I was remembering this day recently. When I tell this story, I’m usually in tears, laughing by the end. So maybe this will make you laugh today too.
Four years ago, we were moving from Florida to Washington State. Before leaving Florida, we sold one car and shipped our other car, a small hatchback with a manual transmission. Shipping a car across country is an incredibly shady business. The costs can vary wildly and involve a lot of last minute phone calls about which sketchy parking lot by the railroad tracks Dimitri, your driver, has chosen for your meeting. Picking up your car also feels illicit. Our drivers have always been Russian, and true to every spy movie trope, a heavily accented voice on the other end of the line saying “we meet twenty minutes?” feels vaguely sinister. So you meet in another potholed parking lot in twenty minutes, you hand over a wad of cash and he hands you the keys. And sometimes, you check to make sure there isn’t a block of cocaine hidden beneath the seat just in case.
So, we arrive in Washington and rent a car until Dimitri calls to say he is twenty minutes away from the tracks.
Matt was scheduled to leave for deployment two weeks after we arrived, so we carefully timed the arrival of our household goods shipment, which we had last seen being loaded onto the truck in a torrential downpour eight months before, to allow him time to help me unpack before he left for three months. But the call comes: our moving van has broken down somewhere in the Midwest and we find ourselves camping out on air mattresses for far longer than planned. When the truck finally makes it to us, Matt has about five days. Meanwhile, Dimitri has yet to call. Matt starts sweating because he’d packed all of the uniforms he needs for deployment in the car, thinking that surely it would arrive well before the household goods. Surely.
Still no call.
Finally, with about 48 hours before he is scheduled to leave, we learn our driver had an accident in Colorado. He nearly lost a finger during a delivery and now OSHA rules prevent him from driving as many hours as a day as he usually would, so he is nowhere near Washington yet. I picture him at the wheel of the transport, a cigarette dangling from his lip as he adjusts the bloody bandages on his mangled hand.
With less than 24 hours to spare, we get the call. He’ll make it to Portland tonight but no farther. We are four and a half hours from Portland. Matt’s flight is out of Seattle at six the next morning. We pile the girls in the car, along with the dog we’d just gotten two days before, and drive the four and a half hours.
We meet Dimitri in a damp, gravelly parking lot. I don’t get a good look at his bandages. We get the car and caravan the two and a half hours back up to Seattle for the night.
Our friends (who are not home) have given us the garage code to their house. By the time we get through the door, we are all exhausted. After seven hours in the car, the children are spent. Our new dog walks in and pees right in the middle of the hall carpet. I search the cabinets for carpet cleaner. Matt switches the car seats from the rental into our car and we all collapse into one queen sized bed, not because it was the only one, but because my children cannot sleep anywhere but on top of me.
Matt leaves in the dark the next morning for his six am flight. The girls and I wake up, completely dazed, but I am a fearless navy wife. I will make the best of this. I have arranged to meet my friend Kelsey, who last knew me as a moderately together childless person, to walk around Greenlake in Seattle. This will be great. I will revisit an old favorite spot, we will catch up. I am a fearless navy wife, look at me making the best of things. I load the dog and the children into the car, discovering that the dog will not fit next to the suitcase and Rubbermaid tub in the back, so I pile those on the passenger seat, then buckle the passenger seatbelt to shut up the infernal beeping.
Now might be a good time to remind you that little Lou was a Velcro baby. At this stage of life, if I was not touching her, she was screaming like she was engulfed in flames. You may also recall this car has a manual transmission. But I am a fearless navy wife. I can drive a stick shift car in the city with my right hand in the back seat.
I find a parking spot and open the rooftop box to get out the bike trailer that doubles as a stroller. Lou, and as a consequence, MC is screaming inside the car. Unlike a jogging stroller, you take the wheels and handlebar off when you collapse this thing. As I place all the components of the stroller on the sidewalk I remember something. I have never collapsed nor put the bike trailer together myself. Matt, who is now on an airplane to Japan, always did it. But I am a fearless navy wife. I can do this. Surely there is a YouTube video to show me. And lo, there is. I assemble the stroller triumphantly. I free the screaming children from the car and strap them in. I get the dog into her harness and then realize that I would like coffee and maybe some of us might need breakfast. The dog goes back into the car. I get coffee and snacks, then get the dog back out of the car and back into her harness and leash. I then realize I cannot hold a coffee cup and a leash and a stroller and that bike trailers do not have cup holders.
I may be sweating slightly.
