We don’t have a tv. That’s not to say we don’t watch our share of tripe on the interweb, we do. there is nary a season of the bachelor that I haven’t seen every episode of since its inception 12 plus years ago. I always tell Greg that I am an expert on how people “fall in love” with each other. It’s actually quite disenchanting if you wanna know the truth, but I won’t burst your bubble at this time. Perhaps in a different blog post. In any case, what that means for us is that months out from the birth, I was already anticipating all of the channel surfing Greg and I would do together after the baby was born while we were still at the birth center. Call me a sad sad little person. I was stoked.
Well, the birth center, being low-budget and all that, didn’t have the primo range of channels that West Bloomfield had had after Joel’s birth, but it wasn’t bad. What we ended up watching a ton of was the food network which had our taste buds going and mouths watering. Needless to say, the hospital fare didn’t satisfy much. It so happened that one particular show featured our local city of ann arbor and a famous burger joint there: blimpy burger. And, on the show, one of the people being interviewed that worked there was someone I had gone to school with and hadn’t seen in 10 years. One of the two other Joels besides my son that I’ve ever met. “We should go there sometime,” I said to Greg watching the show, choking down a dry sandwich from the hospital cafeteria. Then I looked down and saw baby Miles nestled in the crook of my chin and I thought, “Yeah, in like five years…”
Skip ahead to a few days ago, with our approaching anniversary looming. Now, it’s no secret that I didn’t much care for my wedding day, but as the years have passed and our family has grown, I have gotten a little more sentimental about the whole thing. I guess it has taken on new meaning since we’ve come so far from that time. Though we were together for many years before getting married, in many ways, it was our humble beginning. Who would have thought my life would have taken such a traditional route? Anways, our anniversary was upon us and I was feeling a little grumpy because, with having just had a baby, it didn’t look likely that we would get to partake in much celebrating.
Suddenly, one morning, I was struck with an idea, and an unusual amount of optimism. “Greg,” I said, “I was thinking that for our anniversary, we should go out to Ann Arbor to our wedding spot. We can go to Blimpy Burger and get a picnic lunch and take it to the Arboretum to our wedding spot.” He nodded, never one to think through the full implications of these ideas when kids are involved, “Sounds good,” he said a little too simply.
That was all well and fine while the weather was holding steady at a cool 75 degrees, but the day of our anniversary dawned muggy and hot and by 10 am, it was already past 80. It was gonna be hot. But that didn’t stop us. You’d be surprised at the amount of determination you can muster to get out when you’ve been trapped at home with two kids and a baby for a few days. Greg strapped our giant garage sale find 1995 jogging stroller into the trunk, we piled in all the kids and headed out.
Now, Ann Arbor is just a stones throw away really, but, procrastinators that we are, we haven’t yet upgraded our vehicle since adding on an extra kid and are still tooling around in our 98’ Camry with all three car seats crammed into the back. “I don’t wanna take the freeway,” Greg said, “The ‘check engine’ light just came on and we need new tires.” At this point, I’m used to driving with Greg, the anal retentive fan of all things “scenic route” and I rolled down my window preparing for a nice…long…car ride. Even with all four windows rolled down, though, it was still kind of hot and we had the air on as well to try and cool things off. I reached over and felt the air pouring out of the vent. Warm. Greg and I were ok. I looked in the back and Ruth and Joel were fine if a little sweat-coated. It was Miles I was worried about. That was when our plan started to look not so great. Something about wind whipping over a two week old for an hour plus car ride at 40 miles per hour seemed like potentially dehydrating to me. I started to fret. I rolled the windows up and cranked up the air. After a few minutes of that not working and the inside of the car quickly becoming sauna-like, I would go back to the windows down and back and forth the entire way.
Then I started to feel that nervous shakiness that I’ve come to identify as the need to eat food RIGHT NOW before things get ugly. Damn it, wouldn’t you know, we timed it wrong and by the time we left, my blood sugar was almost dangerously low. When you’re breastfeeding, it can sneak up on you quickly and leave you reeling if you don’t find food fast. “I dunno if I’m going to make it to Blimpy Burger,” I said, eyeing a Mc Donald’s as we passed. Greg looked at me like “really?” He clearly has no clue what breastfeeding can do to a person’s physiology. But I stayed the course and we made it into the city limits just in time.
