The Little Things

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A few weeks ago, I ran out to do some errands. Because I was accompanied by my fifteen- month-old daughter, Zelda, we moved at a languid pace. On my own, I would have rushed out the door with my purse and sunglasses and car keys, pulling my seatbelt on as I backed up out of the driveway. I would park at the pharmacy, dart in to pick up a prescription and some nail polish, “no thanks, I don’t need a bag!” and back to the car — or maybe I’d just walk over the five minutes to the nearest grocery store, snag a basket, and race around to grab items from my list, doubling back to the produce because I’d forgotten the lemons.

Trips like this take crazy amounts of time with a baby. But the whole process, once you’ve resigned yourself to spending two hours on errands and gotten the logistics down to a science, can be much more enjoyable. Though you have to pack a totebag of milk and snacks and diapers and a backup outfit just to go to CVS, and though you have to load the baby in and out of the car seat repeatedly, and then in and out of the stroller or shopping cart repeatedly, a small child in a grocery store is a joy. Last Saturday, I realized Zelda hadn’t had a peach since the days of purees, so I picked one out of the bin and handed it to her in the cart. She smiled at its weight, inhaled deeply to smell it, and then tried to bite into it. Babies revel in sensory experiences and a large or decent-sized grocery store is a perfect one: lots of people and action, but space to move around, and a special place for them to sit that is HIGH UP. (This gets very important as they get older and realize the world hasn’t been made to their specifications.)

That said, I don’t always have two hours to kill on errands. A few weeks ago, I had to make quick stop at the grocery store for milk, run by the pharmacy, and hit the bank for cash to pay a handyman at my house. Instead of grabbing the cash at the grocery store’s ATM, I went to my own bank in order to avoid paying a two-dollar fee, because I just cannot. I knew this meant hauling Zelda back out of the car and into the bank, but I did it anyway. As we pulled around to the back of the bank, I noticed something I hadn’t thought about in at least a decade: there was a drive-up window, complete with a special lane painted in the parking lot. The window had obviously been permanently closed some years ago: It was fogged up or filmed over, and it had the general aura of “Hey, I’m a relic of the past!” surrounding it.

I know that drive-up bank windows still exist, but they’re dying off: There’s less demand for them, and they’re undoubtedly expensive to staff when traffic is in decline. I remember going through so many bank drive-throughs with my parents and grandparents; some even had those amazing pneumatic tube systems that shot your check up into the bank, like magic. I hauled Zelda out of the car and into the bank, set her down in front of an ATM and, as I waited for my cash, watched her amble around the bank, bumping into strangers and smiling up at them.

Last Friday, I took Zelda to her pediatrician for a checkup. Though I live more than thirty miles from Greenpoint now, I decided to take her there because I have become emotionally attached to the practice. But for reasons I will never fully explore, rather than drive to the train station ten minutes from my home and ride the Metro North into the city, I decided to drive her all the way there alone. We arrived, sweaty and hungry, two hours later. We strolled in our old neighborhood, Zelda got her two shots, then we were on our way. As we drove out of Greenpoint, I realized that we needed to get gas. It wasn’t a desperate, on “E” situation, but I didn’t feel like tempting an out-of-gas experience in the heat and traffic with a baby. We pulled into the station, I got out of the car, and slid my card through the reader, staring at Zelda in her car seat, who was still smiling because she didn’t know we had another two hours of transportation Hell yet to go. The machine didn’t take my card. I swiped another. It “processed” for a while, then gave me an “Error” message. I looked around and realized the other patrons of the station were experiencing similar failures, and were heading inside to pay the attendant directly. I backed up to another pump, and tried a second credit card machine. It also failed. “Come inside to pay!” an employee from within barked at me over the PA system. I looked in at Zelda; she had passed out. “Oh no,” I laughed to myself, “I’m not hauling her in there when it’s possible she will sleep all the way home.”

I can’t argue that we don’t live in a “convenient” era. Bank of America shut down a bunch of drive thrus because it could, since we have entered the era of “self-service,” their PR person told me, and many people use apps to bank instead of going into the building. I can order a car, or have my groceries delivered to me, find a doctor who will come over to my house, all from my phone. But the new way, the startup, app way, is just me interacting with an app: sometimes, these days, what I need is another human’s assistance. When you become a mother, you are often nodding gratefully and thankfully at people for helping you with your stroller onto the subway, or giving you a seat on the bus. You feel overwhelmed with love when people hold open a door for you, a woman with a baby in a stroller and a bag and a purse on her arm. Sometimes, too, I think, I’d be willing to pay a bit more for my everyday errands for a little helping hand.

What would I have paid, in that moment, for a full-service gas station? An extra fifty cents a gallon? Maybe an extra dollar! In pockets of the world, these small conveniences surely still exist. But it’s not my oldness that makes me want to have these things back, and it’s not nostalgia; I don’t think Zelda will be any worse off for never having seen the pneumatic tubes carry a check to the bank teller two feet away from our car. And it’s not quite laziness, either; I am a type of lazy, but not the type that doesn’t want to get out of her car pod at all costs. But in the year and change since having my baby, I’ve realized that these dumb conveniences, which never seemed to matter to me ten years ago, they served a purpose: They were for tired moms just trying to get fifty bucks or a tank of gas without hauling a mad and tired baby in and out of the car every thirty seconds.

I got in the car and, as we pulled away, gasless, my iPhone randomly Bluetoothed into my car’s stereo system and began blasting “Ms. Wrong” by that dog. “What is this, 1995?” I asked, to the air. “Hi! Hi! Hi!” Zelda said from the backseat. For a second, I sort of wished it were.

Photo by Daniel Oines