We left Virginia around 3 p.m. yesterday, L behind the wheel of our rental Dodge Caravan, to return to New York after a weekend of visiting family with the baby. Due to traffic and the unyielding demands of an infant, it took us eight hours to get home. Because of tiresome rental car bureaucracies, L was the only one who could drive the car, so I spent a lot of time in the middle row, shushing A or rocking her car seat or holding a hand against her torso to remind her that human contact existed, even on the hellish eight-hour journey on which we had embarked.
At one point the baby started shrieking, so we pulled off at a random exit on 95 and wended our way down a couple more interstates until we found a place to park and get a soda. We ended up stopping for fifty minutes in some no-name town in Delaware, or maybe Maryland, or maybe Ohio, where there was nothing but strip malls, so the baby could eat and please stop screaming. The only fast food places were a Dunkin' Donuts and a Quizno's, which seemed like the result of some very bad zoning choices. We sat for almost an hour in the Quizno's parking lot, doors open, feeling the pleasant Delaware (or possibly Ohio) breeze brush up from the asphalt and waft through the minivan. I wondered where we were -- who lives here? In the Quizno's the woman ahead of me was wearing a t-shirt from a sociology club at a high school I had never heard of. When I was getting our drinks at the soda fountain, I overheard the teenage girl behind me explaining to her mother that "if you put too much ice in the cup, it fills the space the soda is in," or something equally weird. Where were we?
We spent another five hours on the road after that, listening to country radio and stuttering down the highway into a sea of constant taillights. The sun melted into the scrim of clouds and the temperatures dropped around us. We had to stop at another rest stop when the baby pooped with such volume and force that it eked out the side of her diaper and onto the car seat, and, on the front end, almost reached her belly button. When we realized this we were five miles from a rest stop, so I had to spend the interval patiently explaining to my daughter why she should sit quietly in her poopy diaper and car seat. "BE QUIET AND SIT IN THE POOP CHAIR," was my main argument. At that rest stop her pacifier dropped and bounced underneath the minivan. We sat there for a while, watching angry and frustrated people clamber out of their cars and into the Woodrow Wilson Service Area for some restorative Whoppers and Frappucinos.
Eventually we inched our way through New Jersey and alongside the cold glittering skyline of the city. The raucous lights of Tenth Avenue and Amsterdam seemed calm and welcoming after the long, long trip. Today the baby has been fussy and L and I have been exhausted. It will be good to be home for a little while.