I Do Not Miss Traveling With My Kids

by Heidi Unrau
A toddler boy in a cleaned car seat in a car

Two parents, both alike in naivety,

In Fair North Dakota, where we lay our scene. A pair of star-cross’d guardians find themselves, In misadventure’s piteous overthrows.

Is that a little dramatic? Probably. But let me tell you, traveling with my toddler on the night of December 14th, 2018 certainly felt like a Shakespearean tragedy. I was fortune’s fool in a comedy of errors that seem to epitomize my life these days. A series of unfortunate events caught my husband and me completely unawares, just below the 49th parallel.

Let’s set the scene, shall we? Our passports had been expired for the past six years. But with the two of us being antisocial curmudgeons, this wasn’t really an issue. We never go anywhere because there are usually, you know, people out there. However, my whole family had planned a group vacation in the coming months, so it was about time to renew those bad boys anyway.

Maybe there was something in the water. Maybe we thought we should venture out for the sake of my son’s social development. Or maybe those passports were singing a siren’s song luring us to our ultimate demise. Whatever the case, my husband latched onto this crazy idea that we should drive to Fargo ONE WEEK before Christmas. My spidey senses were a-tingling and it was a hard no from me, but I don’t always get to be top-baller-shot-caller all the time. So, hotels were booked and bags were packed.


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I left work early to get us ready. Babies are not light travelers. Think of what you need for a weekend getaway and then multiply that by 70. No, 70 times 7. This will make you a Tetris Master Level 1000 at packing a hatchback. I stuffed about six sleepers for two nights into a comically small duffel bag because I am neurotic, and also, maybe clairvoyant? All the while muttering exclamations under my breath like, “What is this? A bag for ants?! The duffel bag needs to be at least… five…. times… bigger than this!”

Hurling the last of my toddler’s junk into the back of the car, my husband instructed me to unpack some of the sleepers, “Six is too many, Heidi. You’re being ridiculous.” I had no words, only facial expressions. A stone-cold look that, if this had been an actual Shakespearean play, would have said, “Thou hast no more brain than I have in mine elbows!”

An hour and bit later we were feasting on deep fried carbohydrates and snapping selfies at Buffalo Wild Wings. My toddler had no appetite at all, but seemed to be in an uncharacteristically jovial mood. Not at all the norm for a boy who typically pageants his deep-seated contempt for dining out. Kids are neat and stuff, but sometimes they are straight-up murderers of fun. I chalked up his lack of appetite to the entire jar of baby food and two whole Nutri-Grain bars he inhaled just before we left home. That’s cool. I didn’t want to share my onion rings with you anyway.

Fast-forward an hour. It’s late. It’s dark. It’s very, very cold. We pulled out of the parking on our way to the hotel. In about an hour and a half I will be soaking in a hot tub. My son will swim his heart out with his dad. We will all get a deep, full night’s sleep.

LOL! Just Kidding!

Instead, as we were driving, I could hear the sound of running water. What is that? Where is it coming from? I looked down around my feet, thinking I spilled my water bottle. There was nothing there. Not even the water bottle. I turned around and looked behind me. Maybe my son spilled his sippy-cup?

Oh shit! Pull over! Stop the car!

My sweet baby boy was pouring the contents of his stomach out onto his lap. No gag reflex. No heaving. No noise. It was gushing out of him like the Ganges River. He looked absolutely panic stricken. We were two hours away from home with about another hour and half to our hotel. We had nowhere to go. I didn’t know what to do.

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Thick puke filled the car seat and pooled around his waist like the worst spa treatment ever. We pulled into a random parking lot and started scooping and wiping, scooping and wiping. As quickly as I wiped it away, there was a brand-new addition hot n’ fresh out the kitchen. We were bailing water out of a sinking ship. I had nowhere to change him. We popped open the hatchback and stripped him down in the trunk of the car. He wailed, shivered and contorted uncontrollably in the frigid winter air. My heart just broke. I fought back tears while trying to sing “I love you a bushel and peck” over his ear-piercing shrieks.

I finally got him cleaned up and into a fresh sleeper. Both of us were chilled to the bone. I wrapped him up in a blanket and sat with him in the front seat with the heat on full blast. We snuggled until he calmed down. I gently transferred him back to his car seat. We ventured forth; a little rattled but no worse for wear. He looked woeful but he fell asleep as soon as the car started moving. I sighed a deep breath of relief. My husband and I exchanged looks of equal parts shock, disgust, and victory. We sat back in our heated seats, marinating in the sweet stench of norovirus and our impressive ability to roundhouse kick our way out of certain disaster. Crisis averted.

Mom: 1

Toddler: 0

Motherhood: it’s not a competition, but I’m winning.

Famous. Last. Words. My sweet boy emptied his stomach five more times before we made it to our hotel. FIVE MORE TIMES! Five times I stood on the side of the highway, knee deep in snow, scooping vomit out of our leased Mazda with my bare hands, changing a screaming baby in the trunk of the car in the dark while singing “A bushel and a peck,” loud and off key like a bad American Idol audition. I cried because I had no idea what I was doing. I was left completely to my own devices while my husband did his best to collect puke-soaked onesies into a plastic bag.

But you know who else was there, like a bitchy little fairy on my shoulder? Simon Cowell with all his British pomp and sass spouting palpable truths like, “You are, without a doubt, the most incompetent mother I have ever seen. And that was absolutely the worst singing voice I have ever heard in my entire life. Do us all a favor and stop procreating.”

We made it to the hotel in one piece, but with two broken spirits and zero clean clothes. With a sleeping toddler in my arms, a puke-soaked sweater and mascara running down my dumb face, I checked us into our room. Visions of bathtubs danced in my head. We opened the door to our suite and behold! A standing shower only. A part of me died. I turned on the water, stripped us down and got in. I sat on the floor of the shower with my little boy in my arms and closed my eyes. The water was soothing as it washed away the physical evidence of our tribulation. But the burden of my child’s suffering revealed a sense of powerlessness that marred my confidence like red wine on white carpet.

My husband is a quiet man. And he is a deadass hero without a cape. He stayed up well past midnight to wash load after load of soiled clothes, blankets, stuffies and car seat liners. After four trips up and down four flights of stairs we finally had clean pajamas. The three of us snuggled into bed for a long winter’s nap …

And that’s when the diarrhea started.