Neither Snow, Nor Rain, Nor Puking Children‏

Memories of last year’s road trip…Alone in the middle of nowhere with puke, diarrhea, sick crying baby, mess, four kids to care for and still 700 miles of driving to go before home…now this is livin’.

After a week of jam-packed family time in Montana, we are HOME! Yesterday we pulled into our driveway at 5 AM after 16 hours on the road.  (Wrote this after Thanksgiving 2013.)

Wide open views from the (in town) backyard of my husband's parents in Montana.

Wide open views from the (in town) backyard of my husband’s parents in Montana.

By all-nighter road trip standards, we had a great trip: dry roads the whole way, no close calls with deer, no road construction, no vehicle issues whatsoever, no sick kids. And for all of that, I am very thankful.

By ordinary living standards, it is pretty miserable: crammed van stuffed with people, Christmas presents, and luggage, not enough leg room, tired kids that cry when street lights pass over, feeling too hot then too cold over and over again, two exhausted parents that don’t feel like driving but just want to get home, just under 1,000 miles to cover.

When we finally arrived home, we carried the kids into their beds, and felt thankful for winter darkness at 5 AM that let us sneak our kids into bed and keep them sleeping for a few more hours. After riding in constant motion for 16 hours on the road, when I flopped into our bed, that nice, flat, motionless bed felt like it was moving.

I’m glad I’m not a trucker. I’m also glad this isn’t last year’s road trip.

Last year my husband Jarred stayed in Montana a little after Thanksgiving to work on a scale project. That meant when it was time to saddle up and head back to Minnesota to take the kids back to school, I performed the feat of hauling four kids from Montana to Minnesota by myself. Last year, my oldest was 6 and the youngest just 19 months. For extra challenge, we added in stomach flu.

When this was fresh in my mind last year, my husband hadn’t arrived home yet, so I didn’t really want to publicize that I was home alone with four kids, and I never did write about it. Nothing like sitting in a van for hours on end, though, to bring back those fond memories that really are just too good to not share…

Last year’s solo road trip went fairly smoothly for the first few hours. I left at nap time and the kids all rested. A few hours in, I congratulated myself for rigging up our DVD player with the plastic tie from a garbage bag, which enabled the kids to see the screen and be content, which of course, meant I could drive.

About an hour later, somewhere on Hwy 212 east of Broadus, MT, on the stretch of road that is about 100 miles of no civilization, stomach flu kicked in for my baby. I heard a gurgling sound, and looked in my rear view mirror to see her puking all over herself and her car seat. I immediately pulled over and put on my flashers, although I don’t recall if anybody ever actually drove past.

Here are a few realities of puke in a vehicle:
1. Car seats have bottomless crevices.
2. Baby wipes become both bath tub and washing machine.
3. Smell permeates quickly and lingers indefinitely in a confined area.

I cleaned up the poor little girl, stripping off her dirty clothes and bagging them in a plastic sack. I scooped up chunks and wiped down her car seat with copious amounts of baby wipes. And I really wished it had been just puke, but it was an all-inclusive stomach flu, so I also had to change her leaky messy (and very smelly) diaper as well.

Alone in the middle of nowhere with puke, diarrhea, sick crying baby, mess, four kids to care for and still 700 miles of driving to go before home…now this is livin’.

After that episode, I managed to crank out a few more hours of driving, but by 7 PM in Rapid City, I was completely spent. We checked into a hotel and after wrangling check-in, luggage, and settling down kids in unfamiliar beds, we went to sleep.

Four kids hanging out in the hotel with Mom.  As you might guess from all the smiles, this was not the trip with the stomach flu.

Four kids hanging out in the hotel with Mom. As you might guess from all the smiles, this was not the trip with the stomach flu.

Kids are early risers, and by 6 AM with everyone awake, we dressed in swimming suits and headed to the hotel indoor pool. A little relaxing in water, hot tub, and water slide made the thought of a day full of driving a little more bearable. That combined with some waffles, and we felt ready for another day on the road.

I forget the details, but picture an endless day in South Dakota alternating keeping peace, passing out snacks, making gas stops and cranking out miles.

