NOLA, Baptisms, and the End of the Line
We woke up in Mississippi knowing we would sleep that night in our new house. The one we hadn't seen except on the listing on the realtor's website. The one we knew smelled "kind of like a grandma" and listed to one side so that anything round would roll as though on a Marble Run course. The house we would try to remember to call "home" for at least the next year.
After packing up and saying goodbye, we got on the road. The careful organization of the car in Connecticut had deteriorated into a haphazard jumble of "stuff it wherever it will fit." As long as my purse and the camera bag were somewhere near the top of the pile, I was fine. We listened to some more Spotify playlists, and I came to a deeper appreciation and respect for my daughter's taste in music. Usually a complete control freak when it comes to the radio, I found it easy to give her free rein, and I looked forward to finding out what she would play next. I had to shake my head every once in awhile-- this was the same child with whom I used to have unaccountably hostile disagreements over radio stations on the commute to and from school. Parenting a teenager is much easier with a mutually agreeable soundtrack.
New Orleans isn't far from Hattiesburg, so I held everyone off a big breakfast by talking up the beignets and other culinary options once we got to NOLA. That didn't work out so well when we rolled into town and had to circle the French Quarter for a good half hour before finding a parking spot. Then we had to walk over to Café du Monde. And then they saw the line. Hangry is a real thing for this crew.
They weren't convinced it was worth the wait.
But how can you argue with this?
It didn't take long for spirits to rise (along with our blood sugar levels).
Once we'd stuffed our faces and burned our tongues (seriously--why is their coffee so HOT?!), we set off to explore the Quarter. No agenda, dog in tow, wandering aimlessly and taking in every random, quirky, fabulous thing about one of my favorite cities in the world.
At one point, I left the oldest in charge and took the dog in search of a beer in a to-go cup. Note to self: it's easier to carry a full beer if you aren't also wrangling an 80-pound dog who doesn't really like his leash. On a hot day, watching precious drops of my Abita Amber slosh onto my skirt or the sidewalk seemed like a party foul of the worst order.
When the dog and I came back for the kids, I found them in a bookstore, each of them engrossed in their browsing. I love books. I love bookstores. I love my children. I love that my children love books and bookstores. My heart almost exploded as I took this photo from my spot on the sidewalk with the dog.
We left the bookstore and wandered on past Voodoo shops, tourist traps, and at least one adult bookstore. Just as my son was about to see the window display, the oldest created a diversion and got everyone to look across the street. Safely past the racy mannequins and other choice products, I caught her eye, and we both raised our eyebrows and breathed a sigh of relief. There are a lot of conversations I was willing to have in that moment, but "Mommy, what's that thing for?" was not one of them.
It was hot with the kind of humidity that only July in NOLA can produce. Complete strangers would bring the dog cups of water any time we happened to stop, even though I totally had that covered. I kept wanting to say, "It's hot. He's an overweight dog with black fur who's used to living in Connecticut. Of course he looks like he's about to die. He won't. But thanks for the water!"
We made it back to our car before the meter ran out and piled in once again. Everyone needed the air conditioner and some time to sit, so we drove up Magazine Street and through the Garden District and through Tulane's campus. I taught the kids how to pronounce "Tchoupitoulas" and told them about Mardi Gras and vampire stories and writers and playwrights and so many incredible restaurants and famous dishes.
With all the talk about food, we started to get hungry again. The sky turned an ominous gray, which ruled out more wandering around, so we decided to get po'boys and head on our way.
I found a parking spot and left the girls in the car with the dog and the A/C going. My son and I had to walk up the street and around the corner to the sandwich shop, and about two steps away from the shelter of the car, the skies opened and dumped buckets of water on our heads. We ran as fast as we could up the sidewalk and into the shop, but as I ordered our food, I could feel streams of water pouring off my wrists and down the small of my back. The bottom of my skirt dripped a circle pattern onto the floorboards as I stood at the bar and waited for the sandwiches to be ready. My son and I looked at each other, both of us drowned rats, and cracked up laughing.
Sandwiches in hand, we stood on the porch and waited for a break in the downpour. After a few minutes, mindful of the girls and dog waiting in the car, I told him we would just have to make a run for it. We grabbed hands and stepped off the porch and ran back down the stairs.
To say we got wet does not do the experience justice. If we had jumped into the deep end of a swimming pool fully clothed, we would not have been more wet than we were running through that Louisiana rain. Mascara ran down my face, and my long, thick hair looked and felt like I had just stepped out of the shower. I'm sure we made quite a spectacle as we jumped over puddles and laughed at each other, but I felt light and carefree and washed clean. I don't remember my baptism into the Episcopal church as an infant, but this felt like a baptism of its own. A welcome into a new life, a new way of being in the world, a clean slate and a new start. I turned my face up to the sky, closed my eyes, and prayed a prayer too deep for words.
We got on the road and a few hours later brought us to the Texas state line. I risked our safety and pulled over on the side of the highway to get this shot:
Then we stopped at the Welcome Center to take this one in a more responsible manner:
We pressed on, but traveling with kids means stopping several times for bathroom breaks. During one of them, my sweet boy who tries so hard to be brave started heaving choking sobs from the back seat while we waited for the girls to come back. I turned off the car and climbed into the back to cradle him in my lap. We sat there like that until he had cried himself out, and as I got back into the driver's seat, I discovered I had been sitting on a piece of chewing gum we thought he had swallowed along with some of his sadness. As I write this, almost five months later, it's still stuck to the back of the skirt I wore that day. I can't figure out how to get it out, and I'm kind of past trying at this point.
Hours and miles passed until we finally pulled up in front of our rented house, and the first words out of my son's mouth were, "I hate it. It's little and crappy, and I hate everything about it." I burst into tears because he wasn't wrong, but also because we were so far beyond the point of no return. I told him that was a shitty thing to say, and he apologized. We grabbed the essentials out of the car and walked over the threshold for the first time.
It wasn't exactly a triumphant end to the journey, but still. We made it. Intact and with no one left on the side of the road somewhere or forgotten tied to the bumper à la National Lampoon's Vacation. If I'm ever a candidate for sainthood (which I won't be, but go with it), this has to qualify as one of the three required miracles.
One of the songs from the Spotify playlist we listened to not long after crossing the state line surprised me that it would catch my daughter's ear, but I turned it up loud and tasted the salt of my tears and forbade anyone to speak until the last note faded away. The timing and the words were--and still are--perfect. I can't think of a better end to this part of our story.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.