Never in my life have I been so happy to be home. Traveling with a baby isn't a vacation, it's a work trip.
Gracie slept about 30 minutes on the entire 5 hour flight there. She was fussy, but not so fussy that people were throwing things at us. It was exhausting, but overall I felt victorious. When we got to LA it felt like southern Florida. I had the baby strapped to my front in the Ergo, a backpack on my back, I was pushing the stroller which held the car seat and pack n play, and pulling my suitcase all over the airport, loaded and unloaded it all in a shuttle, schlepped it all over the rental car lot, loaded it all into the rental car, and unloaded it at the hotel. Our god-forsaken GPS didn't recognize California and the Monday night LA traffic was so frightening I had night terrors for days. The air conditioning was broken in the hotel, and my insomnia kicked in again and I slept one full hour.
We drove up the coast the next day and stopped for lunch on the wharf in Santa Barbara and ate at the restaurant my parents used to go to on dates. Some tropical storm was lurking off the coast, making it feel like we were in the Caribbean. I hadn't packed my shorts because they're still a little tight and are only comfortable for short periods of time, and the forecast had predicted high 70s-low 80s. Completely doable in jeans. But the forecast was wrong.
After lunch, I picked up Gracie to feed her and saw that she had pooped all over herself, the stroller, her blanket, and my jeans. For the first time since she was born, I had forgotten to throw an extra outfit in the diaper bag, and we were roughly 2 miles from the car. We walked back as fast as possible in the sweltering heat, giving me blisters all over my feet. We cleaned up the baby and I changed into my sweaty airplane jeans a size too big.
We got to my grandma's house an hour later, and the temperature inside the house was hovering around 90 degrees. There wasn't enough room for Gracie and me to sleep there, but I was so deliriously tired I was completely unable to drive us to my other grandma's house 30 minutes away. My mom opened the window in the guest room, and I slept on the floor under it since it was the coolest spot in the house.
The rest of the week went by in a haze of sweat and sleep deprivation. It was 106 one day, and no one in my family has air conditioning since it's usually a very mild climate. I had to take cold showers every night before bed to cool off enough to sleep. I was perpetually drenched in sweat and constantly planted near any fan I could find to keep Gracie from getting too hot. Nursing makes me warm in general, and nursing in the heat is just terrible. And Gracie wanted to nurse much more than normal, so I was constantly wiping sweat off us both. The evenings and mornings are usually chilly and foggy, but with the heat wave it stayed sunny and hot with no reprieve. And all I had were jeans. I know people live like that all the time, but I wasn't prepared for it.
We did get to take Gracie to my favorite beach. It's been closed for a long time now, but it's where my grandpa used to take my mom as a baby and me as well. He died when I was a kid, but he's the coolest person I've ever known. He worked as an engineer for NASA and helped build and launch rockets during The Astronaut Wive's Club era. Vandenberg Air Force Base, where he worked, owns this beach and has it under major lockdown now. It used to be open, and I remember running around and collecting shells and playing with the kelp. It's wild and untamed and almost creepy. I adore it. The hills surrounding it are covered in radars and missile launching pads. My mom and dad spread his ashes here after he died. I'm so sad Gracie will never meet him, but we took her there and dipped her toes in the sand and the water on the tiny little patch you're allowed to walk on. There's another section of the beach open for a few months out of the year. It was scheduled to open October 1st, which was already close enough to bum us out, but we later discovered the beach opened early, the day after we were there.
Gracie handled this trip so much better than I did. I was so worried about taking her out there, flying with her, and having her sleep in new places around new people, but she never missed a beat. She loved everyone she met, basked in the constant attention, and had no problems sleeping in a different place nearly every night. She was oblivious to the real reason we were there, to say goodbye to my grandma, and the subsequent family issues. Not to mention I had a constant introvert headache from going from being at home with just a baby to being surrounded by people all day long (even though it was completely worth it!). To be 6 months old again, you know?
There were some really good moments, though. I got out of the shower one morning to hear my grandma singing hymns to Gracie, and she helped me give the baby a bath in her 1950s kitchen sink that night. She and my great-aunt and uncle watched Gracie while my mom and I ran errands (and picked up the Mexican food that later made us sick). We took G to Solvang, the little Danish village, to get her picture in front of the windmill and in the giant red clog, pictures that everyone in our family has. It was over 100 degrees, and we were all miserable beyond words. But it just meant I had to visit my favorite little coffee shop for a smoothie.
We drove down the Pacific Coast Highway on our way back to Los Angeles, and it was gorgeous. We drove past Point Mugu during a Blue Angels show I watched from the car. I saw them as a kid and they were just as amazing to watch as an adult. We stopped in Malibu to hang out at the beach for awhile. I was the girl in jeans surrounded by girls in bikinis. I fit right in! Gracie loves being outside, and the beach was no different. I am so proud to have birthed a beach baby, especially since both her families are from opposing coasts. It was so bloody hot I wanted to dive into the water head first. Next time! Next time.
I used to think LA was the most exciting place in the world, but no more. It's just exhausting! Everything feels so frantic, and it felt more stressful to me than NYC did. Why do people choose to live there in that traffic? I couldn't do it and retain any semblance of sanity. At the same time, you can't hate a place that has posters of John Stamos plastered all over town, ya know? But every time I looked at the sea of cars around me, I felt like Dwight Schrute when he said there are too many people on the earth and we need a new plague.
On the drive from Malibu to the hotel in LA, Gracie decided she was done with the carseat and screamed bloody murder. The Saturday night traffic picked up around Santa Monica and it was gridlock for the next hour. With a screaming child. We got to our hotel and discovered the air conditioning wasn't working right in our room, which was the exact reason we had changed hotels to begin with. And there wasn't any hot water. At that point I chose to laugh because WE WERE ABOUT TO GO HOME.
I learned something really important on this trip: I love Ohio. California is my homeland, it's where I'm from, it's where generations of my family have lived and farmed and worked. But Ohio is my home. It really clicked for me while I was there. I felt heartsick for the changing leaves and cornfields. I know that sounds ludicrous when you're surrounded by palm trees and gorgeous beaches, but it's just the truth. I know a lot of it is due to the heat, stress of family problems, and the worrying about a baby, but I was never able to really relax on this trip and just enjoy being there. I remember flipping through a book in high school about the states and the kind of people that live in them, and the section on Ohio said something like "Ohioans are just really excited about Ohio," and it is SO TRUE. It just confirmed that this is my home and where I want to keep putting roots down. I can't help it, I'm just really excited to live in Ohio. It's chilly and raining this morning and there's nowhere I'd rather be.
But ask me in February when I'm buried in snow and I may have a different answer.