Traveling with a Toddler…The Journey is NOT the Reward!

And I would walk 500 miles just to avoid driving with a pregnant wife and an 18 month old. Such was my life in October of 2017, when my wife (4 months pregnant) and little munchkin set out on a 3000+ mile trip to western New York. My wife’s father was being memorialized at a Vietnam dedication ceremony where his former helicopter is on display. He passed a few years prior, so it was definitely an emotional journey for my wife and all of her siblings. But I’ll save that incredible story for another time as it’s definitely worth sharing and is quite the inspirational saga. What I’m focusing this post on is that darned journey. If adversity builds character, my family had character coming out our eyeballs by the time we reached New York.

If you were not aware, my family is incredibly cheap (does frugal sound better?). The only reason this ‘vacation’ got signed off on was the time-sensitive nature of the dedication ceremony, as one kid plus another on the way was already making us feel like we were on the path to bankruptcy. Or moving in with my parents. It would have been a long debate on which is worse, but that’s neither here nor there. So we set off on this momentous journey in my wife’s tiny Civic (I’m 6’3” so…yeah) and figured, with the help of a few friends and family members sprinkled throughout the drive, could limit the financial damage to a few hundred dollars for the excursion. Our first pit stop on the way to New York was outside of St. Louis, where my aunt and uncle graciously allowed us to crash for a quick night. We had a wonderful evening with their family but naturally, the fun of the trip started a little later as my toddler promptly woke up at 1:30 am, smiled, and threw up all over Daddy’s chest. So, not trying to wake up my uncle’s family, I was in the shower with my toddler at 1:32 am scraping barf out of my belly button while my wife was doing laundry on the splatter-stained sheets. We finally got settled back down by 3:30 am, and the alarm rang at 5:00 am to continue our journey. Oh joy.

Our next pit stop was outside of Detroit to stay a night with one of my oldest friends and his wife. We estimated an arrival time of 3:00 pm. Silly us. So the toddler, after a night of puking, is in good spirits as we hit the open roads. We’re 3 or 4 hours into our trek with the little one sound asleep when we hear the Gates of Hades open and the sounds of vicious thunder erupt and the splash of hurricanes pounding sandy shores. Or, to put it more clearly, pooping noises. We don’t think anything of it and calmly pull over at the next exit to get the situation resolved. Unfortunately, we were out in the sticks so the “exit” was really just an off-ramp with another 30 perpendicular miles to find a town (and a gas station bathroom). Oh well, we’ll change her on the side of the road. It’s 40 degrees and the wind is howling, but the toddler is 18 months so my wife and I are practically a NASCAR pit crew by this time.

I jump out of the vehicle now parked on the side of this off-ramp and check the damage. I have changed hundreds and hundreds of diapers in my life, but this might be the very first time I have ever recoiled in horror. I don’t know how to share the specifics without sending all the readers running away forever, but I’ll try to generically describe the situation as best as possible. Let’s call her poop ‘carrots’ for the rest of this post and maybe it will not be too disgusting. So Eliza has basically filled her car seat with carrots. There are carrots running through the cracks of the car seat on to the backseat. Pants are saturated in carrots. Shirt is covered in carrots. The carrots are in a mostly liquid form and just like floodwater, the carrots are running downhill in all directions. It looked like she wasn’t even wearing a diaper as the carrots had covered every last inch of white diaper fabric.

It was Threat Level Midnight and we sprang to action. In a below-freezing wind chill, I held my daughter in mid-air while my wife used wipe after wipe to clean her. The carrots were blowing in the wind while carrot-covered wipes stacked up voluminously on the side of the road. Poor Eliza (the toddler) screamed and screamed while getting carrots scraped off her back all the way to her toes. I do not think an adult grizzly bear is capable of producing this many carrots…it must have been half of her bodyweight. After Eliza got patched up and was sitting out of the cold with mommy in the front seat, I had to attack the back seat. The car seat came out (removing those are always fun) and was disassembled on the side of the highway. The baby wipes, paper towels, and Clorox wipes fought vigorously against the carrot carnage as I struggled to reclaim the car seat from the carrot invasion.

At long last, the carrots relented and, 50 minutes later, we were back on the road. I’m ashamed to admit this but my wife and I really had no other options: the wreckage was left at the side of the road. We both hate littering, but we didn’t know what to do. There was LITERALLY an entire 85-count baby wipe pack strewn across the side of the road. Dozens and dozens of paper towels and Clorox wipes too. A massacred diaper. And every single one was covered in carrots. We were 30 miles from a town with no options on clean up. So, we’re coming clean here Illinois: it was my family who did it, we are terribly sorry, and we probably should be forced to adopt that section of highway for a few years in recompense.

But we were back on the road having survived the nightmare. We fought long and hard and were exhausted, but that’s what travelling with toddlers is about, right? A few hours later my wife and I were almost ready to celebrate when we heard the carrot gurgles again and slammed into the next exit. Thankfully this explosion was more muted and not as destructive as the initial blast. Did it still take an hour to clean up? Yep. Outfit ruined? Of course. Car seat soaked? Naturally. But at least we got to run her into a gas station bathroom this time (the cash register guy was…not amused as we ran past). We were back on our way.

This post is getting quite lengthy so I’ll stop here and share the rest of the trip another time (remember, we’re barely halfway to New York at this point). I’m writing this nearly 8 months after our trip and it’s funny how the memory grows more and more endearing as time goes by. We were on a very tight schedule driving up and it was definitely stressful as it happened. I may or may not have left out a few impolite exchanges between my wife and I during the circumstances, but we were still proud to walk away unscathed. Those moments when we do persevere as a family, even when it’s something as silly and trivial as a few carrot explosions, seem to matter more than many other touching moments that have occurred in the first few years of parenthood. I hope I didn’t ruin carrots for you…

3 thoughts on “Traveling with a Toddler…The Journey is NOT the Reward!

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  1. Oh my gosh I was dying laughing! We have five kids and do a lot of road tripping, so trust me when I say we’ve been there. We drove from Ohio to Louisiana with 3 kids when I was 38 weeks pregnant and many other ridiculous trips before and after. Although it can be difficult it’s usually worth it- right? Haha

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