Needing a break at supper time, we pulled into the McDonald’s in Worthington, MN. Normally, I hate McDonald’s and its Play Place with claustrophobia-inducing tunnels that smell like stinky feet and chicken nuggets. That night, though, I was thankful for a spot for the kids to run around and play while being contained.

Just when I thought we’d have a little down time, stomach flu hit again.

I hauled my little three-year-old son into the bathroom with a terrible mess in his pants. While my two oldest kids played in the Play Place (and I felt paranoid about not being able to watch them), I cleaned up my son in the McDonald’s bathroom. Meanwhile, I tried to keep my baby from touching anything gross in the public restroom. And of course, everything in a public restroom at toddler height is pretty gross.

By the time he seemed clean again, I’d used half a package of baby wipes. I bagged up the wipes along with the completely filthy pants and threw it all in the garbage. No pair of handed down sweat pants is worth the cleaning effort at that point in a long road trip.

I just consider those pants an offering to the road trip gods. The McDonald’s bathroom garbage seems like an appropriate place to make an offering to road trips gods, right? Every time I go past Worthington, MN, I think of those pants. In my head, they’re still sitting in the garbage can. I hope they’re not.

I dressed my little boy in clean clothes, we all washed our hands very thoroughly, and my kids had a little play time before the last four hours on the road. You know when you’ve been on the road for a while when “just four more hours” sounds like a relief.

At our last gas station stop of the trip, I refueled and went inside the store to quickly grab milk and eggs for home. Milk and eggs are essentials for survival at our house.

I walked inside to find only one half gallon of milk in the entire store. With a crew of avid milk drinkers, a half gallon of milk is a joke. When the cashier told me they had no eggs left, that was the point in the trip that I about lost it.

Throughout that trip, I really tried to just be calm and roll with whatever came up: puke, yelling, crying…I knew we’d all survive all that. But after 30 hours alone on the road with four kids, I really just wanted to punch the guy who had no eggs. That was my last straw.

When I get gas, I don’t need 25 kinds of energy drinks or 50 kind of tobacco, and my kids don’t eat lottery tickets. But, I really do need milk and eggs, especially on the tail end of a 950-mile trip.

All frustrations, sickness, and exhaustion aside, we arrived home safely that night. Road trip mission accomplished. I tucked four kids into their own beds at home and for several days after, I held down the fort, but was pretty much worthless.

Last year’s trip was definitely a feat of motherhood endurance.

And today, I’m once again exhausted after a long road trip. But all in all, I’m thankful for the relative easiness of this road trip compared to the one last year at this time.

More than anything, despite the inevitable exhaustion that comes with these trips, I am committed to what these road trips mean: connection with family. With my husband’s family in Montana and mine in Minnesota, we’ve committed to a lifetime of road trips in order to keep connections with family that we love.

Being held by Great Grandpa Thelmer on Thanksgiving morning is just fine.

Being held by Great Grandpa Thelmer on Thanksgiving morning is just fine.

gingerbread house tag team

Five cousins show off their completed houses.

Five cousins show off their completed houses.

Exhausting road trips mean hugs from Great Grandma and Grandpa, making gingerbread houses with Montana cousins, eating breakfasts with Grandma and Grandpa, my kids watching Grandma sew their Christmas blankets, and countless hours playing and reconnecting.

And for that, neither snow, nor rain, nor puking children will stop us from hitting the road.

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A Journey of 1,000 Miles Begins with a Little Panic and Denial

Written January 16, 2012.

Six weeks from now our plan is to move from Montana to Minnesota. That’s six weeks to pack up a family of six, pack up a welding shop full of gigantic tools and equipment, and tie up an infinite number of loose ends. Quite frankly, I don’t know yet how it’s all going to happen by that time. But I do know a few things for certain: I am utterly overwhelmed, a touch panicked, and still in a mild state of shock and denial that this move is real.

Six weeks from a big move, this box and all the others sit woefully empty.

