AKA That Time I Completely Miscalculated My Mom-ability
Several weeks ago, my sitter alerted me to a school trip for her son which she was hoping to attend. The women is a total saint and her rockstar immune system aside (ONE sick day in 3 years!! One!) she really never has asked for a day off. I assured her I could work my schedule out (re: work Saturday, because it's not like I have PTO available after having the audacity to deliver a baby and chose to care for it for one hot minute) and began looking forward to a rare day off from work with my boys. Finally! The SAHM moment I so often dream about!
As the day approached, I called up one of my favorite SAHM friends and we began planning a play date. The Midwestern springtime weather forecast was predictably unpredictable and we quickly formulated an outdoor plan with an in-case-of-rain Plan B option. When the morning arrived, it seemed the stars had aligned as the forecast promised sunny skies until nap time.
The sunshine plan was to visit Grant's Farm, an iconic St Louis attraction owned by the family who founded our favorite homegrown corporate giant (Anheuser-Busch). The historic plot of land was once owned by Ulysses S. Grant but now promises visitors a train ride ending with animals both exotic and barnyard and two free beers. It's probably just exactly what Mr Grant envisioned.
In any case, my boys go bananas over animals (exotic or otherwise) and while I love our zoo, you gotta shake it up every once in awhile. And the zoo doesn't have free beer. It has beer, just not free beer. (Is that weird? I'm so accustomed to St Louis beer culture, I honestly have no idea).
So I loaded up the toddlers and the baby into their total of 15 points worth of car seat harnesses and did this thing that only started happening recently: I left my house way earlier than necessary.
My husband will verify, I am not naturally a punctual person. Which is perhaps partly why I presently carve out an excessive window of time before leaving the house when it means taking the entire circus along. So when we agreed to meet at 930am, I started the getting ready process the minute I walked in the door from spin class at 645am. Three time outs and countless mini-meltdowns later, we were pulling away from the house and I was realizing we had a full 45 minutes to drive a little over 5 miles and make one stop at the bank.
That's when the worst idea in the history of ideas crossed my mind and I was so stoked by it, I didn't give it more than four seconds of consideration. See, my inlaws live just down the street from Grant's Farm. When it comes up, that's what we say, 'Oh them? They live right by Grant's Farm.' So I think to myself, we have all this extra time, why don't we just park there and walk? In my head, I am thoroughly convinced it is just under a mile door to door. This is a distance that a healthy adult can cover easily in under 15 minutes. I was congratulating myself for my genius plan as I strapped the toddles into their double stroller and settled the baby into his carrier.
I texted my friend before we started our trek to keep her abreast of our plan. She replied and called it 'impressive.' I am aware that in some cases, there is a very thin line between impressive and stupid. This is one of those cases and possibly also an appropriate title for my memoir.
As we began our ascent, I quickly made two important realizations: 1) I just called it an ascent. There's a big ass hill between the park and us. 2) The sidewalk (along a pretty major thoroughfare) at best meets the very minimum requirements to be called 'a sidewalk.'
This is actually the point in the scary movie where viewers are shouting at the screen for the hero(ine) to run out the door rather than up the stairs. In my case, the shouts sounded like this: 'Abort! Go back to the car. Park at the farm!! You idiot!' I heard them even, reverberating in my head. Still, I ignored all such instinct and pressed on.
It was perhaps halfway or maybe a bit further when the threenager began his stoller protest. He skillfully wiggled out of the straps and stood up on his seat, causing a major disruption in the delicate physics of a front and back double stroller with a diaper bag hanging from the back (packed snuggly with three kids worth of ground support equipment and weighing approximately 15 lbs)
Given the speed and proximity of the traffic, it didn't take me long to turn into one of those angry, shouting moms I used to judge harshly back in my carefree days as a childless adult.
The full body protest that resulted from my ineffective shouting caused an even greater imbalance in the stroller and I was forced into to negotiations with the terrorist: we finally agreed that he could be allowed to walk if he would keep one hand on the stroller to 'help push,' and thus preventing him from wondering into traffic. Now that I was forced to match my pace with that of a three-year-old, the fact that we were now on the downhill portion of our trek was totally negated. It also became quite obvious that my prediction about the distance was most likely wrong, much like my choice to wear jeans and the (very minimal) time spent on my hair in the mounting heat. By the time I finished wrestling both boys back into the stroller, relying heavily on bribery with both screens and fruit snacks (another parenting move I used to ignorantly shun), I was literally a hot mess. We all looked completely wrecked by the time the trip was over, particularly the one-year-old who somehow managed to acquire what was left of my coffee and dump it on his white shirt. The trip took somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes in total. The baby maintained his favorite child status by sleeping quietly in the baby carrier and other than throwing off my center of gravity slightly, he was essentially a non-entity.
He's a good baby, mostly by necessity. I think he senses that if he caused a disturbance, he runs the risk of being given away quietly to a good home, so he generally behaves as a polite houseguest might; a houseguest whose only inconveniencing behavior is that he wakes once or twice a night demanding a meal.
Once we got inside the gates, things actually went relatively smoothly, or at least without significant disaster. While my friend's children politely sat in their double stroller, my boys took turns sharpening their skills as a miniature escape artists, crawling out of their respective seats like little Houdini offspring and wandering in opposite directions. Still, they were adequately impressed by the variety of animals around to view and only mildly annoyed that the goats were apparently over-fed and over-tired and genuinely uninterested in the bottles of warm milk we purchase to feed them. The animals' lethargy was a bit disappointing, but a better situation than my children being trampled by 15 ravenous baby goats over three ounces of milk, which has been our experience in the past.
