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'Carcation,' All I Ever Wanted — Until The Quiet Gave Way To Chaos

Hinda Mandell received a "summer miracle" when her pre-schooler fell asleep, inadvertently creating the "carcation." But it's not all it's cracked up to be. (Courtesy Gerrie van der Walt/Unsplash)MoreCloseclosemore
Hinda Mandell received a "summer miracle" when her pre-schooler fell asleep, inadvertently creating the "carcation." But it's not all it's cracked up to be. (Courtesy Gerrie van der Walt/Unsplash)

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I unintentionally took the staycation to a new level of stay-put-ness.

My impromptu "carcation" offered a welcome and unexpected few moments of quiet until it all fell to pieces in the parking lot of a big box store.

Here’s what happened:

I pulled into a Target parking lot over the weekend with a one-two-punch mission in mind. I needed to pick up some paper goods for a work party, and I also needed to make good on Bribe No. 927 in my young daughter's life. I told her she could pick out one (and I mean one!) toy figure at Target if she first let her father cut her toenails without a five-alarm freak out. She obliged, clearly clued in that she was getting the far better end of the bargain and no doubt plotting future ways to leverage her power to secure future additions to her toy collection.

As I pulled into the parking lot, with Paul Simon's greatest hits as our soundtrack, I noticed my daughter was unusually quiet. It was as if someone had hit the "mute" button. I glanced in the rearview mirror to find my 4-year-old passed out in her car seat, her face slack and resting on her shoulder. My child was asleep in the middle of the day. A summer miracle.

Bingo! I wanted to jump and shout. I felt like I was handed the gift of time. Quiet time. On the weekend. In the car. In a parking lot. And the carcation was born.

My child was asleep in the middle of the day. A summer miracle.

My husband was home with our infant son so the time alone with my daughter as we ran errands, without a diaper bag in tow or a feeding schedule on my mind, was already a step toward Staycation Land. And now that she was asleep in the back seat I could gain control of my Sunday for a few quiet moments.

The carcation was not ideal. But it was mine. Here's what it looked like:

The scenery: Endless store fronts indicating Standard Suburbia Shops, like Best Buy, Massage Envy, Old Navy and Staples.

The weather: A gentle breeze from the south (don't mind the parking lot fumes).

Food: Nothing.

Drinks: About five sips remaining from a water bottle below the passenger seat that has been there since Passover. Or maybe even St. Patrick’s Day.

Entertainment: People watching. A man leaving Target with a bouquet of flowers, a grandpa holding the hands of his two school-age charges, moms on the weekend shift as they shepherd kids out of — and into — the family mobiles.

Time ticks on. Ten minutes pass. Another five. Mirabelle is committed to this nap, her first in the better part of a year. Relief mixes with the beauty of possibility. Should I respond to email? Meditate? Work on my selfie pout? Finally, I decide to put down my phone and just veg out.

But then, I start to get antsy as one does on an actual vacation, when the idea of it is often so much better than its actuality in the moment. I'm getting hot, and I wonder: Is it better to feel stuffy and borderline claustrophobic within the confines of my 2007 Corolla or should I crack a window but inhale asphalt? I open the window. Within five minutes I have a headache.

I rummage through my purse — the kind that is so big that communities of ants have probably colonized certain crevices, nourished by leftover snacks — as I search for Ibuprofen. My hands touch something wet and ...

Oh, you've got to be kidding me! The bag of freshly chopped peppers from days prior, which I never ate because either my preschooler or my baby needed some type of urgent attention, has begun to rot. My right hand is now covered in coagulated pepper skin, and — coupled with the smell of the asphalt — I don’t feel so hot.

I start to get antsy as one does on an actual vacation, when the idea of it is often so much better than its actuality in the moment.

Of course, I have nothing to wipe my hands with because I left the diaper bag at home. So I use the passenger seat upholstery as a makeshift rag, a habit I've scolded my preschooler for countless times. But now I do see the utility of such a tactic. And that's when I notice I dripped rotten red-pepper juice onto a shirt, tags still on, in the driver’s seat, which I've been meaning to return at the mall for at least a month. Probably more like two.

Holy mother! Is this child still sleeping? Her nap is pushing 45 minutes. My hands are sticky. I felt so nauseated that now I'm worried I might be pregnant. Could I be?

I have to get out of the car. I open and close the door loudly, hoping my boisterous behavior will rouse my daughter. She's out. There's no hope. I have no hope. I look at my phone. It's down to 4 percent of its battery. How will I access my shopping list? I can’t even remember to throw out a bag of uneaten chopped peppers!

It's time to put the kibosh on this carcation. Next time, I’m staying home, and I’m sending my husband out with the kids.

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Hinda Mandell Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Hinda Mandell, Ph.D., a Boston native, teaches in the Department of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology.

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