On Monday June 5, 2017, we got the call. Our son’s wife had gone into labor with our first grandchild. For two weeks, we had been prepared to hop in the car on a moment’s notice and drive the 530 miles from Mendocino County in NorCal to Orange County in SoCal. Let me amend that. I was prepared. Ron pretended he was prepared. He put four tubes of almost-finished toothpaste on the bathroom counter and refrigerated twelve travel boxes of juice. He was definitely thinking about being prepared. An hour after we got the call, my son’s mother-in-law texted me to ask if we were in the car and on the road. Hilarious. She has clearly never seen how long it takes my husband to put his shoes on. I texted back that we would roll out the next morning.
If you google “Ukiah to Orange County,” the first thing you get is the flight information to fly Alaska Airlines from Sonoma County Airport to John Wayne Airport. Also hilarious, since the cost of an airplane ticket bought one day in advance of travel is approximately the same as our monthly grocery bill. And the flight does not include a meal so any way you look at that scenario we go hungry. I am partial to eating. In fact, the first thing I did when I found out that my grandchild was finally on the way was to go to the Natural Foods Store to stock up on edibles for the long road trip we faced. The first thing my husband did when he found out my daughter-in-law had gone into labor was put his underwear in the washing machine. You can never have enough clean underwear. Or organic snacks for the road.
I called the neighbors to let them know it was time so they would look after our cats in our absence. I organized our food, which is no small feat since Ron is diabetic and I have a refugee mentality when it comes to food and travel. I wrapped up my duties on a work project (my colleagues knew my situation). I packed my bag. I loaded up the car. I remembered the sewing machine and comforter we would drop off for my daughter, who would meet us in L.A. for dinner on our way down. By the time we had prepared for a sudden departure early the next morning, it was nearly midnight and we were exhausted. When we woke up on Tuesday, my daughter-in-law was still in labor, which did not make me happy. She would be tired after a night without sleep. As we steered our car onto the highway, I hoped things would move faster for her and that the baby would arrive soon.
We decided to drive over Highway 20 in Lake County toward Sacramento to avoid the San Francisco Bay Area traffic. I have rarely been over that way, but Ron knows the area since he traveled to Sacramento fairly often on work-related business. He took me to a mouthwateringly amazing deli in Williams (near Sacramento) called Granzella’s to use the restroom and switch drivers. He nearly lost me in Granzella’s among the rows of olives and preserves. And the cheese. Oh my. When he emerged from the restroom, he found me with a jar of olives in one hand, a variety-pack of sheep and goat cheeses in the other, and in dire need of a drooly-bib. He dragged me to the checkout, and as he propelled me through the door, I suggested, “Let’s live here.”
In the roasting-hot oven of the central valley, we stopped for lunch at a quaint roadside rest stop with a parking lot that smelled impressively of vomit. I carried our soft cooler to a picnic table in the shade, far enough from the parking lot to escape the odor. The minute we opened the cooler, a blizzard of small, fat, ground squirrels engulfed us. It was like a Hitchcock movie. (As in “The Squirrels.”) When I googled “what do ground squirrels eat,” it said they eat everything. These ground squirrels certainly wanted to eat whatever we had. Salad? Great. Kind bars? Even better. Napkins, sneakers, Swiss army knife, thermos, sunscreen? Fork ‘em over. Ron became obsessed with chasing them off and spent most of our lunch break stamping his feet, clapping his hands, hooting, and jumping up and down. The squirrels cackled. They seemed to think they had stumbled on a terrific variety of dinner theater. I speculate that they were so fat not from eating too much in general but from eating junk food from the vending machines near the restrooms. I’m pretty sure I saw one of them pick up a stray quarter, drop it in the slot, and select a bag of potato chips. I think the rest stop was near Coalinga, which sounds like an athletic position in the Kama Sutra. I don’t recommend the Coalinga rest stop for a fine dining experience unless you plan to shoot and roast a ground squirrel. (I just figured out why the parking lot smells like vomit. Duh.)
From Coalinga, we drove to Santa Monica, where we met my daughter for a dinner that was indeed fine dining. While we were eating, my son called to tell us that the baby had arrived. It was not long after 7:00 in the evening. My daughter-in-law had gone through a long and fairly difficult labor, but she was a warrior. When my son called, he could report that the mother and baby were both well. He did not know the baby’s weight yet and would not disclose the name. We had a grandson! A photo soon followed on the cell phones. He looked exactly as his father had looked as a baby. (Or maybe I was looking at my son’s baby photo on my husband’s phone. Not sure.)
We left the restaurant and transferred the sewing machine and comforter to our daughter’s car. I was standing on the sidewalk saying goodbye to my daughter when Ron joined us. My daughter yelped. Ron had left his car running with the driver’s door open when he came to give her a hug. “Never, ever, ever leave your car running with the door open in L.A.,” our daughter instructed. Then she added, “Seriously, you guys shouldn’t even be allowed to drive in L.A.” I have to agree. People drive like Satanic ground squirrels down there. Driving in L.A. goes beyond defensive driving and enters the realm of fighting off deadly alien zombies with a shovel and pitchfork.
Finally, at around 9:00 that evening, Ron and I arrived at the hospital, where we parked and found the top floor of the maternity wing. In a small waiting room, we joined our machatunim, who had waited there since the afternoon. Machatunim is a Yiddish word denoting the relationship between the respective sets of parents (and in-law families) of a married couple. There is no comparable word in English, so thank goodness for Yiddish to help us relate. Our machatunim had not been allowed in to see our children and grandson yet. Although I would have wished for an easier and faster delivery for my daughter-in-law, under the circumstances we actually arrived “in time,” despite the irresistible seductions of the most alluring deli in the world, deviant squirrels, and a near-carjacking in L.A. In fact, we waited another couple of hours with our machatunim before the hospital allowed visitors into our children’s room. It was a state-of-the-art maternity hospital where they put the baby on the mom’s chest for an hour right after he was born, then cleaned up the baby and sent mom for a shower, then weighed the baby and ran a bunch of tests (he passed the SAT with a high score in math), then moved the family from the birthing room to a hospital room, then settled them in; and all of this between the first couple of breast-feedings (which brought all other activity to a complete standstill) and changing of diapers and swaddling and cooing and arrangement of hats and booties and all the rest.
As we waited with the machatunim to go in to see our mutual grandson for the first time and to find out his name from our children, I took a moment, took a breath. Because life is not about the destination but the journey. We know it, but we often need reminding. I thought back over the years of babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, and now having adult children. I have heard that grandchildren are your reward for not strangling your teenagers. It’s funny, and true, and also not-true. My children have been a delight to me at every age and stage. They are the journey, the breathtaking path, the greatest adventure of my life.
Zev Eugene Reed Wachspress was born at 6:51 on Tuesday June 6. He is named after my father Eugene, who is alive and well and delighted to have a namesake. Zev means “wolf” in Hebrew. Our wolf cub weighed 8 lbs. 9 oz. and was 21 inches long at birth. He is an Irish/Welsh Eastern-European-Jewish Pentecostal African Native American Catholic Spanish/Mexican Hispanic. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it, my friends. He is a blessing. He is my newest journey.