"We drove 6 and a half hours to eat at an average Mexican restaurant."
"Yup," I respond, staring out the car window from the back seat. I have already finished reading a whole novel, and have run out of activities.
Sophie is quiet now, holding my phone and watching Masha and the Bear. She has been watching TV the whole drive, to keep us sane and safe from her ear-splitting screams. I comfort myself that at least it is in Russian (which we are trying to teach her), but past her glazed eyes, I still irrationally imagine her brain melting.
"Gorgeous," he says, to be positive.
I glance out the window again, snow and mountains. "Yeah," I agree, also to be positive. It's a wasteland, I think.
I know what Georg is really thinking, and I feel bad about it. Sophie is 18 months old, but some parenting lessons require repeated blows to make themselves felt. "I guess we can't have lives," he stated in the cafe, as we drank our bottles of kombucha. I shrugged, "I knew it would be like this," I said. She is held precariously happy by the strictest of routines.
We set out with high hopes, leaving at 9am while Sophie was still happy. I wore my new shirt from Target- a flowy, lightly flower-printed blouse that is slightly too nice for the cooking and cleaning of my daily routine. A symbol of hope, you could say, that this trip could rescue us from the mundane, restore me to a former life of beauty and freedom.
This winter has been worse than most. I do what I can- exercising, eating healthy, sleeping, practicing spirituality, trying to stay positive- but seasonal depression has been winning. I know I have it better than some. I can function. I can cook, clean, and cram in some writing. I can read, and keep up my routine. But my life-blood feels drained, and dark thoughts battle through my brain, coming suddenly and clearly as some force wholly apart from me. And although I try filling our days with activities, we are bored, Sophie and I. The cold has kept us inside for days, and I have no car to escape with her to a library or grocery store.
My Georg is compassionate, and he knows it's been difficult, so he planned this long weekend as a rescue. "We could drive to California," he originally suggested, but we quickly ruled that out. A nine hour drive (each way) with Sophie would not be worth a day or two of sun. So we decided on Moab, to visit the arches, even though the city is colder than Utah Valley this time of year. What did we expect to do anyways? We can't hike with her- she refuses to be carried and would run off cliffs while screaming gleefully. I know now we were being willfully impractical in taking her, but if we are going to get out of the apartment, she has to come with us.
She started screaming uncontrollably for the last half hour of the drive, which was to be expected. She had thrown my phone, done with cartoons. So I put some finger puppets on my fingers and started acting ridiculous. Screams. I break off a piece of a date bar, try to place it on her tongue. Screams. So I turn away, to my book. My head feels empty, as if my brain had been scraped out, consumed by one immaterial scream of unreal pitch and intensity.
"Ignore it," Georg instructed, from the driver's seat.
My whole body is clenched, like an animal poised to protect my baby from imaginary danger.
"I'm her mom," I tell him, pressing my fingers into my scalp.
"What?" he yells.
"I'm her mom," I yell back, over the scream. "I can't ignore it."
We finally pull up to the Mexican restaurant, but it was already time for Sophie's nap. "No idea what to do," I told him. "She only sleeps in her crib." "Maybe she'll pass out while we eat," he said desperately, and I had to make an effort not to roll my eyes.
She ate chips while we ate burritos, and the food was fine. "She wasn't so bad," he said, and I took her back to the car to breastfeed her. But she still wouldn't sleep, so we drove to downtown Moab, a single street of mostly souvenir shops. "I've been wanting to take you here," he said, as we entered a clothing and jewelry store. "Pick something for yourself." He nodded to the racks of clothing- beautiful, unique, my style. I could tell he had planned this, and felt bad when Sophie started flailing her arms and screaming. Her screams are truly remarkable- I have never heard a child scream so loudly and high-pitched that it can be heard from blocks away (this is not an exaggeration, we have tested it). Every time she screams, I see the sound waves like headache-inducing gas, spreading its fingers into the brains of an entire city, the residents electrified with anger. So Georg had to put her down and chase her. After a few minutes, he dragged her back to clothing section, trying to smile. "Try on the coat," he said.
"Beautiful," I agreed, running my hand over the fabric, "but I would feel guilty," and I flip over the price tag to show him. He knows I don't like to spend money on clothes.
So we walked down the street to a bookstore, where Sophie ran through the shelves, gathering all the books with pink covers and bringing them to us. I sat on a chair, feeling the cold seep through me, my head still feeling emptied, but not currently reverberating with a scream. Then we walk to a health food store and buy some kombucha, drinking in a cafe, while I give Sophie bites of a date bar. "Time to go home," I say. "We have to be back before her bedtime."
I knew that Georg was hugely disappointed- six and a half hours of driving to spend only two hours chasing a toddler through a cold city.
So we drive home, my head against the cold car window, Sophie finally closing her eyes, always an angel in her sleep. We enter our cold apartment (hastily left in the morning, breakfast still on the table, her toys on the floor), and I am glad to be done with our little adventure, happy to be back into that precarious routine which keeps us calcified, keeps us pacified. When Sophie is happy, we are all happy. And in these mundane days, I can always find an hour or two to write. I put her to sleep and go to the bathroom to wash my face, catching my reflection and drawing back a bit, my face registering profound disappointment. I look like a librarian, I think, in this blouse. Like an old librarian in a flower-print blouse made to distract from a not-quite-beautiful face. I am not old, I try to remind myself. I am 29. But my whole body feels cold, my brain still consumed by a dull hum. So I wash my face and brush my teeth, hoping sleep will restore me to the natural order of things.