Before we leave for Illinois this Christmas, I hit the library. It is a whirlwind trip. I slap Sophia on the computer for 15-minutes while I quickly gathered enough literature to sustain us for the 32-hour round trip excursion we’d be embarking upon the next day.
First, I mine the books-on-tape. I’ve pretty much sucked the few shelves of audio picture books dry, relying on them for a five-minute reprieve from Sophia asking me, “Can you please tell me a story about Sophia and Curious George [drive me completely insane]?” But, to the right, are the chapter books. The big guns. Charlotte’s Web. 101 Dalmatians. Mary Poppins. Not the Disneyed up versions. The originals. I look at the back. 275 minutes. Hello, my lovely. I pop them into my sack.
“Soph, are you okay?” I check in with her.
“Shhhh!” she scolds me. “I can’t hear when you talk to me!”
Next, I cruise the new books, helping myself to three pristine tomes: a posthumously printed collection of little known Dr. Seuss stories, a truly fabulous spoof of pulp fiction entitled, Boy Saves World from Giant Octopus (any book in which the father is a meticulously rendered drawing of Gregory Peck at his finest is an excellent book, in my opinion), and the Big Book of Families.
Then I scanned the holiday section, which has a two-book limit. I hold up three, deliberating. Larry, one of our favorite librarians, comes up behind me. “You can have three,” he whispers. “You guys are special.”
Being a regular has its privileges.
“Okay, Sophy Wophy. Put the earphones down.” She pretends not to hear me. I’ve got to get home, make dinner, and start packing pronto. This kid doesn’t understand that we have a SCHEDULE to keep.
“I’ve got Charlotte’s Web on tape….” I sing, holding up the bait. The earphones come off in a flash.
“Let me see. I want to see it!” I let her fondle the package, while Larry checks us out.
She’s wiggling as I try to strap her into her car seat. “I want to listen to Charlotte’s Web right now!” We should have been five minutes ago. “Sorry, Charlie.”
“My name is not Charlie! It’s SOPHIA!” Yes. I know.
The next morning, I’m getting everything together in preparation for take off. I’m rushing around like a maniac while Sophia happily plays with her dollhouse people.
“Gotta go, Soph. I have a million things to do before we leave this afternoon.”
“No. I want to stay here. I want to play Cinderella with you.”
“I’m sorry, Sophia, but we don’t have time. Put your shoes on and grab what you want to take with you in the car.”
“No! I don’t want to go!” Sigh. I pop Sophia in the car and throw in The Great Big Book of Families after her. We go to the bank, and then head over to the car wash. I try two before I finally find one that seems to be open. But no one’s around. I’m perplexed. It’s Hanunkkah, not Christmas. Do Jews own carwashes? I glance down at my watch. I’ve got a half an hour before Sophia has to go down for the nap and I haven’t even fed her yet. I walk into the car wash calling out, “Hello? Anyone there?”
“Yeah. The pumps broke. Can you come back in 15 minutes?” Fifteen precious minutes?
“Sure.” I take Sophia out for a bagel, which we eat in the car listening to holiday tunes. I’m sweating. She looks happy and peaceful, cream cheese smeared under her nose.
When we get back to the car wash, it’s still a couple minutes before it’s up and running, “This might take a few minutes,” the guy tells me, “I’m the only one here.” Fabulous.
“How come none of the car washes are open today but yours?”
“People don’t usually get their cars washed in the rain.” It was raining. I hadn’t noticed. Oh well. The car is filthy. It had to be done.
I take the Big Book of Families out of the car to keep us occupied while Green Car has his spa treatment. “No! I don’t want to read that!”
“Fine. I’ll read it to myself.” I retort, and begin to read aloud, full of feeling. Sophia peeks at the page from behind the book. I pause. Come on. Ask me for it.
“Mommy. Keep reading.”
“Oh? You want me to read to you, now?”
“Yes! Read it to me now!”
“Read it to me right now please!”
And so I read. We come to a page about vacations. “Families take all kinds of vacations…some can afford to take exotic vacations….while others stay close to home.”
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Nothing. It’s just that I can’t wait for my vacation to be over.
That night we drive up to my mother’s, do Hanukkah, sleep, attend the preschool holiday show, and finally get on I-80, Illinois bound. To her credit, Sophie is a gem. Barely a peep out of her. She’s looking at books, listening to her music, chattering away.
For insurance, I’ve come armed with a bag of wrapped items. Small gifts to reward Sophie’s patience along the way. Each was specifically chosen for its portability and absorbing qualities: Fancy Nancy Colorforms, Disney Princess Color Wonders Coloring Book (proof that I do not practice complete princess deprivation), an Encyclopedia of Words sticker book (over 600 stickers!), Princess Mosaic sticker-by-number. The grab-bag items prove to be so engaging, we only have to give her two the first sixteen hours. Of course, we punctuate these activities with music, I Spy, 20 questions, word games, napping, snacks, and bouts of silliness. About halfway there, Sophie’s face lights up. Suddenly she asks,
“Daddy, are we on an exotic vacation?”
I think back to the exotic trips (albeit few) that I’ve taken in the past. Latvia. Prague. Jamaica. And line them up against this endless stretch of highway to our Midwest destination. I snicker.
But perhaps, compared to our brief jaunts to Philadelphia or North Jersey, in Sophia’s world this is exotic. We’ve seen a log cabin on the back of a truck. We’ve flown by acres of farmland and expansive sky. And tonight, we’re sleeping in a hotel. One with a pool. I can remember this as being the height of luxury. The pampering experience of eating chocolate chip pancakes at IHOP. Of waking up in a bed that’s not your own (which, now, skeeves me). Of having all the HBO your optic nerve can stand.
Finally, I’m ready. Ready to slow down and join Sophie on her exotic vacation.