we used to travel spontaneously. a cheap fare alert would pop up on my phone, like an invitation from the universe to come and play. i’d pack my well-traveled carry-on roller, a gift from my parents for my high school graduation, and stash some books in my purse. grab my passport. make a playlist for the plane. we’d take red eyes to maximize the amount of time we’d have in our city of choice. new york. paris. santa monica. boston. crash with family and eat out for every meal. stroll the beach. drink the evenings away. talk late into the night with friends and family. take our time.
but this trip is different. now, it takes days to pack and plan. nothing is spontaneous with two kids. there is adventure of a much, much different sort. days of laundry. packing for every eventuality. there could be a fever. a stomach bug. constipation. a fire. no eventuality is not accounted for, no horrifying possibility left unimagined. not traveling is not an option for us. to sit in our house, wait to be visited, every day and weekend the same would be a death, of sorts. we pack up the kids and go. take advantage of the rule of lap infants and sign the older one up for frequent flyer miles the day after his second birthday. he already has his own backpack and pulls his roller through the airport. he insists on doing itself. fellow travelers think it’s all very adorable. until we sit next to them.
today we are taking a train ride. along the eastern coast, we will be heading south by the shore. it’s not more than five hours, but it’s over nap time. i’m armed with a fully charged ipad and every single sort of snack my toddler will eat.
it feels like my journey through parenthood, this train ride. it starts out easy enough. one baby is sleeping so i only have to worry about the other. there is some frustration early on, but we get past it. it almost feels like it’s going to be easy, this four-hour train ride with two littles. and then the other wakes up. they’re hungry at the same time. i throw cheddar bunnies and an apple juice box at one and my boob at the other. but despite our best efforts, before long we’ve descended into utter chaos. the baby is screaming out of tired frustration, and the toddler is eerily quiet. moments later, we learn he apparently gets motion sickness. this fact is now all over him, me, my phone, and the train seats around us.
life has not always been like this. there was once more romantic train rides. through the hills of tuscany and along the bosphorus. playing cards and reading books. sneaking wine on board. long and late nights in exotic sleeper cars. laughing and flirting and flipping my hair. backpacking and drinking and ordering one of each of the tapas. today is not like the train rides of my past life. today looks different. today i am covered in throw up, spit up, poop from a diaper blow out. from time to time, i notice looks of pity thrown my way. looks of frustration. looks of annoyance. please don’t let her sit next to me, they seem to say with their eyes as i carry my sick toddler to the bathroom.
i remind myself it will all be ok. like everything in life, this train ride will not last forever. we have a destination. as the train rocks back and forth, our circumstances change.
when we finally reach penn station, the struggle is almost over. i stand with the kids as my husband pulls every piece of luggage off the train. and unbelievably, i feel grateful. every simple thing felt like a small miracle, a sign that things could always be more difficult.
i’m thankful for amtrak workers who assure me they clean up toddler vomit all the time, and train cars with bathrooms that are semi-clean. for taxi cab vans that fit the stroller, traffic jams long enough to nurse a baby in and hotel bellmen to carry our bags. for toddlers fresh out of the shower and laundry bags that tie up tight, keep the smell of sick inside. and especially for the kindness of strangers on the street who grab your arm and whisper, “you’re doing a good job, mama.”
when we finally arrive, we discover a small sliver of our previous lives before all these things, travel cribs and diaper bags. we’ll drink wine out of juice glasses and put on the fluffy robes. order room service. the babies will sleep when they’re tired enough. we’ll binge watch our favorite show, sharing one set of earbuds between us, and sneak glances across the bed in the flickering light of the laptop. it will all be ok.
i’ll go to sleep and dream of a surprise train ticket, where i pack my suitcase and board the train and don’t find out where we are going until the train leaves the station. life will once again be lived spontaneously and filled with the unknown.
until i wake up.