Roller Coastal Ride

“You stay in the car with the baby, and I’ll go in with the kids, order the food, and use the bathroom. And then you can go in when I’m done.”

“And keep the door open.”

We had stopped for sandwiches on our way to the coast. Traffic had been bad, and it was dinner-time. The baby was asleep.

I was in the restaurant, ordering the food, while our two middle kids took turns using the facilities.

My husband came in to use the bathroom.

“Huh,” I thought, “J must be waiting in the van with the baby. I’ll go see what kind of sandwich he wants.”

I went outside.

J wasn’t in the van.

J was in the parking lot. I gave him the menu, and went straight to the van to check on the baby.

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The van doors were closed.

The van doors were locked. All of them.

The keys were inside.

The other two kids were outside by now. I barked at them all to sit on the curb.

I asked J what happened:

“Dad asked me to stay with the baby. I got out and closed the doors.”

“YOU NEVER CLOSE THE DOORS WHILE THE BABY IS IN THE CAR! It gets hot in there. He could die!”

I paused for a second, realizing, somehow, despite my panic, that I didn’t want to scare the kids. That it wasn’t J’s fault. That my husband should not have passed this responsibility along to him.

I stormed into the restaurant, told my husband what had happened, somehow placed the order for J’s sandwich, and then finally got my turn in the restroom.

I tried to compose my face before going back outside. I stationed myself next to the baby’s window. He was asleep for the moment.

My husband came out and told me he had called a tow truck. I hissed, “I can’t speak to you right now.”

I was staring at the baby through the window. He had woken up and was crying and straining at his car seat straps. I tried to smile at him, to comfort him, while reassuring my daughter that he wasn’t going to die, it would be okay.

Meanwhile, the stoner dude from the sandwich shop came out, and began to repeatedly tell my husband, “It’s okay. This happens all the time. He’ll be fine. It’s not that hot.”

I wanted to scream at him. Why was he trying to comfort my husband? Was this a confederacy of bro’s? What the what?! Get away from my family.

The mechanic got there in minutes, not the hours it felt like.

The baby was fine: covered in sweat and pee from a leaky diaper, but he was fine.

I changed him, then nursed him in silence on the passenger’s seat.

The rest of the trip was tense. I wouldn’t let my husband do anything for the baby, or for me. I snapped at him when he made me tea in the coffee maker the next morning. “I was going to do that in the microwave so it wouldn’t taste like coffee.” He followed me to the bathroom to ask how he could fix things, but I couldn’t think of a way to move on. I was too angry.

I had never been this angry at my husband. I didn’t know how to handle it.

Between my father dying when I was ten and a first marriage to a pathological liar, I have some issues. I need people to be consistent. I need to be able to trust loved ones completely, or else I can’t trust them at all.

Thus, I felt betrayed. My husband is so supportive, so intuitive and responsive. I had felt silly like a nagging mother-figure like a micromanager giving such explicit instructions in that parking lot: “Stay in the car. Leave the doors open.” I was furious that things had gone wrong. I felt like so many mothers do: “The burden is all on me.”

So I took the burden all onto myself for a day and a half: baby detail, food prep, washing-up, keeping things organized in the room, maintaining peace and order.

I was stern and grim, silent except for a handful of outbursts. As the Little Guy splashed in the ocean for the first time, I held tight to his hand while my husband stood a few feet away. Instead of joyfully sharing this milestone together, it felt like a force field had gone up between us.

Us. 

Usually it feels like we are pulled together by magnets.

By the second morning in our hotel room, I was completely fed up. After everybody (finally) woke up, I announced, “Check out is at 11. I’m going on a walk for an hour. I’ll meet you in the lobby.”

One of my stepsons picked up all his clothes from the floor and stuffed them in a grocery bag and declared, “I packed my stuff!”

I continued my lecture: “Everybody will have to pitch in, and not just think about yourself, and your own things, but help get everything packed for the whole family. The food, the dishes, the towels. I’ve been taking care of everything, and it’s making me tired and angry and resentful. I need to take a break and do something for myself. I know you can all do it.”

And they did. I was in the middle of texting my husband to remind him about a few things when they walked into the lobby. They had remembered everything.

Over the next couple of evenings, we debriefed what had happened. We both described our perspectives, what we could have done differently, what we learned from it and what we’ll try to do next time.

We’ve already implemented one change. When we go someplace together, we both bring our own sets of keys.

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Part of the solution since 1973.

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