„A dozen families from the Zrankov clan have left their homes in the „Nov pat“ neighborhood in Vidin early today, travelling in an unknown direction along with all their household items, which were loaded on a sixteen-wheel truck.“
Do you remember the Zrankov clan? If not, Google will tell you all about it. If you do, then we’ll be on the same page from now on. But just so the general public doesn’t remain oblivious, I’ll elaborate: Zrankov are a gypsy clan that years go crossed half of Bulgaria, lugging around thousands of bundles and saddlebags, whose epic journey has left an indelible mark in history.
Every time we travel, my family turns into the Zrankov clan.
I don’t even remember how I used to prepare for going on the road before I had a child: I must have thrown a pair of underwear and some flip-flops in my bag, grabbing them on my way out on the next morning. And I certainly don’t remember having a nervous breakdown because two days before the trip I still hadn’t packed my socks; neither have I had an all-night jam-session with fifty-three large rustling plastic bags and thirty-nine smaller ones, packing half my home into them, wrapping it carefully, airtight and neatly arranged so it doesn’t crease, break or spill!
What I do remember are all the times I have done this since I gave birth, and I’m not exaggerating by saying I’ll never forget any of it.
The first time I had a head-on collision with packing for our +1 family, the baby was three months old, and I was mentally about a month older, courtesy of sleeplessness. I could roughly coordinate my movements and follow moving objects with my eyes, and that’s about it. We were going on a three-day trip to the Rhodopes with our pre-baby, two-door car (which my husband would hotly contest is actually a three-door car, but it’s NOT. It’s TWO.)
I started off buzzing with excitement, finally preparing for the road again, instead of squatting in the breastfeeding chair like a depressed owl, but then the low layered clouds of utter helplessness wafted right over my sad little head.
I scanned the room, an ocean of STUFF to look over, sort into different piles, stuff into envelopes, bags or cases, methodically arrange in a sack, preferably weighing no more than 200 pounds.
Short-sleeve leotards, long-sleeve leotards, pantyhose, socks, bibs, sweatshirts, jackets, blankets, a baby sling, a sheet, thirteen sorts of baby creams and powders, diapers (how many?! Five?! Fifteen?! What if he gets diarrhea, how are you going to get diapers in the mountain, are you going to swaddle him with napkins or WHAT?! Just get all eighty-eight of them, that’s it!), a bottle-sterilizing device, the bottles themselves, a pan for water, bottles of water, formula, detergent for baby utensils, a sponge for baby utensils, a thermos – a large one AND a small one, life being what it is, imagine one of them getting dented (for instance, a rock falling from the Trigrad Gorge, EXACTLY on top of my priceless thermos, flattening it into a poker chip, oh, THE HORROR!), muslin flats, baby syrups, thermometers, band-aids, a baby-chair and a stroller.
And, just in case there’s an unoccupied sliver of space in my sack, a t-shirt for me. If not, I’ll roll it into the thermos. I might even take one in EACH thermos.
Imagining this, I staggered, clutching the diaper-changing table instinctively, just to be overwhelmed by another vision of horror. The diaper-changing table! Should we get it, too? Would it fit in the front seat or would I have to sit on top of it, or maybe leave it sticking out from the trunk with a red rag tied on it, like we’re carrying timber or a dead boar?
And the TUB??? I knew I was forgetting something!
So. The tub at the back, me in it, comfortable as a hippo in a swamp, and if I took the pan with me so it wouldn’t rattle around the trunk, I could peel some potatoes or soak some rice, with the diaper-changing table in the trunk, on top of the bags, and my husband’s fishing rods, and the mountaineering boots and the stroller’s frame (we call it the Wrecking Ball). The Wrecking Ball’s seat goes on the car’s front seat, along with the jackets and the baby’s portable bed, which in fact is completely unnecessary, since the baby simply DOESN’T SLEEP, no matter the amenities.
After all this I felt a little sick, as you can guess. I looked at the breastfeeding chair. It was so wonderful! Comfy, has a pillow, and it’s a rocking chair, too! Why should I leave my homey nest, making trips in a car filled with tubs and pans, instead of just hanging around here in a stained t-shirt, just living here in this one place until the baby can do his own packing, like in five years!
Of course, my wanderlust won out and I managed to pack up the circus somehow, my husband managed to cram it through the car’s TWO doors and like a wheat-and-chickpea caravan, we finally set out. I won’t lie, the trip was a challenge. If I can help save you the trouble or at least make it less troublesome, I’m happy to give you the following advice:
1. The first time’s the worst. (You’ll probably weep, throw pans at the wall, have an argument with your husband and curse your sock-sorting fate.)
2. It’s claustrophobic, sitting however you can on the backseat of a TWO-DOOR car, a stroller frame hanging over your had, a baby seat with a baby in it next to you, another one empty in front of you, at your feet a mess of shoes, beds, thermoses and sandwiches. In this situation someone needs to constantly unload stuff from the front seat so you can unwind like a garden-hose through the door to go pee. At the start, the driver is considerate, willing to stop almost at every other gas station, but at some point he’s reached the limit of his endurance, until you see it his eyes: the desire to melt away into the horizon the moment he gets out of the car.
In the end, you just stay there, walled in like the virgins from folklore, wistfully gazing though the window, thinking that even Mrs. Zrankova wasn’t as miserable; after all, she had a sixteen-wheeler! You just have to hope there comes a day when you can sit in the front again, taking care of your own self. Or win the lottery and get a car with more doors.
3. Because of the tons of leotards, apparently, small cars run out of steam pretty fast on the road, especially on upward slopes. Don’t be surprised if you get overtaken by lorries all the time, and keep your cool, even though you’ve been driving for six hours or so. The important thing is it to get yourself and the utensils to your destination, even if it takes you a whole day.
4. Once you arrive, you would have to UNPACK the whole horror show, three days later coming to the conclusion that you can’t get it into its initial shape. You would weep and kick pans around, so watch your little toe, it hurts like hell when you stub it.
5. Remember: things will change. You’ll get used to packing more quickly and efficiently, the stuff to pack gets less and less, the cups and bottles especially, and you’ll probably change cars. We did it after that trip and I’ m quite satisfied; it’s got all the doors I want and anyone can get in or out whenever they want.
Besides, the desire to have everyone be clean and tidy ALL THE TIME, with a different pair of shoes every day, starts fading, which affects the amount of t-shirts, shorts and sneakers all round.
After the end of the first year, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a professional; you’d still have cravings to go for the whole wardrobe and half the kitchen, but in the end you’ll settle for two pairs of jeans, three leotards and some socks, with a sprinkle of band-aids and a can of painkillers, as well as – God willing, – even a SKIRT. You’d probably never wear it, but the thought that you have it stashed away somewhere in your luggage, a SKIRT and not a breastfeeding bra and huge tracksuit pants, is very comforting.
Sooner or later, everything falls into place.