Rewind to last week when I got the painfully sad news that my uncle died from an undiagnosed heart condition at the age of 61. I hadn't seen him in probably 10 years due to geography, but I've always been fond of him and loved getting updates about him and his family through my mom who was very close to him. My heart grieves for his wife, two children and eight grandchildren.
I struggled with whether or not to go to the funeral, which was in Missouri where he lived, but decided to go, because family. The pastor/chaplain/mother in me has developed a strong sense of family bond lately and on Tuesday of last week I decided I needed to go. Also, I've been very homesick lately, so I'm sure that factored in to the decision as well.
Next came the logistics. The funeral was on Saturday and was about as far away from a major airport as you can get in Missouri. So, that was going to mean flying and driving, or just driving, which was my preference. Time was a factor, as my schedule involves more than just picking lint out of my belly button these days, so I had to look at my obligations this week and move a few things around. It also meant asking my church for a Sunday off, and I am most grateful to the elder who preached in my absence.
I also had to decide between going alone, taking husband and baby, or just baby. My husband had a few things going on this weekend and he'd never met my uncle, so we decided it wasn't crucial for him to be there. I've flown with just me and baby plenty of times to know that it is doable, but not exactly fun, so I ruled that option out. I went back and forth, weighing the options and considered prices, ultimately deciding driving the 10 hours was the way to go and that I wanted my daughter to come with. My hope is to instill in her a strong sense of family, even for relatives she's never met before. I want to start this early, so that she grows to have an appreciation for the importance of family. I also want to expose her to the joy of road tripping, at least until she can protest and decide she doesn't like it.
So, plans for a road trip with baby commenced.
I consulted the internet, which has an array of advice on the topic. I consulted friends who had driven long distances with their babies and got more helpful guidance. The best advice I got was to time driving around baby's sleep schedule so that she'd sleep most of the way. I armed myself with all of the road-trip-with-baby tools and here is how it went:
2:30am: My alarm goes off and I grab an espresso drink from the fridge, gently get baby from the crib and get in our already packed car to hit the road, hoping baby would just fall asleep as soon as we started driving.
2:45am: Baby is still awake, but not making a peep. She's evidently fascinated by the street lights and probably confused about what is going on. Or maybe she's just enjoying the On Being podcast I'm listening to.
4:15am: Baby finally falls asleep once we reach Waco. My child suffers from severe FOMO, so the fact that she fell asleep at the city limit of Waco cracks me up. I continue listening to podcasts and start to get jittery from the caffeine but am alert and enjoying the trip.
6:30am: We arrive at Sherman, TX, where I'd hoped to make our first stop for breakfast at the lovely Chick-fil-A with an indoor playscape. I'd gotten advice to research good places to stop, and this was the only place between Dallas and Springfield that looked safe, had a play area, and had decent food options, ignoring the messy politics of the restaurant. Unfortunately baby is still asleep. I'm getting hungry and in need of a bathroom stop, but I vowed not to wake up baby, so that I could take advantage of gaining mileage while she slept. By some miracle, she wakes up on her own, just a few miles before we get to the Chick-fil-A. One of the many reasons I think she's the best.
7:30am: After an hour of eating and playing on the playscape, I decide baby has has gotten enough of her wiggles out, so we hit the road again.
7:45am-8:30am: I, very carefully while driving, hand her a new toy every 10 minutes or so after she'd get bored of the one I'd previously given her. Then I experimented with just letting her entertain herself for a while. Turns out, she did just fine on her own and didn't need constant entertainment.
8:30am: Baby plays with her toes and makes faces at herself in the mirror.
8:50am: Baby sleeps while I drive through
10:50am: Baby wakes up and starts to fuss, so I hand her a graham cracker to hold her over until we can stop. I would come to learn that graham crackers are valuable currency for appeasing baby in the car. Totally worth all of the vacuuming I'm going to have to do later.
11:00am: We find a park in Chouteau, OK and play for an hour. I'm not too keen on the lunch options in town, so we drive a bit toward a bigger city, Pryor, which was a big mistake.
|Snacking and watching trains.|
12:00pm: Lunch in Pryor. Big mistake. The people there were super grumpy and glared at us the whole time. I had a hard time getting service because the waitresses were too busy tending to the regulars who were squawking "Hey Rhonda, refill my tea!" and "Josie, where's my fried okra?" The food was decent, but I'm seriously considering writing a Yelp review for the restaurant and maybe even for the town in general because I was so unimpressed by them. To be fair, I'd probably be grumpy if I lived in that town.
1:00pm: Back on the road. Baby entertains herself for a while again, and I worry I'm raising a narcissist who loves looking at herself in the mirror too much.
2:00pm: Baby sleeps and I continue to enjoy more podcasts, along with espresso drink #2 of the day.
3:15pm: We arrive in Marshfield, MO and check into our hotel. I cannot say enough nice things about the staff at the Marshfield Holiday Inn, and was thankful for their hospitality after the grumpypants of Pryor treated us so poorly.
