refused to budge. I pulled one corner up to see what the problem was, and found that the strap had managed to wrap itself around the wingnut that secured the spare tire compartment. A few more curse words and a torn fingernail later, I finally lifted the bag from the trunk. I carried it up front, and set it on top of the blankets and pillows on my seat.

"Here, get a couple of outfits out, while I repack the trunk." I told Mariah. She smiled at me sheepishly.

"I already found a clean outfit. I forgot that I stashed one under my seat while you were packing the car. See? I already have her changed." I tried my best not to be mad. I mostly succeeded.

"Well, just go ahead and get a couple more outfits out, while I repack the trunk, just in case. You know how messy babies can be."

As if on cue, our sweet little baby, who weighed all of twelve pounds, let out a long, wet ripper that would have made any grown man proud. Mariah rolled her eyes.

"I guess you are right. Just leave it there, while I change her... again!" I closed the door and set about repacking the trunk. After a few tries, and a bit of bouncing up and down on the trunk, I finally got it closed. I walked back and opened my door to find my wife putting the baby back in the car seat without a shirt on. No, the baby was fully dressed. It was Mariah's lack of clothing that caught my attention.

Normally, this is not something I would complain about. Even now, I was a bit excited. But the far corner of a truck stop parking lot in an overpacked car in broad daylight was not really my idea of romantic. And frankly, I had always considered myself to be the least romantic half of our marriage.

"What are you... why are you... where is your shirt?" I was unsure of how I should be feeling at this point. Mariah blushed, and grabbed a baby blanket to cover herself up with.

"Stop looking! What is wrong with you? Get me my bag!" I certainly did not stop looking, and for some reason I didn't hear what she was saying the first time.

"Where is your shirt? Do you really think this is the best place..." Mariah gave me the look of death, which caught my attention finally.

"Go get me a clean shirt from my bag! And stop looking!" her face was bright red, and I could almost feel actual heat coming off of her she was so angry.

"But I just repacked the trunk! Your bag is in the bottom! What happened to the shirt you were wearing?!" I was not too eager to unpack and repack the trunk just yet, and being a guy, I was hoping the blanket would come off again if even for a second or two.

"I got poop on it when I was changing the baby! Just go get me a shirt out of my bag before I kill you!" I had to stifle the urge to challenge her to come and get me. I decided that she was near the breaking point, and that I should just comply if I wanted to continue being married.

I went back, unpacked the trunk, found her bag, got a shirt, and then repacked. I took the shirt back up to her, and found her feeding the baby again.

"Did you have to make so much noise? You woke the baby!" I pondered my response for a few seconds before deciding that she was still too angry for me to get away with much. I got in and handed her the shirt. She finished feeding the baby and handed her to me to burp while she squirmed into her shirt beneath the blanket. I decided to keep quiet while I patted the baby's back until she burped. I turned around and started to put her into her seat, when Mariah stopped me.

"Check her bum. I don't want her getting a rash." I shook my head.

"Didn't you just change her?" I should have known better than to question her at this point.

"Do you want to have her get a rash because you didn't want to check her bum?" I certainly did not, so I turned back around and rooted through the layers of clothing until I could pry up the leg of her diaper. And got my finger covered in mustard colored poop.

"Whoa! Gross! Here!" I handed the baby to Mariah quickly while trying not to touch anything with my polluted finger.

"Calm down, it's just baby poop. Here, let me get you a wipey so you can clean it off." Mariah found a wipe and I cleaned my finger while she got everything ready to change the baby's diaper for a third time. It was quite a process in the cramped car. First, she laid out on the dashboard all the necessary supplies: clean diaper, wipes, Desitin, and powder. The wipes had to be ready to be grabbed with one hand, so she pulled one most of the way out to be sure she could get it easily. then, she took a pillow and laid it in her lap for a changing platform. Finally, she was ready to start peeling off layers of clothing to get to the diaper.

It turned out that there wasn't much to clean up, but Mariah still lectured me as she did about how easy it was for newborns to get diaper rash. She was holding Susanne's legs up with one hand while finishing wiping her bottom with the other.

"See? You have to get all of the poop off, or else it will start to burn and if left too long..." she was interrupted by another loud and gassy noise from the baby. I stifled a laugh, and told her,

"You should cover that thing up, I think it's going to go off again." Mariah pursed her lips at me.

"She has just gone poop twice. I really don't think..." At that moment, it went off again. A thick stream of mustard colored poop squirted out of our beautiful daughter and splattered the pillow and the front of Mariah's shirt. The baby sighed contentedly as she emptied her bowels again with all the finesse and volume of a drunk truck driver. We both froze there, me worried that I was about to laugh out loud and be a single man by night fall, and Mariah as her mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened.

Naturally, the first thought it managed to grab was that this was somehow my fault.


I chose not to argue. I just got out and went back to unpack the trunk.

Article © Tyler Willson. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-01-25
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