About a year ago my wife interviewed at a number of hospitals for her first job out of training and we were lucky enough to be able to pretty much pick which area of the country we would live in. For a number of reasons: proximity to family, weather, atmosphere of work environment, cost of living and others, we came to the decision to move to Sacramento from Minneapolis. I had only been to the city for the brief stay we had for my wife’s interview, which wasn’t quite enough time for both of us to see all the areas we might consider living in. However, what we saw was very promising that this would be a promising place for my wife’s career and a great place to raise our family.
After deciding on the job and the apartment, we still had some pretty serious decisions about how we would get ourselves and all of stuff halfway across the country. Not to mention frozen milk for the baby. That’s a good place to start. The milk. We had already filled our deep freezer and regular freezer over a month before moving and our guy was not needing defrosted milk, yet. The internet had all kinds of ideas for shipping milk: coolers with dry ice shipped through the mail or picking up new dry ice on a road trip, or sealing the deep freezer with the milk inside for as few days as possible or even donating all of it to someone else.
We were a bit last minute on some of our arrangements but I was able to get a driving buddy in my brother-in-law to come with me. I was lucky to have him because he has some experience with long road trips and we have very similar tastes in audio books. He came to visit a few days early to get a chance to meet his nephew for the first time. We didn't realize that our street would be especially hectic that weekend that he came in. It was Pride Weekend in Minneapolis, and as fun as it is to have the action around us of revelers, our street gets shut down and we can't really get around. His flight came in while the parade was going on and we had a bit of traffic just to get off the highway and get to our apartment even though it was starting to clear up.
Before he settled in we took a walk to CVS to pick up a few essentials, so he, the little guy and I walked the couple of blocks aside the parade. The little guy loved the stroller ride of fun music, happy people and bright colors. On the elevator ride on the way back up to the apartment, I stood with the baby in the stroller in front of me facing the door. The elevator door opened for a lower floor and a group of middle aged gay men were waiting to get back down to the parade. One of the drunkest fellows in the group saw me and his face lit up, "Are you gay?" he said. He then looked down at the smiling baby in stroller as his friends cringed at his brazen drunkenness. Their expressions were as if to say 'sorry, we have no control over him.' "Oh no, you're straight," he said with some sass as his face dropped and the elevator door closed without them actually getting on the elevator. We could hear the faint roar of his friends' laughter through the door which only made the encounter even funnier.
Shipping Baby's Milk
Ultimately, we were only able to ship out four boxes worth of frozen milk while flying to California for trips ahead of time. We gained the knowledge of how to properly do this the way you learn how to do anything these days: YouTube. We found a handy video to line the bottom of a cooler with about 5 lbs of crushed dry ice while using plastic cleaning gloves, cover that with a few layers of newspaper, then stack the bricks of frozen milk in the cooler to the top. We taped little plastic stoppers inside the lid to create a gap in the lid of the cooler so that the gas could vent and not blow up in the cargo hold. Then, the cooler goes inside a medium moving box, packed with crumpled up newspapers to keep the cooler from moving, and the box was closed up with packing tape. We wrapped ropes around the boxes to make them easier to pick up in the brief times that they wouldn’t be wheeled around. Clear warnings of “Dry Ice” on the outside of the box were written on white pieces of paper taped to the boxes so that the folks at the airport would know where to direct us without too much explanation so that we could easily fill out paperwork and get them through security.
My wife and in-laws didn’t have much trouble getting through security on these trips, although my in-laws got stuck connecting flights in another city and drove around trying to find more dry ice so that the package could last more than 24 hours. Unfortunately, word didn’t get to them while they drove around for an hour or more around Phoenix that I found a dry ice retailer finder online to show every place to buy dry ice in close proximity. That finder was utilized for the second shipment of milk a few weeks later with much of success. Lucky for us, that failed search for dry ice did not affect the milk at all and even though the ice in the cooler had evaporated, every bag was still frozen solid by the time it found its way to refrigeration.
