Part of my brain registered the fact that cars really do go brooooooooooom when they’re speeding past you at 110km (70 miles) an hour, but the cars were the least of my concerns.I had to make a choice. Did I want to spend the next hour and a half sitting in an enclosed space and smelling like vomit?
Every year I go on my annual pilgrimage to visit my parents. They live about 640km (400 miles) north of me, along the coast road of Queensland. There are no major cities between us, just miles and miles and miles of bushland and a few small towns. It takes anywhere between 6 and 9 hours to drive there (depending on traffic, weather conditions and number of breaks), and the landscape is both boring and familiar. Boringly familiar, if you will. But every year (sometimes more than once), I do the drive.
And I love it.
Put me behind the steering wheel and tell me I’ve got to drive for hours, and I’m excited. Thrilled. Enthusiastic. As the ever-wise Captain Jack Sparrow said:
That’s what a [car] is, you know. It’s not just [an axle] and a [body] and [an engine] and [a steering wheel], that’s what a [car] needs but what a [car] is… what [my car] really is… is freedom.
Unfortunately, my husband’s job means that he’s rarely able to take time off during the holidays, so he has to stay home while I do the drive with the kids. This year, I decided to make it easier on myself by driving overnight. I left at midnight, and arrived at my parents’ house in time for breakfast. Since the boys were asleep, I didn’t have to listen to the ongoing adventures of whatever monsters my 4 year old was obsessed with at the time, nor stop every 2 hours to feed the baby. Easy, right?
On the way there.
The way home wasn’t quite so easy.
Baby was a bit whingey when I put him in the car at midnight, and complained on and off for the next hour. He’d been a bit unsettled the previous day, which I’d put down to teething. (Isn’t that always the problem with babies?) But eventually he fell asleep, and all seemed fine. Both boys woke up at 4:30 when the sun started coming up, and I stopped at the next service station to have a break. I gave Baby his morning bottle of formula, and Big Brother snacked on a breakfast bar. And then we were off again.
It was about an hour later when it all went horribly wrong.
Both boys had gone back to sleep, and I was happily bopping away to music and drinking caffienated drinks like they were going out of style. I was feeling great. Less than two hours and I’d be home. My husband would be waiting for me — as would my nice, comfy bed. As much as I love the freedom of the open road, once the end is in (virtual) sight, I have another little celebration.
“Almost home now! ..in that home is less than 200 km away…”
I was alerted to a problem by a faint, pitiful gurgling sound from Baby. Concerned, I angled the rear-view mirror so I could see him. He met my eyes in the mirror, then opened his mouth. A milk-white fountain of bubbling liquid splurted between his lips and rained down on his shirt.
“Oh, Baby,” I said.
This wasn’t what we in the parenting business refer to as a “spit” — that bit of regurgitated milk that seems to reappear an hour or so after eating, and dribble down Baby’s chin thus ruining my candid photos forever. No, this was a world-class, technicolour yawn.
“Oh, Baby,” I repeated sympathetically.
He opened his mouth and a second fountain joined the first.
The reek of stomache acid and second-hand formula hit me, and I fought back the urge to gag. Big Brother woke up. He was immediately worried. “Muuuuuu-uummy! Baby’s being sick!”
“It’s okay,” I said, trying to calm both Big Brother and my own stomach.
There was nowhere to stop. I was travelling 110km (70 miles) an hour, on a stretch of highway bordered by metal fencing. Both lanes were packed with equally fast-moving cars and trucks.
“It’s okay,” I repeated.
There was bound to be an exit or a stopping lane soon. Right?
Baby opened his mouth again. And again. Another three fountains of vomit. His clothes were dripping wet. So was the car seat. Rivulets were running down the edges of the seat and dripping on to the floor. The smell was unbearable.
And then he started to cry with the plaintive tone of a pained and bewildered child.
“Oh, baby,” I said again and again, interspersed with the occasional, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”
Big Brother started to cry. “Mummy, he’s really upset.”
“I know, sweetheart. I just can’t stop–”
There! A break in the fence! A place I could stop the car! There wasn’t much room, but I could do it!
I pulled over, put on the hazard lights, and carefully climbed out of the car. When I opened the back door, Baby looked up at me with fear, confusion and tears in his eyes. He held his little hands out to me, begging me to pick him up; to comfort him.
The smell of vomit was overwhelming.
All the clean clothes were packed in the boot of the car, and I’d have to unload a mountain of stuff to find them. We had an hour and a half to drive to get home. The minute I picked up Baby, I’d be coated in his vomit and have no way to get rid of the smell.
Part of my brain registered the fact that cars really do go brooooooooooom when they’re speeding past you at 110km (70 miles) an hour, but the cars were the least of my concerns. I had to make a choice. Did I want to spend the next hour and a half sitting in an enclosed space and smelling like vomit?
So, did I pick Baby up?
Of course I did. It wasn’t really a question.
But it was a choice.
As parents, we make these choices every day. Every hour. Sometimes, every minute. We ask ourselves questions.
- Will I buy new shoes for my child, or a new outfit for myself?
- Will I sit and cuddle with my sick child, or leave him/her to cry while I watch TV?
- Will I buy vegetables or another bottle of wine?
- Will I read Green Eggs and Ham yet again, or will I tell him/her there’s no story tonight so I can get back to my own book?
For the most part, we’re not even aware that we’re asking the questions. The answers are self-evident. The moment we have children, our lives change; our priorities change. We have these little people who depend on us for everything. Not just food and shelter and education; but love and comfort and understanding and empathy and compassion and discipline and the life lessons of right vs wrong and good vs bad and all the shades of gray that go with them.
Sometimes, we put more thought and care into looking after our children than we do into looking after ourselves.
Oh, I don’t like to wear a sunhat. It messes up my hair. But there’s no way I’ll take my son outside if he’s not wearing a hat and sunglasses and 30+ SPF sunscreen.
Cooking dinner when my husband’s away is too much trouble. I’ll just have popcorn and wine. But my children are damn well going to eat the well-balanced meal I cooked for them, or there’s no dessert for anyone.
We make a choice to put the needs of our children first. We fret and fuss and nag and set rules and teach and lead by example and discipline and listen and empathise and worry and everything else that comes with being a parent.
We’ll even sit in a rapidly-heating car, covered in baby vomit, for an hour and a half with no way to escape the stench and not even anything to drink, because we used the last of our bottle of water to clean the baby (and his car seat).
We do all these things because we choose to do them.
And that’s something to be celebrated.