Baby and I spend the afternoon, running around the hotel to get some wiggles out after a long day in the car. We lament over the empty pool outside, which meant no swimming. We enjoy dinner at the local cafe and she is in bed by 6:45. Pretty sure I fell asleep at 8:00.
The next morning we got up and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, walked a few laps around the hotel and headed to Lebanon, where the funeral was held. Baby slept on the way and was woken up by a very surprised grandma who didn't know baby was tagging along. Turns out baby snuggles are good for a grandma's broken heart.
The funeral was lovely and I enjoyed meeting people who knew my uncle. We spent the day savoring time with family and meeting a few (2nd? 3rd? I don't know how that works) cousins who had been born since the last time I'd seen my uncle.
3:15pm: Baby starts to fuss, indicating a need for a nap. We say our goodbyes, as we head south and my mom and brother head back to St. Louis where they would catch a flight the next morning.
3:16pm: Baby falls asleep in the car. I enjoy the scenery of the Branson area, feeling good about my decision to go slightly out of our way to take the prettier route through Arkansas.
5:00pm: Baby wakes up and I am ready to stop for dinner. We find a restaurant in Harrison, AR where the server greets us with "I'm so sorry, I've got butter all over my face!" as she wipes her face with a napkin. This confirmed my hunch that they have a butter infuser, filling the air with that good stuff.
5:45pm: Back on the road. I hope baby falls asleep at her usual 7pm bedtime, but she is wide awake and evidently enjoying the scenery as well. She occasionally starts to fuss, but graham crackers solve that problem.
8:30pm: Arrive at our hotel in Little Rock and she falls asleep as soon as her head hits the pack n play.
6:30am: Baby wakes up and we wait for the hotel restaurant to open for breakfast.
7:00am: Breakfast, where baby wooes the waitstaff.
8:00am: More hotel hallway running, a toddler's favorite pastime.
8:45am: We check out of the hotel and I leave a big tip for housekeeping to cover the raisins and crumbs that were embedded in the carpet. I should mention that I tipped pretty high everywhere we went, due to the destructive force of a baby throwing food everywhere. Even left a nice tip in Pryor, OK.
9:00am: We arrive at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site for some history lessons. I tell baby about the "Little Rock Nine" and their bravery. We walk around the school, praying for peace and justice.
|"America Cares" by George Hunt|
10:00am: Baby starts to fuss, indicating it is naptime. I debate staying in town until the Bill Clinton Presidential Library opens at 1pm, but decide it would have to wait for another trip. My goal was to follow baby's lead, and I get the sense she is ready to head home.
10:10am: A quick stop at Starbucks to caffeine up, and we were on the road again, with baby asleep within minutes.
12:00pm: Baby wakes up just in time for lunch in Texarkana. We look for a place to eat and strike out many times due to it being Sunday and we are in the buckle of the Bible belt. I almost think about going to a church in hopes they'd have some donuts or jello salad for us to eat, but decide I didn't want to have the conversation about me being a clergywoman. Thankfully we find a Tex-Mex place that is open, although I giggle at the Gospel music playing the whole time.
1:00pm: We finish lunch and play in a grassy area for a while, trying to wear baby out for nap #2.
1:30pm: Back on the road. Baby doesn't sleep. She's content playing with a book and eating the snacks I hand her.
2:45pm: Baby gets fussy so we stop at a Sonic in Mt. Vernon, TX where there is an awesome playground with sand. Baby doesn't really like the sand, but she is interested in stealing the shoes that had been left near the tables by children playing in the sand.
|Not liking the sand.|
3:15pm: Back on the road. Baby still doesn't sleep.
4:15pm: Thinking she's hungry, we stop at some weird boutique-y Wal-Mart in Rockwall, TX, because that's all I could find. She eats some peas, spills yogurt all over my pants, and runs around in the grass.
5:00pm: Back on the road. Baby starts to fuss within a few minutes, so I play some Adele and she calms right down. Great baby soothing music.
6:30pm: More fussing and no sleeping means another rest stop in West, TX. We skip the Kolaches, but get some fresh milk and play in the back of the car because the only grassy area is a dog park.
7:00pm: Back on the road, dreading my least favorite stretch of I-35 through Temple.
7:20pm: Baby falls asleep, and I curse I-35 under my breath, wondering why the construction is still a thing there, 4 years after it was there when I used to commute to Temple for an internship.
8:30pm: We arrive home in Austin, happy to see my husband and agreeing to a no car day Monday to let baby recover from the trip.
So there you have it. Our epic road trip and baby's first lessons in Towanda-ness. I realize I left out a lot of the details from the trip, particularly talking about the quality time we had together. I managed to stay off of my phone most of the time at our rest stops, and really just spent time with the little one. I have to say I am so thankful we had this time together, seeing family, honoring my uncle and seeing new places I'd never been to before.
It was nice not having much of an agenda, other than needing to be at the funeral on time. We could go at baby's pace and not have to find restaurants that worked for multiple people's dietary needs/desires. The flexibility and freedom was nice. I'd love to make this our mother-daughter tradition, if she decides she does indeed like road trips. Other than the fussy final hours of the trip, she was a road tripping rock star.