This didn’t reconcile all of our frozen milk, however. We still had somewhere between a third and a half of our milk left in our deep freezer and the open calls made through facebook groups didn’t have any takers. We needed to ship our freezer, couldn’t ship the remaining milk and disposing of it was never an option. Breastfeeding and pumping is serious business for moms and babies and based on some recent stories in the news, perhaps the significant others and fathers haven’t been noticing the challenges mothers have in creating a supply or for babies to learn how to feed without resorting to formula. We were lucky and some of our favorite friends in Minneapolis had a baby right before leaving who were in need of a donation.
Shipping Our Stuff
After much debate we finally decided that we would have the movers pack our things for us, I would drive the car with some essentials loaded in and a co-pilot and my wife would fly with the baby. Things did not start well. The movers were supposed to come one day to pack and the next to move. The little guy had been so mobile in the weeks before the move that any kind of packing beyond a little organization was pretty much out of the question. We hadn't planned on him being able to crawl before moving. Estimates were that crawling would start at eight months, as we would get to Sacramento, and he started really booking around at seven. With our limited baby-proofing (the guy was pretty confined to his travel crib, a play pen we ordered and close eyes from parents) our abilities to prepare for packing were limited. We were able to up a few boxes from storage and put them in the living room and our closet was mildly cluttered. I say “mildly cluttered” because after the packers left without telling us that they refused to pack us because they didn’t think they could handle all the clutter, I strapped the baby to my chest in the ErgoBaby and packed the whole closet into the suitcases that had been stored in the same closet in about an hour. The little guy loved every second of it and by quads burned the next day from all the squatting down I did to pick things up. The moving company asked us to send them pictures of the closet after we picked it up (ahem, packed it) in order to get packers to agree to come back. The next day a different group of packers came to pack and move and they did everything in half the estimated time. They asked us what was wrong with the packers the day before because they had no idea why they wouldn’t be able to do the job themselves. Their best guess was that the previous packers just wanted a day off to go fishing.
That was a pretty aggravating ordeal because we had a whole day of uncertainty whether our stuff would be packed up and shipped out of our apartment before we were leaving. My wife and baby ended up going off to the airport as we had an empty apartment, aside from packing the car for the road trip. It was a strange feeling dropping off the rest of the family at the airport with a checked bag, a carry on, pump bag, diaper bag, stroller, car seat, adapter to fit the car seat in the stroller, and Ergo
[Bare with me for a paragraph or two. The little guy got his mitts on my iPad when I turned away and started to add a few thoughts of his own. I might have fixed everything, but let’s face it, I’m totally willing to avoid an extra re-read.]
Baby for the evening flight. Part of me thought, “oh god, she’s on her own to deal with all that stuff and a baby flying for the first time. I hope he isn’t an in-flight nightmare.” Another part of me thought, “eh, he’s already pooped twice today, more than normal, at least he got that all out of his system before being in an enclosed space.”
We knew we didn’t want to fly the cats because for our one experience of flying a cat from Baltimore to Phoenix, the kitty cried like a little boy most of the flight. When he arrived he stumbled around like a drunk and our other cat did not get a very positive impression of her new cat-roommate. Having a cat under the seat in front of me was one of the most nerve wracking flights I’ve ever been on so flying with the cats was out of the question for me, at least.
Flying With Baby
There were a few hints we had heard about flying with babies:
1. Make sure baby is okay with unfamiliar surroundings and being in crowds.
2. Keep pacifiers for pressure changes.
The internet has other suggestions like to sit in an aisle to have better access to change the baby as well as to sit next to a window to have more privacy. One article suggested both then pretty much said to “do whatever the hell you want” on the matter. Another article said to buy a second ticket for the baby and to sit them in their car seat on the plane, but I think that’s only advocated by people who have been suckered into paying for an extra ticket for a baby who would otherwise fly for free. Subsequent flights with the baby have shown that people are totally willing to move away from your baby to get parents closer together or to give you an open seat, and that our guy thinks flight attendants are hilarious. We also learned that when your kid charms the flight attendant, they just might earn some little wings.
I left my wife at curbside check in with the baby in the stroller and a lot of stuff in her vicinity. At least I got to see them take the checked bag off her hands. Somehow she made it to security and to the gate on her own, although she said that our charming baby sure made a lot of helpful friends who wanted to assist at every turn where an assist was needed.
