It began, as so many of my stories do, at a Starbucks.
We just spent the weekend (Thursday - early Sunday) having a family beach trip with my in-laws. Time was spent at the ocean and watching movies, cooking and eating and talking and laughing. Audra had fun, Jason and I had our anniversary dinner right on the water at the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk and ate some of the best sushi and sashimi I've ever had at Wahoo's, ended up badly sunburned when we discovered that the sunscreen we'd used was expired and therefore it was like wearing no sunscreen at all during the two and a half hours we spent in the surf. Luckily, it wasn't the stuff we use on Audra so she came back from the beach basically as white as she was when she left, and Jason and I didn't come back darker so much as looking like tomatoes that are just about ripe. It was a good time had by all.
So this morning, we packed up to go home. I wanted to stop by Starbucks first, as is my way when I will be both in a car and also on a road for any length of time. I went to get into line - the place was packed. A couple of minutes in, something stabbed me in the eye. I thought an eyelash at first, but I couldn't seem to get it out, so I went to the bathroom to deal with it. Several minutes later, I came back out to discover the line had gotten even longer in my absence.
I sighed and got back in line.
Just behind me were two teenage girls who spent the entire line wait talking loudly about how much they hated their families because they kept, like trying to be nice to them but they also expected them to, like, clean stuff. They kept trying to one-up each other on how utterly awesome and totally badass they were. "So I said to my grandma, I said B***h this ain't no cappucino! She buys me that f*****g Nescafe cappucino s**t like it's, like, the real, like, coffee thing!" "Yeah, well, you should've heard me, my mom asked me to clean up the couch the other day and I was like, Mom, you must be f*****g kidding me, I don't clean no f*****g messes in this house!"
I just stood there, trying as hard as I physically could not to acknowledge them. Another woman in line ahead of me caught my eye and the both of us just smiled and shrugged at each other.
All I could think was, One day your grandma will be gone. She bought you Nescafe Cappucino mix because she knows you like coffee and she was thinking of you one day while in the store. She remembered you said you like cappucinos at Starbucks, and thought you'd like this, too. If you really responded to her thoughtfulness that way, that may be the saddest thing I've ever heard.
But really, they were just being kids; showing off for each other the way you do when you have something to prove but you're not sure just what, yet. Odds are neither of the interactions described actually happened, beyond perhaps the sullen mumbling that is the language of people between ages thirteen to eighteen and a half.
In any case, after the twenty minutes it took me to deal with the thing in my eye and then get my iced coffee, I came back. We'd lost valuable happy-Audra-in-the-car time, so Jason and I took off pretty quickly, hoping to gain back what we'd lost.
Then we got on the interstate going the wrong way.
It ended up costing us another twenty minutes, as we discovered that particular part of I-95 actually contains absolutely nothing but trees, some swampy areas, and a few more trees. And maybe some kudzu. We had to drive for over ten miles to get from one exit to the next, which isn't that far unless you're driving the wrong direction, trapped in traffic moving slower than the speed limit because someone apparently shouted the word 'cop' six miles ago and nobody's taking any chances.
We drove down to the next exit, turned around, and came back.
At this point, we'd cost ourselves forty minutes of progress and were looking at a five-hour drive that was supposed to take four hours and twenty minutes.
Audra had been eating very little but drinking her formula pretty steadily. She was cheerful, chatty, and in no way acting ill.
We stopped at Bojangles for lunch, where we tried to get her to eat some of our food but could only coax her to take a few nibbles here and there. We finally gave up, figured she just wasn't hungry, and gave her a little more milk as we got in the car.
She sucked that down suspiciously quickly. We just shrugged. Maybe she was hungry?
Then, four hours into a drive that should have been 4 hours and twenty minutes long, but was already going to be at least five hours, Audra began to spit up.
Jason watched her in the rearview mirror with increasing alarm as she burbled up more and more and more and more. Her little hands up to her mouth, trying to catch it. I couldn't quite see her without turning completely around, but I could hear her.
I know that sound. That sound for me is like elephants can sense volcanoes erupting two hundred miles away. Oh, no, I thought.
"Oh no," Jason said out loud.
Then we said some other things that we probably shouldn't repeat in public.
Audra began to cry, just a little, as she started to really feel wet and cold and the car... oh, how the car smelled.
We couldn't do anything - we were on I-20 at this point, just outside Columbia, surrounded by cars. We had to drive a little over a mile and a half to the next exit, while our baby continued to be Linda Blair in the Exorcist all over the carseat, the backseat, and herself, giving the occasional little heartbreaking cry of discomfort.
We pulled into a tiny gas station. "You clean the car," I said, as we wrapped our soaked-through baby in a towel to protect ourselves from the horror contained within. "A gas station this small probably only has a changing table in the womens' room."
Then I took my toweled-up baby inside, ignoring the slightly hostile, curious stares of the cashier and several other people (one man, who held the door for me as I went in, just said "I had a baby once, too," and grinned at me and let me tell you, that helped me so much to have someone not look at me like I was in a circus in the 1910's) and swept her into the womens' room.
Which, turns out, didn't have a changing table.
So I took a deep breath, sat her down on the countertop between the two bathroom sinks, and had Audra stand up, trying to touch as little of her as possible as I poured warm water over paper towels to clean her.
About ten minutes later, I took a mostly-clean smelling-like-baby-wipes-and-spitup-and-sadness Audra back out to the car, what remained of her clothing wrapped in the towel. Jason was still working on cleaning out the carseat, which was essentially ruined.
We did the best we could to sort of whip together a way to make the plastic shell of the carseat less horribly uncomfortable without its soft padding (which was, after all, soaked in the same pile of regret and Bojangles food as everything else that had been anywhere near her)... and we got back on the road.
Between lunch and that happy little side jaunt, we'd lost nearly another hour.
Then we discovered a man on I-26, on the last seventy miles of the whole trip, who appeared to be a drunk driver in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon.
Either that, or he was blind and driving entirely by sound.
He was weaving back and forth, usually with at least two tires outside of the lines for his lane (where they hit the grooves in the road and become very loud) but very rarely all four within. Every time he'd hit the grooves, he'd swerve back but end up swerving into the OTHER lane.
We were pretty convinced he was drunk, and fought to get in front of him. He tailed us for a while, weaving back and forth, the vehicular embodiment of the drunk guy trying to do the Sobriety Walk.
Eventually we were able to get away from him, and finished the drive in relative peace.
We made it home, six and a half hours after beginning a drive that should have lasted four hours and twenty minutes.
The first thing we did was give the baby a bath. The second was to put the cloth pieces of the carseat in the wash. The third was to try to figure out how to clean the carseat itself.
We're still working on that part.
If you ever want to test your love for your child, cleaning them up after a spitup episode in a tiny gas station bathroom with no changing table is a great way to do it.
Also, today was our seventh wedding anniversary.
Somehow, we all still love each other.