I know the gravity of the short time frame of our move is sinking in because I simply can’t concentrate on anything. Add that to my usual sleep deprivation from a teething baby with a stuffy nose and a two-year old night roamer, and while I look like my usual self on the outside, on the inside I’m just running around yelling, “AAAHHHH!!!” with a bit of hand flailing thrown in for good measure. This week, I created the beginnings of five different columns. At some point, each one of them will probably make an appearance for your reading enjoyment.

None of those that I started to write, though, held my attention. The whole time that I worked on any one of them, one part of me was busy sorting out details of my topic at hand, but that voice screaming in panic about an impending move kept yelling, “How can you write about feeding the baby?!! Don’t you know that you should have something packed up by now?!” And so, here I am. I am finally succumbing to the voice in my head. Perhaps if I get all my demons down on paper, they won’t bother me as much.

Maybe six weeks to moving sounds like a far-off date, perhaps too far away to have that nagging nervous feeling. I am overwhelmed, though, because I’m a procrastinator and not an organizer by nature. Our Christmas cards are still patiently waiting to be sent out. Oops, I mean “New Year’s” cards. Good thing the message printed next to the photo says “Happy Holidays.” This year, I’ll take “holidays” to include Groundhog’s Day, as well.

Delayed Christmas cards aside, though, it’s not that I want to just put things off until the last minute. Procrastination was my modus operandi throughout college, and I still graduated with highest honors. It really is motherhood that is forcing me for the first time to become better at planning out life and getting things done before a deadline. With this impending cross country move, I fully realize the enormity of the task before us. Because of that, my modest goal last week was to start the packing process by boxing up the summer clothes in our bedroom. I envisioned a happy stack of boxes in the corner of our bedroom, patiently waiting to be put on a truck and driven to their new wonderful home in Minnesota. And guess what. A week went by, and I can count the number of boxes I packed not on one hand, but no hands. Zero boxes packed. Gulp.

This is where the utterly overwhelmed feeling becomes a touch panicked. How in the world is this house going to be empty six weeks from now? With at least three kids at home at any given time, the day to day routines more than fill a day. In the past week we were fortunate to have no new incidents of ironed, melted carpet. But of course, there are always the bowls of spilled cereal, wet beds that kids don’t mention until the next time they want to sleep in them, and oh yes, the great benevolent milk provider in the house (me) had to ward off a case of mastitis last week. All of this makes me think wistfully of our newlywed days, when we made a 2,700 mile move from Poulsbo, WA to State College, PA by ditching our crappy second-hand furniture and moving ourselves in just our two cars. I don’t think today that we could even pack the kids’ toys in two cars.

These boxes might require a little reinforcement, but the essentials inside are ready to go.

While I swim in a sea of mild panic, organization and a plan of action also come hard because we are frankly in a state of shock about it all. It’s been nearly three years since we started looking at real estate in MN, and about five years since we started throwing around ideas about making a change from our lives here in Broadview, MT. Last year at this time, we thought Osseo, WI was our next home. We had a signed purchase agreement on a business property there, but then encountered road blocks at every step of the way, and what seemed like nearly a done deal eventually dissolved. But now, we officially own a home on acreage south of Utica, MN and I still can’t really believe it. After working so hard toward this move back to the midwest for so many years, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the fact that it really is happening. Finally! This is real.

Of course, as soon as I tell myself “this is real,” the other part of me says, “no, not really.” For eight years, Broadview, Montana has been home. Home. We can’t really be moving. Our kids were all born at home, right here in this little tiny town. Montana born and bred little tikes, they are. They regularly call up Grandma and Grandpa and invite them across the street to our house for supper or Saturday morning buttermilk pancakes. Our oldest daughter dearly loves her best friend, the only other girl in their kindergarten class of three. Our 4-year-old and our 2-year-old each have cousins here just their age. That means our kids could grow up, play with, and get in all sorts of trouble with cousins in their close knit classes at school.

But wait, that’s not going to happen. As completely overjoyed as I am about making this move back to Minnesota, I also completely dread saying goodbye. I hate long-term goodbyes enough that I often avoid them altogether. In six weeks, though, I am going to say goodbye for now to all of the family and friends that have made Broadview, Montana a great place to call home. We will head east 1,000 miles to Minnesota, back to where I grew up, where our family and friends there will help make our new house become the place we call…home.

© 2012