Of course, that’s only half the battle in getting some place in Ann Arbor, because once you’re there, then you have to find where exactly you’re going, which is much easier said than done for people like us who venture out that way maybe once a year. We, of course, got lost. And then, just as we found our way, Miles woke up in the back seat and started in with that panicked newborn cry. You know it well, parents. That primal “I’ve been left on the jungle floor and if I don’t yell as loudly and for as long as I can, I’m going to be eaten by a tiger!!!” newborn yowl that sends your blood pressure through the roof, clears your mind of all rational thought and makes the adrenaline surge through your arteries. “Greg, pull over!” I yelled. “Where??” he retorted. That’s another thing about Ann Arbor. There is never any freaking place to park. Finally, he just pulled in illegally behind someone parked on the corner,and I hopped out and grabbed Miles out of his car seat, pedestrian traffic eyeing me warily, then I sat back down in the passenger seat to feed him. “God, he’s covered in sweat!” I yelled, hunger, panic, and now worry over-taking me. “This was a bad idea! He’s only two weeks old! He can’t be out in this heat! What were we thinking??” I felt the familiar feeling I often have as a parent where I want to just throw up my hands and give up, but I managed to calm down enough to finish feeding him, cool him off by the air vent and formulate a plan that I was going to get out of the car with Miles and Ruth walk to Blimpy Burger while Greg and Joel found a place to legally park the car.
As I was walking, I had that feeling of being incredibly exposed, with my newborn in a sling on my chest. I hate that feeling. I know people are well-meaning, but everyone was staring at him and me, gasping when they beheld his tininess, which really made me feel like a negligent parent, and looking me over, the new mother. I hate that feeling. And now, with the crying/feeding episode and the heat stroke worry, I was feeling weaker than ever. For a minute, I honestly thought I might faint right there on the street. But I didn’t. And I found Blimpy Burger. And then Joel and Greg ran up the street. And I’m not joking, standing there on that corner, I felt like we all deserved a gold medal just for existing at that point, and we hadn’t even had lunch yet.
“You wanna eat inside?” Greg asked. “Hell yes,” I said, having abandoned all thoughts of waiting for a picnic a while ago. Inside it was air conditioned, and relatively empty. Perfect for us. We stood in line and placed our orders and a nice lady who worked there bent down real close to Ruth and said, “If you eat your ENTIRE burger, guess what? You can come back up here and have a tootsie pop. But only if you eat the WHOLE thing.” And I thought, like most parents must, that this lady was really nice to show Ruth such one on one attention and to talk to her like a real person, but that she might be opening a can of worms for me that I really didn’t want to have to figure out what to do with. But we got our food and went back to our table. And, as shaky as I felt, I wolfed down that burger and a giant heap of onion rings to boot, not even giving a second thought to the heart burn attack I probably had awaiting me in the near future.
Surprisingly, neither of the kids yelled about anything or got into a fight, which I have to attribute to Ruth being in a really good mood for some reason. She thought that being in Ann Arbor was really special, like we were on vacation or something. Anyways, I was still wondering how this burger/tootsie pop thing was going to play out when Ruth surprised me and ate her entire burger. Unheard of. Greg looked at me and winked as he said, ”She’s goal-oriented.” Yup. That’s our first born in a nutshell. Type A all the way. She looked at me expectantly, so I took her up to the counter to claim her prize and, of course, Joel had to come along and wanted a tootsie pop too which the lady took pity on him and handed over, and I, as usual, was glad for the unfairness because it saved me and everyone else in the joint a lot of ear-piercing screams from the little brother. I’m usually a pretty fairness-oriented person but when it comes to the brother, I’ve surprised myself at how unfair I can become and not bat an eye for the sake of my sanity and my peace. Sorry, big sister. As my mom, your grama, used to always say when we would protest about fairness, “Life’s not fair.”