We were a little optimistic about his diaper situation for the plane when he had two poops during the day. He didn’t tend to poop more than once per day so he must have been getting it out of his system, and I don’t think he had ever pooped after 1pm in the day. The baby dude thought the plane boarding was a lot of fun to see so many people’s faces. They were sitting near a few other parents and babies so he got to see other kids. When the plane took off he got to feel the thrill of speeding up and getting off the ground. When turbulence was hit he got to ride the bumps through his laughter. He didn’t notice the change of pressure at all thanks to the sucking of his pacifier. He did, however, threaten the laws of physics by crapping out a blowout poop mid-flight, soiling his onesie, and needing a thorough cleaning on the changing table in the lavatory that was half his size. Apparently it was quite an exertion because after he got into some new clothes he slept through the last hour of the flight and the ride to his grandparents’ home on his way to officially become a Californian.
Driving the Cats
The movers had emptied out the apartment just ahead of schedule and left the corner of the living room that we had stashed aside our cargo for the car to be driven out west. A couple of weeks earlier we had bought a cargo box to go on top of the RAV-4 and when it came we learned:
1. It was bigger than expected.
2. We kind of needed all that storage space to pack the car.
3. It made the car taller than expected.
4. That height would hit low hanging pipes in our apartment’s garage and really nailed some low hangs at the garage of my wife’s workplace.
5. Because of the height we would stash it in the apartment for as long as we could.
6. It was really hard to find a place to store it in the apartment, too big for behind the futon, pretty clumsy in the hallway, pretty bulky in the corner of the bedroom.
7. It required cross bars to attach to the roof of my car.
8. Cross bars aren’t that expensive and don’t cause additional drag on their own if you don’t shell out for Toyota or Thule brand cross bars.
9. Cross bars and the cargo box were not that hard to install and secure.
10. Estimates between my wife and I about how much or how little the box could hold would vary by the day alternating pessimism and optimism by either of us.
Loading the car went relatively well. There was a little consolidation of some of the things to be moved and the biggest thing that comes to mind was getting rid of most of the things from a box of bathroom supplies. In the end, we completely packed my trunk and the cargo box, leaving space on top of the cat carriers for some odds and ends that doubled as shades for the cats on the long road trip.
The night before leaving we packed the car, the apartment had been cleaned while the movers cleared out the apartment and I spent the night in a guest apartment with my Brother-In-Law so that I wouldn’t be sleeping on the floor the night before driving out. The cats were in the old apartment, confused and alone for the night before leaving. The next morning I went to collect them to load them in their cat carriers and on into the car for the trip. They must have had a rough night without their things and away from their people because one of them barfed all over the newly cleaned carpet. After a little extra apartment cleanup and the strategic of collecting the more finicky Fran for the carrier before Mo, who is willing to play along when for road trips.
We had a choice of three routes to take out west: Through North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. All three were about the same amount of time out to California, with differing weather, and scenery. I’d driven through Nebraska twice before on road trip, and it was awful both times. The first trip was right after college with my friend Pat and the exhaust system of my car fell off while we were on a side road. It was at least 30 miles to the next town and we had to wait to go through one lane construction on a two lane road. I remember Pat was driving and I was napping when it fell off and he got a little stressed that he had somehow been responsible for breaking my car. I could tell exactly what happened from the sound waking me from sleep, that parking my car in my parents gravel driveway had rusted through the exhaust pipe before. When we finally got the car to the closest Nebraska town for repairs we were getting loopy from the fumes.
My Honda Civic stumped the town’s mechanic who was not familiar with foreign cars, not even the most sold car in the United States at the time. They needed to order parts from out of town and it would take three days to get the car fixed. When we got back, it was just a couple of weeks before their repair fell off again and my local garage let me know that they had cut a hole in the piping while welding an extension to the exhaust system. They had ordered a part for a hatchback and tried to extend it by welding on more piping and botched the whole damn thing because they were confused by the exotic foreign cars made by Honda. Aside from that bad experience in Nebraska, it’s one of the more boring states to drive through with limited options for places to stay and places to eat.
The North Dakota route didn’t seem to offer much for amenities on the road as we would either be driving long distances between larger towns. Places to stay would be limited around tourist destinations like Yellowstone that would be booked up for miles around.
