7:45 a.m. — Left the VX, 45 minutes behind my planned schedule, for a day in Miles City. (Among other appointments planned for the day, I had agreed to take my husband’s work pickup to the Chevy dealership in Miles City so the mechanics there could get to the bottom of the chronic check-engine-light problem. My husband, Beau, couldn’t spare the time for a trip to town… and I was going anyhow… so why not?) Because the work pickup is a single cab, my three kids and I couldn’t legally travel the highway or interstate in it — so that meant a detour to my mom’s house first, to leave the big kids with her before hitting the road officially… which added 30 miles to my trip.
9:00 — After bouncing down 40 miles of dirt road with 3 little kids loose in the cab, left the big kids with Grammy.
10:30 — Screeched to a stop in front of the Chevy dealership in Miles City, a half hour late for the appointment. Thankfully they said they could take it right away. I unloaded the stroller from the bed of the pickup, strapped the baby in, and we trekked to Wal-Mart. Good thing it’s a double stroller; I didn’t think I could navigate Wal-Mart with a stroller and a cart, so instead filled the empty seat and every pocket on the stroller with groceries. (Good practice for a limited budget; I really had to decide what were absolutely the most important items on my list.)
12 noon — Now pulling a cart full of purchased groceries, I drove the stroller to the game room at Wal-Mart and let the baby exercise among the germs there while I ate a donut and looked at a People magazine as I sat in the 50-cents-for-a-massage chair. Because I deserved a break, by golly.
12:10 p.m. — Hit the front doors at Wal-Mart just as my mom was pulling up in her car with my 5-year-old and 3-year-old strapped into the backseat. Mom and I loaded my groceries in the back of her car, threw the stroller in on top of the groceries (so much for the bread), and she gave me a ride to the Chevy dealership. The mechanics were done with it; turns out it was an oxygen sensor going goofy, and it was covered under warranty. Score!
12:30 — Lunch at Arby’s. After we ate, I changed the baby’s clothes out in the pickup while Mom stood watch as 5-year-old Asher spent an inordinate amount of time in the men’s bathroom “washing up.” Still not exactly sure what he was doing in there… but he came out with wet hair.
1:30 — To the Miles City fairgrounds to watch my niece, Taylor, show her bunny in the Custer County 4-H small animal show. Baby Marsielle had fallen asleep in her carseat on the short drive through town, so I parked at an angle that kept her out of the 93-degree sun, left the pickup with A/C running, and locked her inside it. I excused myself from the bunny show periodically to check on her out there, but Mom was still worried that the baby would suffer some sort of suffocation or exhaust poisoning in the cab. Do you know, is this possible? Is it dangerous to leave your kid in a running car? I’ve never been exactly sure myself… but I keep on takin’ the risk, because nobody wants to wake a sleeping baby.
2:30 — The bunny show was running behind and of course Taylor’s showmanship class had just begun when I had to leave to take Baby Marsielle to the health clinic for her 15-month check-up. (We country people, so smartly, try to schedule all our appointments in town for one single day that comes every few months… just to challenge ourselves and also to ensure that our trips to town are miserable.)
2:45 — We actually made it to the doctor’s office on time, which is big for us. Three-year-old Emi had opted to skip the bunny show and come along to see our family doctor, too, so we three girls did a lot of playing with surgical gloves and tongue depressors as we waited in our exam room. (Good dang it, I am going to recoup some of the cost of my insurance premium, even if comes through free surgical gloves and tongue depressors.) The checkup was good but wasn’t complete without two shots for Baby Marsielle, which Emi witnessed with some amount of glee. Marsielle was pretty tough about it, thank goodness… she still had a lot of miles to make before bedtime.
4:30 — Back to the bunny show just on time to catch Taylor and her bunny, Snowball, in their last class, wherein the judge was evaluating the bunnies’ furs. (Was that last sentence grammatically correct? I am not a rabbit expert.) By this hour of the day in a hot building, both the bunnies and the young showmen (showgirls?) were pretty much tuckered out. Emi, playing on her perch at the back of the bleachers, witnessed a bunny just out of the show ring suffer a heatstroke, and it was a worrisome event for Emi. She felt very sad for the bunny and for the bunny’s girl.
5:00 — No trip to Miles City is complete without a stop for ice cream with my sister and her kids. As Asher puts it, we always have to “cream up” — it’s Arvik family tradition. So after the bunny show was over, we all stopped at the BuyMT store in downtown Miles City for hand-dipped cream. A double scoop of the coffee flavor for me, please — I figured I would need a double dose of caffeine to run with perseverance the race still set before me.
6:00 — Getting organized to hit the road after ice cream, Mom and I realized we’d forgotten to transfer my groceries from her car to the cooler in the back of my pickup. Milk, butter, cream cheese, lettuce… I’d bought it all, and it had been sweltering in the back of Mom’s car all afternoon in 90-degree temps. By this time the jug of milk was a little warmer than cool. I hoofed it two blocks down Main Street to a convenience store to buy two bags of ice, then proceeded to load the cooler retroactively. One package of butter died right there on the tailgate as I attempted to revive it — the butter was completely melted, at a liquid state, and the paper package just gasped, collapsed, and its innards spilled out. The whole incident made me feel like a really responsible steward of my husband’s hard-earned money.