Well, we made it through lunch without any screaming fits and having to leave just to save face, which we’ve become very accustomed to doing and are always pleasantly surprised whenever we don’t have to duck out of places meant for “civilized” people. The next hurdle was more parking as there never seems to be public parking available within walking distance to the Arboretum. So..more driving around in the heat with the temperature now soaring into the nineties, it being mid day and all. No matter how many times we visit the Arboretum, we always struggle with parking. Which was ok, except that Ruth suddenly from the backseat started saying things like, “Miles isn’t moving…even when I do this. Why isn’t he waking up, mom?” which had me all flustered again and I started to turn around in my seat and poke and prod the baby to see if he would stir. He seemed pretty out cold. Then, my eyes started playing tricks on me and he began to look pale and I began wondering about heat stroke in a newborn. You think by the time the third one comes around, you’d have less of these freak out moments, but the truth is, they are so small and weak for such a short time, you never really get used to it before they are suddenly bigger and more robust and you have faith that they can handle the elements to some extent and these days of newborn fragility are soon forgotten. Until the next newborn comes along. And then it is a quick remembering. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about this.” (you don’t know how many times I have uttered these words to Greg in the last few weeks).
Finally, we made it into a parking spot we were pretty sure was legal, parked the car and loaded the older two into the stroller while I booked it, carrying Miles, for some shade. I quickly set him down in the grass on a blanket and changed his diaper, fanning him off and examining his color. He seemed ok, just really wet and sweaty. His color was good but I looked for a place to feed him right away, wanting to keep him hydrated. That was when Joel threw his first of many tantrums of the day, where he becomes an obstinate bull headed being, thwarting everyone’s plans and intentions to the best of his ability. He didn’t get much of a nap in the car. And was feeling the fuss. Greg was trying to point out poison ivy to Ruth so she knew what it looked like and could avoid it and Joel stepped right into a patch of it. Greg told him to get out of the poison ivy. That’s what did it. Any time you use a scolding or serious tone with him, he gets out the sulk, starts trying to do what you’re telling him not to, and then refuses to go on.
Well, it took about twenty minutes of serious patient reasoning, but he finally let up a little and let me put him back in the cart. So. There we were, me pushing the janky stroller with the older kids, and Greg carrying the hot and sweaty newborn in his arms. “Do you ever feel really self-conscious being out with all these kids and them being so young? Like people are like, ‘dang! Have enough kids?’” Greg said no. And maybe it’s more of a woman thing. I’ll have to think more about the root of these feelings. “But seriously, Greg. Look at your beard. People probably think we’re Amish or something.” He smiled at that, but it was true. Greg is letting his beard grow and trimming the mustache and he looks Amish as hell. Then add the grubby bunch of tiny kids, and who knew what people made of us as we traversed the Arboretum.
It was a bit of a hike to our wedding spot, as it is pretty much on the exact opposite end of the Arboretum from where we end up parking and Joel threw a fit and stalked away as soon as we got there, so it was really just Ruth and I and Miles up there on the hill Greg and I were married on. As we walked up, we heard an indigo bunting singing, which we had heard on our wedding day as well as we were saying our vows. Perhaps it’s the same one. Or a relative. Who knows. I put Miles down on a blanket to cool him off and Ruth put her baby doll next to him and they were almost the same size.
“Well, this is it,” I said, “What do you think of where mom and dad got married, Ruth?” She looked around for a second and said, “Nice,” and then proceeded to tell me all about Lila, her baby doll. “We should go find dad and brother,” I said and the moment was over.
And that’s an anniversary with kids. That’s any trip with small kids. You barely make it with everyone well and sane. Things go from really ok, even good, to really really bad super fast, you’re always trying to keep one step ahead of their thirst, hunger, and discomfort, and failing a lot of the time. But during those few moments when everything is going well, it really becomes all worth it, because they are simply the highest of highs a person can experience.
Last year, we took the same trip out to the Arb only we left Ruth and Joel with my in-laws. We took our time, chatted nonchalantly, went out to lunch, had beer, held hands, the works. But the whole time, it felt like something was missing. This isn’t our life, we both seemed to be thinking and feeling a bit like phonies the entire day. This isn’t our life any more. And, though we had a good time, even though this years trip was much more complicated, stressful and cumbersome, it was hands down the preferred anniversary date. Because this is us. We are these weird Amish-looking people with lots of loud dirty children making a mess of things and disturbing the peace. And damn proud of it.