Life, love and why I spent four days driving across America with a 3-week-old baby

Life, love and why I spent four days driving across America with a 3-week-old baby

I swung the car door open, and I could sense trouble.

My husband glanced at me, wearied and frustrated, with disheveled hair and sweat glistening on his forehead.

It was a look I hadn't seen since the birth of our first child, a son named Leo, just three weeks ago.

Scratch that; I'd seen that exact expression the day before at a worn-out gas station in rural Tennessee.

While I ducked inside for a snack and a restroom break, my husband returned to discover an unpleasant surprise in our baby's diaper, potent enough to escape its confines and seep into the car seat.

There I was, cramped in the overflowing SUV, dealing with the aftermath while he blissfully remained unaware.

"How do you manage this?" he asked upon opening the door.

The question hung in the air, rhetorical. My attempt at a shrug wasn't well-received.

Over a span of two days, we covered nearly 800 miles to reach my in-laws' home in northern California, our latest addition nestled in the backseat.

During our approximately 15 hours on the road, we engaged in a delicate dance of "drive until Leo demands attention or starts wailing."

Then, we'd seek the nearest spot to pull over, tending to feeding, changing, or soothing him (sometimes all three) until he settled enough to return to his car seat, eventually succumbing to slumber.

The cycle repeated every time he awoke and demanded attention, forcing us off the road.

On the return journey, the last 20 miles were an agonizing crawl in traffic while Leo's cries pierced the air, and we were unable to reach an exit.

Stressful. Challenging.

I'd do it all over again, a hundred times.

My dad always prioritized us over his desires and needs. How could I not reciprocate, even if it meant testing my patience on a lengthy trip?

Around 35 years ago, my parents learned about an ailing infant. Born to a young mother, he required immediate surgery and would face various challenges as a baby. The warning came: he had frequent, forceful vomiting. My mom insisted on making him a part of our family when he was put up for adoption, becoming one of four children they adopted. For the first year of my life, my parents stayed up late for feedings, bracing for the projectile vomiting that became routine once I joined the family.

That baby was named Leo, altering the trajectory of his life.

When I left for college, my mom picked up scrapbooking, creating an album for each of us. In mine, there's a photo of her shortly after my adoption.

A smile adorned her face, a smile I only truly understood when I became a parent. Decades later, that smile still radiates in a picture of me as an adult.

As a toddler, my mom recorded herself reading bedtime stories on a giant camcorder, ensuring I wouldn't miss story time while she vacationed with my dad.

Naturally maternal and quick-witted, she has made me laugh countless times during our recent visits and throughout the past year. To her, humor is as essential as breathing.

She guided me with a gentle hand and an unwavering belief in my capabilities during my formative years. When others doubted me, it was her voice assuring me that I could and would overcome.

Her excitement matched mine when I achieved success or celebrated something. Only a few weeks into dating a girl, my mom coincidentally visited me in Dallas, foreseeing something I hadn't yet realized.

"Can't wait to meet her," she said.

I married that girl a year later.

In moments of job loss or heartbreak, she was there to uplift me, urging me to persevere. She enriched my life, shaping the person I am today.

We played board games during my childhood, and beating both her and her mother was a notable achievement. She remains the only family member who can challenge me in Scrabble or Boggle.

Though my parents had little interest in sports, they attended every basketball game. When I added golf to the mix, my mom endured sweltering heat, walking more than her fair share of golf courses to cheer me on. After driving six hours to one tournament, she rushed to a store for bug spray when I was attacked by mosquitoes during warmups.

Early in my writing career, facing the inevitable online criticism, she restrained herself from responding to anonymous detractors.

"He's a good one," she asserted in my defense.

Fortunately, she remained blissfully unaware of the other controversies I stirred up as a journalist over the past decade.

While driving to college together, she turned to me with tears streaming down her cheeks.

"You know I love you, right?"

How could she doubt it? Her love was evident every day.

In April, I found myself bent over the kitchen sink, mind racing. A call from my older sister delivered the news: Mom had a stroke and was rushed to the emergency room. The reasons were unclear, but I choked back tears, swiftly ending the call before making plans to return to my hometown.

Through teary eyes, my wife and I headed west to be by her side.

