Road trips with infants are my worst nightmare. I begin stressing out about them weeks before the actual event ever happens. There is just something about being trapped in a car with a tiny ticking time bomb that makes me crazy. Yet, despite my best efforts to diffuse the inevitable tantrum, it never fails that our road trips almost always drive us straight to the looney bin.
Luckily, my lovely husband is usually along for the joyous occasion. We divide and conquer — him driving and me tending to every other need that arises in the small confines of our SUV. But when my best friend was getting married in Springfield, Missouri (three hours south of Kansas City), I knew the baby and I were going to have to make the trip by ourselves.
I prepared by listing all the perfect places to stop and nurse, the locations of the clean gas stations and parking lots for stroller walks, just in case. I packed a year’s supply of snacks, his entire wardrobe and an iPod fully loaded with our favorite lullabies. I was going to nail this solo road trip! After all, it’s only three hours. Right?
Wrong. So wrong. Our (only) three hour road trip took us nearly seven hours. My perfectly prepared plan was an utter failure and when we arrived in Springfield, my son and I were both in tears. Despite leaving at naptime, he didn’t nap. He just cried. And cried. And cried. It was the kind of cry that makes mothers’ hearts everywhere break while simultaneously making the hairs on the back of their necks stand to attention. And it was all my fault.
Three months prior to our trip, we had switched my son’s car seat from his infant seat to a convertible car seat. My husband installed and fitted it for his then six-month-old body. Fast forward three months and several growth spurts later, and my son’s car seat wasn’t fitted to him anymore — and I didn’t know it! As one of the benefits of living in the Northland, we are only in the car for 15 minutes at a time on any given day. Our short commutes weren’t long enough for my son to get uncomfortable in his seat and quite frankly, I never noticed it wasn’t right.
Thirty minutes into our trip, the wailing begun. I told myself he was tired and would fall asleep soon. Forty-five minutes later, he still wasn’t napping. I pulled into a gas station to nurse. His tears dried up, and we started back on the road. He finally fell asleep! For a measly 20 minutes. He awoke hysterically crying, but by now, we had made it to our halfway point — the Walmart parking lot in Clinton, Missouri. We spent the next hours strolling the aisles, changing diapers, eating and playing in the toy aisle. I even purchased new sun visors because I had convinced myself it was too sunny in the backseat.
After installing the new sun visors and covering every square inch of those dang windows, we continued on our journey. We should have been pulling into my friend’s driveway by now, but instead we had another hour and half ahead of us.
We barely made it back on the interstate before having to stop again. As I was unbuckling him, I finally saw it. My poor baby boy had outgrown his car seat. The shoulder straps were so low they were pulling him to one side, his head was cocked, and he was unable to straighten it. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to fix it. I hadn’t educated myself about the car seat, and I knew I couldn’t take it out of the car because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get it back in.
I called my husband. Voicemail. He was on a plane. In hindsight, I should have paid attention when he asked me if I wanted to know how to adjust it, but I didn’t. So here I was, sitting on the side of the road with a screaming child and a car seat that wasn’t safe. If I had been able to calm down long enough, I would have had the brain capacity to get us to a fire station and have it adjusted there, but after nearly four and a half hours of screaming, I was not thinking clearly.
Fortunately, we made it to our destination. Unfortunately, it made for one nightmare of a trip that ended in too many tears for all involved. I spent most of our first night in Springfield educating myself on how to adjust all the car seat settings and how to install and uninstall it.
The guilt of not knowing the seat was unsafe and then not knowing how to fix it still sits with me. I am just thankful we were safe and to prevent another horrible road trip, my phone reminds me at the beginning of each month to “check car seat.”