Kelsey arrives. She is beautiful and kind and after years of not seeing each other, I ask “um, can you walk my dog?” I used to be something of a mentor to her when she was in high school and I was not the living embodiment of a train wreck. Those days are clearly over.
We start to walk the 2.8 miles around the lake. Lou, who you may recall, screams if we are not touching, starts screaming. We stop, I transfer her to the ergo. MC climbs out of the stroller and covers her new sneakers in mud. But we’re doing it. Fearless navy wife, making the best of things.
And then I feel it. The flooding sensation that tells me I need to get to a bathroom immediately because this month Eve is not kind, she is vengeful. Mercifully we are not far from the one public restroom on the lake path. I look at Kelsey, who is already walking my dog, and ask her if she can watch my child too. Naturally, MC does not want to stay with her, so she follows me in the stall. Lou is asleep in the ergo, so I try to peer around her body to surreptitiously clean myself up without prompting too many questions from MC about the female reproductive system and no that thing I am unwrapping is not a cheese stick, ok, let’s go and wash our hands now!
We make it around the lake. Victory is secured when I dismantle the bike trailer without a YouTube video and get diapers changed and everyone back in the car. I apologize profusely to Kelsey for being such a mess. I will later make it up to her by taking her to a couple of rock concerts when I am marginally less disastrous.
I am a fearless navy wife, making the best of it, so I decide we will now ACCOMPLISH SOMETHING (memo to self: survival itself really would have been sufficient, but you do you, sister). We drive to U Village mall to go to the fancy maternity store where I bought the diaper bag that is now falling apart. U Village parking is always a nightmare, but I have the added constraint of needing to find shade because, though it is a mild day, I have a dog in the car, and this is Seattle. Someone will break my window if they think my dog is overheating. I also have a rooftop box that I need to not forget is on the car when I roll into a parking garage. I find a nice covered spot in an area with sufficient clearance for my rooftop box, because, small mercies, this is Seattle after all. Such spaces exist. I crack the windows. I load Lou into the ergo, I empty the diaper bag, and the three of us set off to the fancy maternity store.
“Ummm, so when did you buy this?” the clerk asks me. This I know! Lou is seven months old! I bought it when we flew here from Florida on two hours’ notice to adopt her. What a great time that was! Seven months ago. I bought it seven months ago. “Do you have a receipt?” Well, no. I do not. I have moved twice since then and most of my stuff is still in boxes and piles and yeah, no. I have every adoption document from that week, but not a diaper bag receipt. “So, for purchases longer than three months ago, you’re gonna have to contact the manufacturer.”
Woman. Have you no mercy? You still have this bag in stock. I see it there, on the shelf. And there, in a different color. If I had lied and said I bought this three months ago but I don’t have the receipt right now you would be giving me a new one. I am a fearless navy wife. But I am a fearless navy wife who just said goodbye to her husband for three months and I am about to go back to a house that is a disaster and I really don’t know many people there yet because I just got here two weeks ago. And do you understand that I had to go to Portland last night because the dude driving our car across country almost lost a finger and if he hadn’t I’d be home right now, not trying to solve something so I can not feel like all the waves are crashing over me and I am powerless? Can you see this baby needs to be touching me 24 hours a day so the only way I am going to unpack that house is with her strapped to me? And this kid, who just started her third preschool in a year and looks gorgeous but is falling apart? And I have this new dog who right now is eating a pack of Madelines that I did not hide well enough in the car and sister, please. If you understood the geyser of uterine lining that is issuing forth from my body right now, I am like 98 percent sure you could make this happen for me. I know I am a fearless navy wife, but throw me a freaking bone here.
“Ok, thanks,” I say. The tears are coming. But I will not be defeated. I will make a plan. I will conquer. I look at MC and say, my voice wavering, “Come on, girls! We are going to Hanna Andersson and buying matching pajamas! I don’t care how much they cost.” So we do. Purple with white and yellow daisies.
Then we march back to the car, I buckle everyone in, scoop up the wrappers from the snacks the dog stole, and head north.
About 30 minutes down the road, Lou is wailing. I drive with my hand on her head, only taking it off to shift gears, which, in traffic, is far more than she can tolerate. Annoyed by her sister’s cries, MC starts screaming at the top of her lungs. Somewhere near the outlets where the speed limit mercifully goes back up to 70, I lose it and let loose with a pure, guttural scream of my own. MC stops. “There,” I say, “did that fix it?” Her small voice wobbles back, “noooo.” “Ok,” I say, softening, “then can we please not scream?”
I am fearless navy wife, but come on people. This has been a day.
We make it home, to the piles and chaos.
We survive. Probably thanks to the matching pajamas.