I had an idea. Why not take my three year old grandson, Conner Jack, to Cambridge, Ohio for a few days while his mommy and daddy are preparing for the arrival of his little brother, Thomas Lea? Heather, our warrior daughter, was enduring a lengthy hospital stay after her water broke some eight weeks prematurely and I had gone home to provide whatever support I could. Lisa, remained in Cambridge and was planning to arrive home after Thomas showed up. Everyone agreed that Mimi would be more helpful after Thomas arrived than before. So, in the meantime, I decided that I could go home to support our daughter. While I was able to take Heather donuts, lunch, supper and lose to her at “Skip-Bo”, I decided I could be more helpful taking care of their three year old, Conner Jack. Out of the darkest recesses of my brain, generated from the same synapse as sticking the screwdriver in the light socket, a thought popped up. Why not take Conner to Cambridge, Ohio? We could spend time with Mimi, hang-out at the campground and give Heather and James a much needed break. That was my idea.
Heather and James agreed to send Conner and I north on the six hour drive. Alright! Let’s do this! Perfect planning would result in perfect results, at least, that is what I recalled from one of those “You can fix everything in your life” seminars I was forced to attend years ago. Perfect planning began with figuring out how I could keep a three year old entertained for six hours in a cramped car seat. First stop, ‘Best Buy’, and a portable DVD player. Perfect planning – perfect results. I got this!
With the DVD player strategically installed in a direct line to the car seat and level with Conner’s retinas, all that was left was getting he and I packed. Brilliant ideas seemed to be flooding in as I made final preparations, the last one being he would spend the night with me and we could get a really early Sunday morning start. Conner would be sleeping most of the way and if he did wake up – in would go the first DVD. Damn, I’m a genius!
At three-thirty in the morning I began loading the truck and, finally, a sleeping, Conner Jack. I managed to get him into his car seat without taking off one of his arms or one of my fingers (Who designs these diabolical things?) and Operation “Cambridge” was off to a perfect start
Things went great for the first three and half hours. We stopped and peed, we watched movies (he watched – I listened), we talked about going to “Hio”, we were having a great time. And then…,
Just outside Cincinnatti, Conner indicated it was time for breakfast. No problem – I spotted the golden arches and noticed it had a play area inside. This was perfect. He could eat, play, move his little body, hug my neck for being such a good planner and we would be back on the road in no time. People would be asking me to write a book on how to travel with a three year old. After, again, struggling to free him from his car seat, we walked up to the door and I noticed a line of people stretching from the counter to the doorway. I then spotted the bus. Could I have not seen this before we got out of the truck? Conner insisted on playing and did so on an empty stomach. I finally convinced him to leave the play area and tried to explain why Mac would not give him food. “Too many people here, buddy.” His reply, “huh?” Next stop – next McDonalds, one without a tour bus full of people.
You would think the more times I put Conner in and took him out of his car seat, the easier it would be. Nope. This time, I managed to tear a chunk out of my finger nail (and finger) while snapping the “Jaws of Life” buckles. I believe this car seat could not only withstand a car wreck (God forbid), it may be able to survive the apocolypse. This thing is indestructible.
Just outside Wilmington, Ohio, another McDonalds appeared on the horizon. After another tussle with the car seat, (this time using only nine of my fingers), we were soon eating breakfast.
With breakfast finally out of the way and just under three more hours to go, things were looking pretty good. One final battle with the car seat and we would be on our way. That is, if the truck would start. The truck would not start. “Dear God, make the truck start.” God said, “No!” And when God says, “No”, He means it.
“Okay”, I am saying to myself, “Keep calm”. We have AAA and the main thing I need to do is not get Conner upset. I take him back out of his car seat while explaining our truck is “broken” and we would need to wait inside the McDonalds for someone to come and fix it. Conner seemed completely fine with this change in plans. Mac was not.
Conner played and talked to every breakfast customer that came in and out while we waited for the tow truck. Hopefully, this was just a dead battery issue. But, in the back of my mind, something told me the problem was much worse. We had purchased two new batteries for the truck just last year along with practically every other truck part imaginable. I have chronicled our struggles with vehicle repairs in other “trippin” stories and this would be another in a long line of expenses. But maybe, just maybe, it is only the battery.
Finally, a tow truck turned into the parking lot and Conner and I went out to meet him. He hooked up a charger and told me to give it a try. Nothing. We waited and tried again. Nothing. It wasn’t the battery. It was the starter. It would need to be towed for repair.
At that moment, if someone had asked me if I would donate a truck for a good (or even bad) cause, I would have tossed them the keys and bolted in the other direction. I called Lisa and she began making her way to pick us up. The truck would be towed to a Ford dealership in Wilmington. That shouldn’t cost much. So now comes the hard part. Getting everything out of the truck and into McDonalds alone with a three year old.
It was about that time that I finally realized what a terrible idea my brilliant idea really was. We were fine back in Owensboro. Lisa was doing fine in Cambridge. The truck was fine. Conner was fine being at day care. Somebody kick me!
With the truck in the middle of the McDonalds parking lot, I tried to figure out how to move all our belongings into the restaurant with Conner by my side. I could not leave him alone inside and finally decided he needed to stay inside the truck while I worked. As fast as I could move, I loaded armfuls of bags and jogged the items to the sidewalk while keeping as much attention as possible on the three year old – praying he did not decide to dart across the parking lot. Last to go would be the car seat. The #! $&%$& car seat. I almost had to chew through one of the straps to free it and beads of sweat started pouring onto the cushion as I contorted myself inside the back seat trying to reach one of the binding hooks. This truck could roll into the Grand Canyon (something I’ve actually dreamed about) and this car seat would be unscratched. Finally, it came came loose and was stacked along with all our other bags. With Conner now safely in my arms, the tow trucker took my info and even entertained Conner for a moment while I did one final check inside the vehicle before it headed out of the parking lot. We waved good-bye.
The next challenge was trying to move all our belongings from the sidewalk into the restaurant without losing site of Conner. A really nice couple agreed to entertain him while I began hauling our things inside. Finally, in what looked like a homeless family seeking shelter, our things were piled into a corner of the restaurant and I collapsed in one of the booths. The wait began. Two happy meals and three hours later, Lisa arrived.
It is amazing how much easier things are with two people when it comes to taking care of children. In the aftermath of this ordeal, I have a greater appreciation for single parents. They endure a hardship most of us could not even imagine. Simple things become enormous struggles and having help – the greatest blessing in life. God bless the single parents in the world!
My week with Conner Jack was a challenge – but a wonderful challenge. He is a terrific little guy who loves everybody and everything. He was just as happy in a mud puddle as he would have been riding “Dumbo” at Disney World. We bonded – Mac and Jack. We made it back home safely, with no breakdowns, no tears, no problems. The stupid truck was repaired (don’t ask) and everything worked out fine.
It is amazing how in moments of crisis, the world seems to implode around us. I tend to make things seem much worse than they actually are. And yet, while sitting in that McDonalds, wringing my hands in worry, I remember looking over at Conner Jack and seeing him playing with his “Captain America” figure – and smiling. Jesus words, “Unless you come to me as a child”, made sense to me in that moment. We are helpless and absolutely reliant on His strength and His mercy. He, and only He, will see us through.
Thomas Lea will arrive next week. Lisa will be home. The truck will, probably, need more repair. Conner will smile at an action figure and God is good!
Now, as for that car seat…,