I always had a soft spot for the scenery of South Dakota, the tourist trap billboards, Wall Drug bumper stickers and farmland across rolling hills dotted with falling down abandoned barns. It was an easy choice for me, I wanted the middle route, and I was fortuitous that storm systems through North Dakota and Nebraska persuaded my co-driver, my brother-in-law to agree to the route.
We could pretty much map out the towns that we would be staying in early in the trip thanks to the generous pet policy of La Quinta Inn. They allow pets to stay for free and allow cats to stay in the rooms in almost every one of their hotels. I haven’t actually found one of their hotels that didn’t have this policy, although the internet says that maybe 5% or 10% of their locations don’t follow it. We wanted to get somewhere west of Mount Rushmore for night one, and to stay in Salt Lake City or Reno on night two. Any attempt to drive all the way through to Sacramento in two days wouldn’t be impossible, we just would have to get a hotel for the night we got there as we would arrive after the office would close and we wouldn’t have keys to the apartment.
For the the first hour on the road one of the cats meowed softly to voice her displeasure for being in the car. The were positioned in two large cat carriers facing each other so that the cats could feel comfort in seeing their companion cat and be separated enough not to fight. I am not someone who is comfortable letting cats roam free in the car. That meowing only lasted that hour and wasn’t all that disruptive during that time at all. I think it was just Fran letting us know she was there. After that brief time of relative discomfort the cats realized that they could just lay back and lounge, staying cool in the shade and air conditioning all day long.
The Road Trip
I marked our GPS route in the Rand McNally book of maps an. I would follow along in the book as the GPS would give instructions to give a little reference of how far we were going and the areas around where we were driving. It really added a fun interactive aspect to the drive. We stopped every two hours to gauge how the driver was doing, to see if we needed to switch, grab some snacks, stretch our legs, hit the bathroom, gas up the car and wash off the windshield. We never really got under a half a tank of gas even while driving through longer stretches of desert in Utah and Nevada. Minnesota was a mix of farmland and forest and took longer to get through than expected. South Dakota was farmland and billboards. Wyoming was ranches and mountains. Utah was red rocks and salt flats.
The road trip was fun. I really enjoy a good audio book and scenic drive and our queue of books made a great ride. We started with World War Z which I hadn’t read in several years and my brother-in-law had not read at all. I remembered bits and pieces of it but there was a lot that surprised me thanks to holes in my memory. It’s an oral history collection of a fictitious zombie apocalypse.
The next book we listened to was Waking Giants, another sci-fi story, this one a bit less dark. It’s formatted as if you’re reading through a top secret file on an anomaly, either alien or ancient of giant body parts spread around that world that are put together to make a giant woman with backwards legs. It is told through interviews and incident reports, following four or so characters studying the robot and the nameless interviewer. We enjoyed that so much that we were thrilled to find that there are two sequels, one of which we downloaded to listen to for the final stretch of the drive.
By noon on the third day of driving we made it to the apartment where we were greeted by the internet and cable boxes. I was pretty happy with the inside of the apartment. Unloading the car took no time at all and the cats were thrilled to be in a place where they could really move around and make their home after two and a half days in the car and hotel rooms. I had a self install for internet that took over an hour to get straight and I could tell my brother-in-law had ants in his pants to get back on the road to get back to his own home about 3 hours away. We made it all that way to our destination and in no time at all we were back on the road.
Our family was back together at my in-laws home later in the day. The little guy had had a great time meeting the family dog, probably his first dog that he had met up close and personally and with a face full of slobber. He had trips to the beach and time to play with grandparents. The next day we met up with my wife’s cousin and their little daughter who is just a year or two older than our guy. We walked through the red woods and dinner. It was a great time catching up and I was still able to drive back that evening to let the cats know that they weren’t being abandoned.
We lived out of the travel crib, camping chairs, air mattress and paper or plastic plates and utensils for two and a half or three weeks. When our things finally came, we unpacked everything in only three or three and a half days. It's amazing how quickly an apartment can become a home when boxes are emptied and pictures are hung on the walls. Happy baby, happy cats, happy parents and a safe, childproof place to roam.