6:10 — Left Miles City — the big kids in my mom’s car with her and Marsielle in the single-cab pickup with me. The sun was beating hard through the passenger-side window, and Marsielle screamed at it for the first 20 miles on the interstate. Finally, at Hathaway, I pulled off on an exit to calm her down… and she remained calm for as long as I held her. As soon as I strapped her back in her carseat, though, she revved it up again. Finally I just had to drive, and finally she cried herself to sleep… about five minutes before we pulled into the Rosebud-Treasure County Fair in Forsyth, where Mom was supposed to be working a booth selling tickets for a fundraiser. We were both parked within view of the carnival, and the big kids were just jumping out of their shorts, so excited were they to “hit the midway,” as folks used to say. So I woke the baby, strapped her into her stroller, and hit the midway we did.
7:00 — Grandma bought Asher and Emi 30 tickets to use at the carnival. First there was the helicopter ride, then the funhouse, then the octopus ride which Asher enjoyed with some friends we’d run in to. By this time the tickets were all gone… and Asher was wondering why Grandma hadn’t purchased him the wristband so he could ride all night long! We saw so many people to visit with as we made the carnival circuit at my fair alma mater… but eventually we had to say goodbye to the friends and the blinking lights and hit the 4-H concession stand for supper. We still had a long way to go.
8:30 — One last stop — Asher and Emi just wouldn’t live if they couldn’t get a snow-cone on the way out the fair gates. I got a funnel cake for my husband, Beau, while I was at it, too.
8:45 — Decision time. I, driving a single-cab pickup, somehow had to get my three kids home to the VX. You might’ve guessed that there is not enough room for two carseats and a booster seat in a single-cab pickup. So: I could send my big kids down 40 miles of interstate and highway in my mom’s car, safe in their carseats, then load them into the pickup there at her house and slowly travel 40 miles of cop-free dirt road home to the VX. That would be a total of 80 miles to home. (This was the original plan, but it didn’t seem like such a good idea now that it was almost 9 p.m. and I felt like I’d been around the state in 12 hours.) The alternative? I could cheat and save myself some miles, but risk a ticket. I could load them in my pickup right now — with the big kids sharing one seatbelt in the middle of the cab — and drive directly home to the VX, just 50 miles with only 17 miles of dirt.
(Side note of interest: I know another mom with a large, rural family who is always challenging carseat laws, and I believe her latest findings reveal that the language in the laws expresses that children should be buckled in but doesn’t necessarily describe how they should be buckled in. As in, maybe it’s okay if they’re not in carseats. And maybe it’s okay if two are buckled in with one belt. [It’s not that we rural folks don’t believe carseats are wonderful safety features… it’s just that carseats are not always practical… and hey, not to dig up a can of worms here, but I never, ever sat in a carseat when I was little.])
Though I am terrified of being pulled over with kids not in carseats — it’s happened to us twice before, and I’m worried that if it happens again they’ll send social services after us and take our kids away to be raised by two gay, medical-marijuana-using foster dads (gotta love the new value system in our country) — I took the risk again this time. The baby was strapped in her carseat on the passenger side, I was driving, and the two big kids were both buckled in with the center seatbelt. Leaving the blinking lights of the carnival behind, we parted ways with Grandma and headed home through the darkness of Highway 12. I called Beau to let him know we were on our way; cell service would be intermittent on the trip.
9:15 — Par for the course, about 20 minutes out of Forsyth, Baby Marsielle threw up the hot dog and milk she’d had for supper. I pulled over enough to wipe her face with a clean outfit out of the diaper bag. She was still pretty much asleep, and there wasn’t much I could do anyhow… so I just kept driving after that. Though Emi remained awake and chipper the whole way home, Asher fell into a restless sleep on the road and, as my mom and sister used to say about my own youthful behavior in a vehicle, he started growing arms and legs. Seated right next to me in the cramped cab, he was continually repositioning himself trying to get comfortable. I kept waking him up because he’s getting big and heavy enough and with long enough legs that I was afraid he would hit the gas pedal or hook the steering wheel and crash us.
10:15 — Home sweet home at the VX. Beau met us at the door and got the big kids in bed and the cooler unloaded while I stepped into the shower with the sleepy (and stinky) baby. We washed the chewed-up hot dog down the drain in the dark bathroom. Once we had the baby in a fresh diaper and jammies and asleep in her crib, Beau and I shared the funnel cake from the carnival and re-hashed the day. “Why is there butter smeared all over the back of the pickup?” he wondered.
Friday, 9 a.m. — I decided a coffee treat would be fundamental to surviving the day-after-town-day. When I retrieved the newly-purchased carton of cream from the frig, I cracked it open but it wouldn’t pour. Must have been the temperature it reached and then all the jiggling on the way home… the cream in there is not exactly whipped, by it is solidified in the shape of a carton. Still tastes fine, though… so I stirred it and a bunch o’ white, non-organic, grown-from-Roundup-ready-seeds sugarbeet sugar into my coffee. Life isn’t perfect, but this concoction allows me to think it is… for a few blissful sips at least.
© Tami Blake