We were about an hour out of Providence when the baby started crying and she wouldn’t take the pacifier.
I stopped to check her diaper and nurse. We’d hoped our two-year old would sleep for her usual three hours, but all the fussing woke her up. We sang Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da; that disturbed the baby. We made another stop. I nursed the baby while my husband took the two-year old to the bathroom. We talked about all the colors and types of vehicles because the two-year old really liked trucks. Then we talked about what we would do in Buffalo. Last time, the two-year old liked the zoo. My husband mentioned a farm with a pumpkin patch which I knew would be closed and an ice cream shop. The two-year old wanted ice cream right now. My husband gave her water and milk and snacks. Some went into her mouth. Most goldfish ended up on the floor. She started taking bites of an apple and spat them out. “It’s food for the goldfish,” she said. He gave her crayons and she started hurling them at our heads.
It was still six hours plus to Buffalo. My husband’s grandfather was 93. I thought my husband should’ve gone to visit on his own, but he wanted to introduce the baby. Sheer hubris; but my husband was convinced we could all do it together.
One of the crayons hit my husband and made him wince.
“Please don’t do that anymore, sweetie.”
The next crayon hit him right between the eyes. The next two hit the windshield and the car swerved, coming dangerously close to a refrigerator truck. My husband screamed.
In response, the two-year old started screaming.
“Shhh,” my husband said. But she started screaming louder because she was trying to out-scream the baby, who had already been crying for 30 minutes.
My husband told me the baby’s sweater was wet. There was an exit coming up and I took it. After fifteen more minutes of driving through farm country, we saw a gas station. The baby’s car seat needed a complete wipe down. The two-year old had spilled water all over herself and she, too, needed a change.
All four of us piled into the single restroom at the back of the gas station. I spread out the changing pad on the concrete floor, and my husband went to the car to rummage for clean clothes. The baby had pooped through her diaper. Once I’d gotten her ski pants off, my hands were covered in it. She hated being cold. She started screaming and kicking her arms and legs. The poop went everywhere. Her feet were covered. My hands. My forehead.
“Look, Mommy,” the two-year old called.
She was leaning over from the toilet seat to the nearest bathroom wall with her tongue out. When she saw that she had my attention, she pushed her tongue against the wall and dragged it across the tiles.
I’m a microbiologist by profession.
“Please, stop it,” I pleaded.
Why have children? I thought, lifting the cold, screaming, poop-covered baby to my chest, holding her so tight that I could feel her ribs expand against mine. I wanted to scream, “Whatever it was that made me do it, it wasn’t worth it!”
“Yes, honey,” I said. “I see what you’re doing. You’re being silly, aren’t you?”
I turned away from the two-year old and buried my head in the baby’s naked belly, looking there for a moment of comfort. The baby’s belly was warm and soft, something gurgling inside. More poop? I looked up at her face and watched as she grinned her wonderful toothless grin, then actually laughed. She’d been so angry at me this whole trip, and now she was laughing.
The two-year had jumped down from the toilet seat and was now at the sink. She’d found an angle from which to reach the long faucet handle and was now inching it upwards to turn on the water.
My husband looked at her, then at me—it was a look of amazement and pride. See what our child can do? He wasn’t thinking, say, that she was about to scald herself with hot water.
“I’m taking the kids home,” I told my husband. “Eight hours is too long.”
“I think you’re overreacting,” my husband said.
It was a miracle that his grandfather had survived to 93. But I had survived to thirty-eight, a third his age, and managed these two kids and nobody was driving eight hours to see me. Nobody was driving to see me at all.
“Do you want us to drop you off at an Amtrak station?”
“Fine,” he said, the blush of anger showing through his day-old beard.
Working together, we managed to clean up the kids and stuff them back in the car. I got behind the wheel.
As a scientist, I had been trained to set up the experiment as carefully as I could, watch it run its course, and accept the results whatever they might be. But sometimes microorganisms just got into everything. Microorganisms—they ruled our lives.