On Saturday, my husband and I made the epic parenting mistake of thinking we could do something fun and different with the kids. Our destination was to be a BBQ at a friend’s apartment in New York. It was one of those events that I would have attended without hesitation a few years ago. Back then, I would have arrived in heels, had too much to drink, and hit up a couple bars before taking the last train back to CT. Two kids later, I feel like I’ve aged 1000 years, and the thought of having to look decent, take a long car ride with my kids, and mingle with a crowd of strangers while worrying about which child is going to poop all over herself makes me want to stick blunt toddler forks in my eyeballs.
But we should do something fun and different with the kids, we said. It will be fun, we said. You can tell where this is going.
We dressed ourselves to the nines. And by “the nines,” I mean the kids looked adorable, my husband wore cologne, and my clothes were clean. We loaded ourselves in the car: me, my husband, my two kids, Curious George, Gorilla, Crayon, Blankie, and a play doctor’s kit syringe. We all used the bathroom. We all had snacks. We hit an ATM and a gas station. Feeling ready, we set our GPS to Harlem.
The baby let us get all the way over the New York state line before she began to cry in earnest. My husband and I shushed her, sang to her, pleaded with our eldest to entertain her. We laughed nervously as we reminisced about our nightmare drive to the Cape when baby cried almost constantly for the first two hours. Baby started doing that cry where she could barely catch her breath. Big tears rolled down our older daughter’s face as she also began to sob. I sunk down in my seat. Asked my husband to pull over and let me out. Threatened, mostly joking, to jump from the car.
It was then when traffic really started to get bad.
We began to bicker. In my head, I always find a way to blame my husband in these situations. HE got me pregnant. HE is responsible for all of this. HOW DARE HE. It makes no sense, I know that. Blaming him feels shitty and makes things worse, but it’s just where my mind goes.
We were 25 minutes away. Then 22. Then 24. Then 25 again. We saw a sign for 95 and joked about turning around. My husband abruptly jerked the wheel to the right. “North is that way. North is THAT WAY!” I yelled. We made a beautiful turn for home, and for several seconds our car seemed to soar like an eagle down the off-ramp. It was then we realized that traffic was even worse going north.
We both groaned. I imagined myself bursting out of the car. What would I do, run down the highway? Make the evening news? I pictured myself explaining to my coworkers on Monday that I had broken my hand punching in a stranger’s car window. I knew this was a turning point – I either needed to grit my teeth and straighten my big-girl undies or things were about to get ugly.
I wanted to head straight home and get the kids to bed ASAP, drown out the day with junk food and a drink. It was my husband’s idea to go out to eat. We could still salvage something from this day, he insisted. We rerouted our GPS to a kid-friendly restaurant, and I crawled into the back with the girls. As a family, we sang non-stop for the next 40 minutes. The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…
We sat down for a mediocre dinner looking, I imagine, cross and disheveled. I ordered an alcoholic beverage based purely on its name, “Donkey Punch,” which I sipped aggressively between little-person bathroom trips. Once I relaxed a touch, my husband and I exchanged smiles, even chuckled a little. We had survived yet another parenting adventure together. Across the table, I watched as the baby happily mashed french fries in her fist. I hugged my eldest and kissed her soft cheeks and explained to her what it means to be beautiful on the inside. At one point, an older woman who was cooing at the baby proclaimed, “Raising children isn’t hard. Enjoy it.” I couldn’t decide if it was the best- or worst-timed stranger comment ever, so I simply smiled in appreciation of the sentiment.
It was a perfectly ordinary family dinner, and I was happy. I felt lucky. Life was good, and the fact that the evening had almost turned very bad made the experience even sweeter. We made the conscious choice to make lemonade for once. It was a simple recipe made from basic ingredients and mixed with our own two hands. And it tasted so good.