Aiden, Gabriel, and I just returned from a visit that went much longer than planned. Aaron and his business partner, Rodney, had gone down to Greenville, SC for a three day tree removal job last Thursday. By Friday I was calling to see if I could join them. They were staying with Rodney's girlfriend who had previously invited us down to visit the Greenville zoo. Saturday morning (almost noon by the time I was packed, nursed Gabriel, changed diapers, potty break, snacks ready, etc.) we started what was supposed to be the easiest drive imaginable as far as long distance with two young children go. Just an hour and half and I would be at Hope's door. Yes. Well. As luck would have it, my radiator cracked and my car started to overheat just as I was getting back on the highway after getting some food and gas. I immediately pulled over and turned off my car, unsure what to do, but knowing I did not want the engine head to crack. The noon sun was blaring. It was hot. I sat there for a second trying to think of what to do, while calling Aaron-- only to get his voicemail. Just as Gabriel was starting to cry and I was beginning to panic (just a bit) a state trooper came flying by. I reached my arm out the window as fast as I could and waved, hoping to catch his attention. I did. Only it was a her. Much to my relief she slammed on her breaks and reversed so that our windows were aligned.
"Can I help you?" she said, her short hair jelled and spiked, sounding a little annoyed. "I'm on my way to a wreck."
"Um, yeah. I uh. My car. It over heated. I have kids... I'm not sure what to do." I stammered. I try to be confident in those situations, but whether I actually am or not, I end up stumbling over my words. Sometimes I think it makes people more annoyed with me (waitresses), but thankfully this state trooper took pity on me. I turned on my engine, windows down, blasted the heat and followed her back down the on ramp as she stopped traffic so I could safely make it to the Huddle House parking lot.
"Do you have someone you can call?" she asked, while getting ready to drive off.
"Yes. Thank you!" I answered automatically. Only to realize, while staring at her tail lights disappearing round the corner, that I really didn't. I tried Aaron one more time. No answer.
I took the boys and my dog Gypsy out of the car and sat them down next to Gabriel's car seat in the shade. I gave Aiden his happy meal toy-- a doll head with long hair and a comb. I had specifically said "boy", but the toy was simply another little detail that fit perfectly with how the rest of the day was going. (Later on when Aiden was bored, he asked me for his "girl toy" and used it as a crash test for his plane). I looked in my trunk and found some coolant. This should work. I thought. I had seen Aaron fill it once before, and thought maybe I might know what I was doing. As I lifted the hood, and remembered there was no hood stand on this car, and tried to fumble the incredibly hot cap off while holding the hood over my head, while also trying to keep an eye on my kids and dog, two men approached me and offered to help. They didn't know what they were doing either, but they insisted on taking over. I thanked them, happy to have my hands free for my children should they need me, and gave them directions on how I thought might be the right way to do it. Thankfully, Aaron called back shortly and gave me clearer directions. I had been right, but the men were doubting me, and it helped to have a male voice backing me up. Silly men. But they were sweet and I was happy to have someone to help me.
Once everything was set and the car cooled, we piled back in and continued our journey. Not three miles ahead we hit traffic. Hard. Yeah, that wreck the state trooper was talking about? There it was. With Aiden fussing, Gabriel crying, and me being scared the car would over heat again and we'd be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the heat of the day, I began to pray fervently that the next exit would be close. It took awhile to get there, but it was. And there was a McDonalds with a shady parking lot. Leaving Gypsy in the car in the cool of the shade, we headed into McDonalds. As I sat there nursing Gabriel, sipping my pineapple-mango smoothie, and watching Aiden play, I had never been so thankful for how abundant McDonalds are in this country. Then suddenly, Aiden came walking awkwardly toward me with uncomfortable look on his face, his hand holding the back of his shorts.
"Mommy!" he half whined, half shrieked. "Mommy I have to go to the bafroom!"
How I would have killed for an extra set of hands in that moment. Pulling Gabriel off the teet as fast as I could, I gathered our things and made a mad dash for the restroom, dragging Aiden behind me. I felt frantic, like an amateur clown juggling way too many large items. I thought for sure my frazzled state could be nothing but painfully obvious-- hair flying, dropping things, yelling at Aiden to hurry and please hold it, but no one seemed to notice. No one wanted to move out of the way. In fact it seemed as though they were getting in my way on purpose. They wanted my son to poop his pants! They wanted me to lose my mind and dislocate a shoulder in the process! Finally, we made it. The toilets were gross and I had to painstakingly hold Aiden above the seat (he is heavy by the way) for what seemed like an hour as he pointed out the patterns on the wall, talked about the door, and the door knob. I had to keep reminding him that he was pooping, and he should focus on that. "Focus!" I said rather harshly at one point, only for Aiden to respond with, "No mommy! No focus!" emphasizing "focus" the same way I had. Oh the stubbornness of a two year old. Eventually we made it out of the bathroom. I finished nursing Gabriel and we headed back to the car.
We almost made it the rest of the way without having to stop, but Aiden had another bathroom emergency when we were about 20 minutes away. The CVS employee at the register directed me toward the bathroom on the opposite end of the store, only for me to find that it was locked and you needed a code to unlock it. After tracking down another employee and getting the code, we luckily made it to the toilet before Aiden wet his pants. Three hours from the time we left home, we finally, finally, made it to Hope's house!
We had a blast in Greenville. Hope's parents graciously opened their beautiful home to us, turning a work trip into a mini-vacation. While the guys worked 12 hour days in the thick, hot South Carolinian heat, we went to Greenville Zoo, the children's museum, and ate gelato. At each day's end we would all meet for a big family dinner, sit on the porch sipping sweet tea over conversation, and sweat that sweet summer evening sweat till the late night. We were only going to be there two days, but the three day job turned into a four day, then five day, then six... I was trying to wait for Aaron so we could drive home together, but the job just kept dragging on and on! After my drive down, the last thing I wanted to do was drive home alone. I dreaded the thought of my car overheating again, leaving me and the boys stranded somewhere, but by day five, with no end in sight, I knew we needed to head home.
The day didn't start off so well. I lost my phone in the abyss of my purse (it's like a separate world in there). Thinking I had left it at Hope's house, I drove over there to check. My car overheated on the way, barely making it to her driveway. My phone was no where to be found (because it was in my purse on silent). As I nursed Gabriel and wondered what to do next, Aiden spooked Rodney's old crotchety dog, Opie, by tripping next to him, who in turn lashed out and bit Aiden in the chest. I was furious to say the least. I was there alone, couldn't find my phone, my son crying, my car overheated, and we were supposed to be driving home. I started to get the feeling like heading home was not the best idea. But by that point, with the car loaded and my mind set (and not interested in staying in a house with the dog who just bit my son), I also felt like I didn't have any other choice. I decided I would only stay another night if I couldn't find my phone. While dumping the contents of my purse out in search for a diaper, I found it.
The dread of driving home only grew as I kissed Aaron good bye after he filled the radiator with more coolant and stocked my trunk with jugs of water. Just let us make it home safely, Lord. I prayed as I drove away.
To be continued...