Is my Desperation Showing?

Front Seat Selfie
Front Seat Selfie

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I’m in the seating area of the natural foods store in Sand Point Idaho, but I’m not sitting down. Stump, my one-year-old, has just thrown a slice of strawberry and three melon cubes on the floor and now he’s trying to launch himself out of his high chair. He’s needed a nap since two hours ago. I let him down and he starts running towards the main shopping area. He’s wearing a diaper, a t-shirt, and shoes with no socks. When I pick him up, he arches his back with super baby strength and screams No!

 Smoke, my five-year-old, is pecking at his string cheese and the six-dollar fresh fruit box I bought him. He looks off into space, tuning out the world, a skill he’s been cultivating since Stump was born.

Across from our table, a blond woman in her forties watches us as she tries to enjoy her lunch. “Let me know if I can help you,” she says.

Outside, it’s at least 90 degrees and my partner Kellie is forty-five miles away in Nowhere, Idaho (okay, it’s actually called Oldtown), waiting for the mechanic to fix her goof from earlier this morning.

Here’s how it went down:

1. At precisely 10 am, as planned, we left our friends’ house at the lake. We had four hours of driving ahead of us and we wanted to maximize Stump’s naptime. Our two friends and their two nephews would follow behind us. We were so organized. We had done all of our packing the night before, and spent the morning enjoying the lake. All we had to do was top of the gas tank in Kellie’s monster diesel truck.

2. While Kellie topped off the tank, I went inside to buy an iced tea. When I returned to the truck, she was in the middle of calling her dad. As it rang, she looked at me. “I fucked up,” she said. After leaving her father a voice mail, Kellie explained that the fuel hoses had been tangled, and she had accidentally topped her diesel tank off with regular fuel. She had already added twelve gallons when she looked down and noticed the pump handle was black, not green. “I am such a fuck-up,” she concluded.

3. Upon hearing the news, my first instinct was to minimize the problem. Three-quarters of our fuel was still diesel, right? Couldn’t we keep going and maybe the engine would run a little rough? Nope. A quick look at our smart phones and return call from her dad yielded consistent advice that we would risk ruining the engine that way. Well, then couldn’t we drive it a few blocks to the nearest mechanic and have them drain the tank and we’d be good to go in about an hour? Nope. Driving it even a few blocks would be risky, and no one could commit to finishing the job that day. If we could get it back tomorrow, we’d be lucky.

4. As we waited for the tow truck to arrive, we had to make some decisions quickly. Would we continue our trip to Montana or stay by the lake one more night? What would we do with all of our stuff—our cooler, our bags, our car seats? Would we rent a car, or pray that against all odds Kellie’s truck would be ready by evening?

By this time, our friends and their nephews had joined us. We needed their help, but we didn’t want to spoil their day, to trap them in our limbo. The nearest rental agency was forty-five miles away. There was also a problem of space: They had one free spot in their car. There was space for two riders in the tow truck. There were four of us. After some frantic discussion we made a plan. Kellie and Harlan would ride in the tow truck and wait at the mechanic’s, while Stump and I would overcrowd their sedan. Once we rented a car in Sand Point, our friends could reclaim their seats and continue on to Montana.

5. The rental car turned out to be unnecessary. By the time I had hauled a screaming Stump the forty-five miles back to Oldtown, Kellie’s fuel line was being drained, and the mechanic could now promise that her truck would be ready by the end of the day. I tried not to feel stupid and I tried not to worry that I’d have to pay the full $100 for the two-day rental I’d requested.

Instead, I tried to Make The Most Of It. For the third time that day, I’d drive the forty-five miles between Sand Point and Oldtown, this time with two kids in the back. While Kellie waited in the blazing sun, I could at least make use of my rental investment by getting the kids out of the heat and feeding them something besides the snacks that we’d been keeping in the truck for five days. Destination: Winter Ridge Natural Foods. By now, I’ve learned to depend on natural foods stores (in Idaho, no less) as a kind of respite for weary moms.

And now, here I am, chasing my toddler back and forth between the two rows of tables. I need coffee, and there’s an espresso bar just twenty feet from the seating area. I let Stump climb on a chair so that I can lean in and talk to Smoke. I touch his shoulder to get his attention. “I’m going to go buy a coffee drink right over there,” I say, pointing. But he doesn’t track my finger. He’s pretending to listen, but he’s still in outer space. Stump is climbing off the chair, but if I go now, I know what will happen. Smoke will return to earth in the moment I leave the area and wonder where I am. He’ll look around and begin to cry. He’ll holler “Mommy Where Are You?” tears streaming down his face. A shopper will call CPS. Hoping to avoid all this, I wrangle Stump and begin to repeat myself, but the lady eating lunch intervenes. “I’ll watch him,” she offers.

I’m grateful for her offer, but I’m also not sure if she’s acting out of genuine sympathy for me, or if she thinks I’m incompetent. And as I’m walking to the espresso bar, diapered baby on my hip, it hits me:

No one knows the reason for this spectacle, my unruly half-dressed baby, my unkempt hair, my checked-out son. No one knows about the days of traveling, the truck in the shop, the split second decisions, the chaos of it all. Instead, for all they know, this is just how I roll. For all they know, on grocery day I slap a diaper on the baby, let him run amok, and draw everyone in range into our family drama.

A half hour later, hot and weary but caffeinated, I’ll return the car and pay $50, just one of the day’s expenses. Underneath the blazing son, we’ll take our places and hit the road, the wind in our hair, finally.

15 thoughts on “Is my Desperation Showing?

  1. I hate days like that! But anyone and everyone that has ever had or been around kids for an extended period of time knows that this stuff just happens. It just sucks while it’s happening to you. Don’t worry, it’ll be some other mom’s turn tomorrow (probably me) 😉


    1. I think the worst vacation was when we went to Hawaii and Smoke immediately got sick with bronchitis and a double ear infection. He’d wake up screaming every night and didn’t feel better until the last day. This was just one day of frantic-ness.


  2. She knew. She definitely knew. Because we’ve all so totally had those days- the diaper leaks, the gas runs low, the shoe gets left behind, the juice spills down the shirt, the gum gets in the hair, and I’m sick or exhausted or my spirit has been killed by a mouthy child, a rude adult or the sudden realization that thing I should have done was yesterday. I consider those help-offerers who reach out in the face of my personal crisis moment as a spritely mom-fairy sent to earth solely for my purpose. Narcissism at its best, but it works.


  3. I just spent the weekend with my cousin and her three kids and was really struck by the tugs and pulls of her reality that I wouldn’t be privy to if she was just someone I saw out somewhere. Somedays I find it challenging to take care of just me. It sounds like you did a great job navigating all the challenges of this part of your road trip.


    1. Thanks, Diahann. “Somedays I find it challenging to take care of just me.”–yeah, now that I have two kids it’s all about choosing which one of us is going to require the most maintenance on any given day. Sometimes it’s still me. 😉


  4. When does one’s desperation show? When one remains attached to things. As we let go of such attachments, we gain the ability to accept things as they are, not as they should be.

    Would you agree? If you do, what pathway could you follow from here on?

    Liked the post and so am commenting.



    1. Those are interesting comments. Yes, I think that, in part, the desperation of that situation was in wanting to somehow maintain appearances. As the mother of two young kids, I often experience the tension between wanting to maintain some kind of control, and my ability to do so. Thanks for commenting!


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