Lunch was 'peanut butter roll-ups!' My kids will eat damn near anything folded onto a tortilla and labelled a 'roll up.' They were smuggled into the park via the monster diaper bag and happily consumed in the gazebo reserved for birthday parties, in blatant disregard for at least one posted park policy. Next, we enthusiastically visited the camels and after that, we noticed a menacing cloud cover moving in our direction.
Annoyed that my phone was still predicting the storms would arrive hours later, I tried to convince myself that the foreboding sky was merely a hallucinatory byproduct of a brain that has been sleep deprived since 2012. However, the massive line that had accumulated to board the train which is necessary to exit the park indicated that the impending weather was indeed a reality.
We had progressed about halfway to the front of the line when the sky broke open and began dumping heavy droplets of rain on us. I cursed my optimism/lack of foresight to bring an umbrella or even the sunshade to the stroller. I also cursed my smart phone for being dumb and giving me false hope. Our little party of seven had little choice but to just stand there and let our clothes soak in the rain. My friend's children were cozy in their double stroller under a rain shield and the knowledge that their mother was clearly the superior caretaker. My boys quickly (and astutely) decided the stroller wasn't providing any comfort or shelter so they resumed their escape and wander routine, generating looks of pity from other young parents in line and amusement from those a generation removed from their child-rearing days (grandparents tend to think everything toddlers do is adorable, mainly out of a sense of nostalgia and perhaps some long-term memory loss).
Still, I managed to scurry around the wet pavement after them to keep their faces off the sides of milk cartons, with the exception of one brief moment when I lost sight of the big guy. It was very brief, but totally terrifying. I must say though, I was impressed by the code red level of alertness that is aroused in a crowd when a child goes missing. He was spotted and herded my way in about 10 seconds. I would really appreciate that sort of group effort whenever I misplace my car keys or my cell phone.
We eventually made it to the front of the line and were leaving the park just as the rain picked up it's enthusiasm and achieved full-fledged thunderstorm status. My friend and I have both earned post-graduate degrees, so between the two of us, it only took about 5 minutes of scheming to figure out a way to get my boys back to our car safely without breaking any traffic laws. The plan was primitive, but seemed like it would do the trick. I would walk the boys to a nearby parking lot (one that would not require payment for me to enter) in the direction of my in-laws' house and she would load her kids into her car and meet us there. Then, the boys would sit in her car with her while I ran (literally) to get our car.
First, I had to drag the stroller up a short flight of concrete stairs to reach the trail leading to the nearby lot. I must've looked like a lunatic dragging the stroller up with one hand while supporting the baby's head with the opposite hand and simultaneously instructing the toddlers to move slowly on the wet steps. Thankfully, our destination wasn't far and there was a covered entryway and a tall, friendly man in a park ranger hat who took pity on us and allowed some illegal parking for the brave woman who had agreed to supervise four toddlers and a baby in a Ford Flex.
Still convinced the distance couldn't be much more than a mile, I assured my pal I could be back in 10 minutes or so. The minute the boys were safely in the car, I took off, my flip-flops flip-flipping along the saturated pavement and kicking up water onto my already soaked jeans. It occurred to me that I didn't look at all like a woman who enjoys running, but instead like a maniac who was running out of sheer necessity. I imagine more than one passing car slowed slightly to determine who or what was chasing me. I leaned into the hill and braced myself for the additional spray of water that came periodically off the traffic that failed to notice me.
Still, there were small favors along the way, like the fact that the wet air felt cool and even refreshing at times and that I did not slip out of my poor choice of footwear and eat soggy pavement. I felt surprisingly strong on the incline and was suddenly grateful for my Wednesday morning hill-repeat workouts. There was even a moment it occurred to me that the whole fiasco had essentially secured me with a free sitter for a quick impromptu workout. (Ha! Sucker!!)
When I finally coasted into the home stretch and climbed, soaked and panting into the driver's seat of our 2012 Explorer ('Dora' ... You get it the joke) I was jarred by the fact that the trip had taken me 16 minutes. Curious, I watched the milage as I drove back to my starting point: 1.8 miles.
Hashtag face palm.
Hashtag terrible at guessing distances.
Hashtag using hashtags incorrectly is funny to me.
Once back to the lot, I was relieved to find my boys had not caused major damage to life, limb, or property in my absence. In fact, they all seemed perfectly content and happy. The 3-year-old had even somehow conned my friend into allowing him to keep a plastic rhino he'd found in their car) probably, he charmed her with his magic dimples -- or he possibly threw a fit). I crisscrosses the distance between our cars, loading drenched little bodies into their respective car seats one by one, in between expressions of gratitude for my superhero friend. Then we took off into the storm.
I'm not totally sure what the moral is here. Perhaps it's just simply: don't be an idiot. I have a tendency to be just that sometimes. My dad used to become frustrated with me when my absent-mind-ism caused me to wander out of the kitchen without closing the cupboard or leave the bathroom light on. I just want you to think!! He'd plead. The problem was never that I wasn't thinking, it was that I wasn't thinking about the task at hand. My brain has a tendency to wonder around in all directions at times and having three children in so many years hasn't necessarily improved that condition. This is perhaps a case of just not thinking about the right thing at the right time.
I expected my husband to be upset with me when I recounted the story, highlighting my poor decision-making. See, in a totally predictable move, I married a man who has lots of similar qualities to my father (this is a good thing BTW). Instead, he just laughed. He pointed out that his workday was light and he could've come to the rescue, but that wasn't something I knew at the time. Also, had I called for help, I wouldn't have learned how awesome I am at running in flip flops.
It may have been a day defined by making one or two bad judgement calls (and one really inaccurate weather forecast), but it was action-packed with adventure and excitement for me and my guys. They're pretty small yet to be forming strong memories, but I will not soon forget the time we didn't let a little rain ruin our day together.