We spent the evening with my dad and siblings, and the next day, my dad navigated around the hospital's strict COVID regulations to allow me an hour with my mom before visiting hours concluded. She was happy to see me, and I was even happier to see her. The term "stroke" carries uncertainty, but my mom, though drowsy, remained herself.

Much has changed in the 14 months since our rushed trip back to California. My mom's life has been a series of tests, hospital visits, and a sobering diagnosis following a July brain surgery.

My dad and I held her hand during that surgery, listening as the surgeon described the tumor as "very aggressive." That was the phrase my dad, a seasoned physician, dreaded. Some parts of the tumor were too deep to remove, but it was sent for testing. The next morning, the tests confirmed Glioblastoma. As my dad read the prognosis from his phone, driving back to the hospital, a pit formed in my stomach. A quick Google search deepened the unease.

Perhaps my mom would defy the odds, emerge victorious. In the year since that day, our household has prayed for healing and a miracle daily, trusting that God is faithful, even if the miracle doesn't manifest. So far, it hasn't. God doesn't promise a pain-free life if we trust Him; He promises eternal life with Him. And that's a promise we hold onto.

Yet that promise doesn't alleviate the pain of witnessing a loved one's suffering.

My mom endured six weeks of daily radiation, with me making the journey home as often as possible, sometimes facing unsettling, uncertain moments.

The Friday night before covering the eventual national champion's visit to Tennessee, my sister called again. My mom had a severe seizure and was back in the hospital. She wanted me to come home.

Seven hours later, I was on a 5 a.m. flight back to California after texting my understanding editors and my colleague, a Tennessee writer, whom I'd shared dinner with the previous evening.

My mom pressed on, recovering from a series of seizures and treatments for her tumor. She's on a regimen of medications.

That relentless tumor has gradually limited her capabilities, sapping her strength at every turn. Her voice is softer now, and holding a lengthy conversation can be challenging.

Her left hand's functionality is limited, and sitting up is an arduous task. A series of seizures in January landed her back in the hospital, mostly confining her to bed for now. The list of things she can do independently is short.

But she can still love. And her love will linger with the people she cherishes long after she's gone.

I shared a few photos of our daughter with my parents shortly after her birth last month. Arriving in California after our exhaustive two-day drive, those pictures adorned the dresser next to my mom's bed.

The following days etched memories we'll forever hold dear.

As I sat by her bedside, I expressed my anticipation of the inevitable mistakes we'd make while raising our daughter.

My parents chuckled.

"You do your best with the knowledge you have at the time," my dad remarked.

"And pray for wisdom," my mom added.

Sometimes, the significance of moments eludes us until later. Sometimes, moments crystallize instantly.

That one will stay with me forever. Moments like that fuel our existence, embedding themselves in our consciousness.

It reminded me of Moses' prayer echoed by David in Psalm 90.

"Teach us to number our days, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom," it reads.

When my time comes to leave this world, I won't be reflecting on the stories I wrote, the games I covered, or the people I encountered. Neither will I dwell on the stories I won't write while on paternity leave, previewing the 2023 season.

I'll be thinking of quiet moments like that with those I love.

As we prepared to depart after a seemingly brief visit, I gently placed my slumbering daughter in my mom's functioning right arm. They are two of the individuals I hold dearest in the world.

It's another moment etched in memory, a fleeting moment carrying substantial weight.

My heart swelled with gratitude. Witnessing them together brought immense joy, especially knowing it fulfilled a long-standing desire of my mom. Her love for children led her to raise six of her own, transforming my life as one of the four she adopted.

Yet it also stirred sadness, acknowledging that moments like these are numbered. And a tinge of anger surfaced. The pain slightly dampened the beauty of the moment, but that pain only existed because of the love I feel for my mom and the 34 years I've been blessed to be loved by her.

Enduring what she has over the past year has been excruciating, yet for a few moments, none of that weighed on my mind.

I felt thankful for both of them and grateful for a moment and time that will forever linger in my memory.

Silently driving home, tears streamed down our faces.

Embarking on a four-day roundtrip across the country with an infant?

A small price to pay for an indelible moment with someone I cherish so deeply.


wife, love, hours, days, parents, dad, mom, 3weekold, life, driving, moments, baby, spent, america

Next Post Previous Post
No Comment
Add Comment
comment url