This was not destined to be a fast trip.
If they had gone nonstop, the journey from their house in New Milford to Aunt Toby's house in Baltimore would have taken a little under three hours. And Bob was hoping for a quick run. The longer the trip, the more likely the baby would get fussy in the car. This usually happened somewhere near the Delaware-Maryland border, which led to around forty-five minutes of abject misery as Jonah wailed inconsolably until they were finally at Toby's. But if they could just squeeze out a quick ride, the crying could be kept to a minimum.
But it was not in the cards this cold October afternoon.
The minivan was well stocked when they set out. Snacks. Books. Even a movie for the DVD player (one of the Shrek series).
There was no stop at the Vince Lombardi Service Area. It's so close to home it would have been embarrassing.
And Alexander Hamilton is only five miles further south. The kids were still quite busy.
But eighteen miles later, the natives became restless. Netanel needed the bathroom. So they stopped at Thomas Edison.
Twenty-one miles further it was Malki's turn for a potty stop. So they paid a visit to Molly Pitcher.
Now they had heard from everybody but baby Jonah. Ellen decided to take a nap as they turned the movie on. Bob had high hopes that there would be no visit thirteen miles hence, to Richard Stockton. At the very least they should make it twenty-nine miles to Walt Whitman or maybe even over the Delaware Memorial Bridge across the Delaware River to foreign soil. Bob was feeling lucky.
"We'll stop to get something to drink later, Malki. For now why don't you watch the movie?"
"But I'm really, really thirsty."
Maybe they should have chosen a film the kids hadn't seen twenty times before.
"Hang in there, babe. We'll get you something after we leave New Jersey."
"I can't do it. I need something to drink now."
At this point Richard Stockton was only five miles away, offering succor to his parched child, but Bob wouldn't hear of it. How thirsty could she be?
"Come on, Malki. You can do this."
"No. I can't. If I don't have something to drink I shall surely perish."
This girl definitely had her father's gene for drama.
It was quiet in the car for a while. But that should not be confused with acquiescence.
About a mile after they passed the rest stop, Malki started to emit a noise. It was somewhere between a moan and a shriek, with a little whiff of whine. It was not pleasant. It was not fun. It was pretty much unbearable.
Bob tried to ignore her. He turned his rear view mirror so that he could not see her. He tried to hum a song. But the noise Malki emitted only became louder. It was excruciating.
Bob eyed J. Fenimore Cooper, but that rest stop was only for north bound passengers, and Walt Whitman was still nine miles away. Things were looking grim. And there was no hope that they could hold out until Clara Barton twenty-five miles down the pike. Malki was about to explode. All hope was lost.
It was then that Ellen awoke. Calm, soothing Ellen, Bob's rational clear thinking, ever-prepared wife, the totally chill ying to Bob's extremely intense yang.
"Your daughter Malki is having an extreme meltdown. She is so thirsty she could die, and we're still quite a distance from the next turnpike oasis. I tried to ignore her, but that did not work out well. I fear disaster."
"Malki dear, there's a bottle of water in the seat pocket in front of you."
"Oh right, Mom. Thanks. Never mind, Dad. I'm fine now."
"I always put water in the seat in front of Malki. She's always thirsty."
Bob was too irritated to speak.
It was quiet all the way to Clara Barton.
"Wow, this is just like this week's parsha," Ellen observed.
"How so?" Bob asked.
"Yishmael and Hagar are in the desert without water, even though Avraham stocked them up with provisions. And when Yishmael starts to suffer, Hagar tries to ignore him, just like you ignored Malki."
"Maybe ignore is a strong word," Bob suggested.
"Works for me," Malki chimed in.
"Then G-d--in this story played by me--hears Yishmael's suffering, and reveals to Hagar water that had actually been there all along."
"Hey, that's pretty good," Bob agreed. "Good close analysis of the parsha."
"Thank you. And what do we learn from this?"
"That we never abandon our children?" Bob offered. "That the love and caring was there all along. You just have to look for it carefully, just as G-d provided for Yishmael and Hagar."
"Nice," Malki said. "I like it."
"Me too,” Ellen agreed.
And without further ado, they crossed into Delaware and did not stop again until the Maryland House Service Area, where rest, nourishment, and ice cream were provided for all.