What is a babymoon? And how did I spend mine? Read on for the full story.
I had always pictured my honeymoon as a romantic getaway – maybe staying at a seaside château in the South of France, renting a summer cabin in the Rockies, or sleeping in the sand of Tahitian beaches. Roaming semi-carsick for endless miles across the plains two weeks after getting married wasn’t exactly the destination trip I had dreamed of. This was decidedly not our honeymoon. There would be time for that in the future, even if we would have to have a baby in tow to our tropical paradise.
THIS cross-country escape, my friend, was a babymoon. No, I didn’t make the word up. Yes, it’s a real thing. A babymoon is meant to be a couple’s final vacation alone, generally taken after the expecting mother’s first trimester ends. My early second trimester just so happened to fall around the holidays after we had just broken our new Tesla in. The stars couldn’t have aligned more perfectly.
Yet our babymoon was planned with an ulterior motive. Daniel and I weren’t driving 6,000 miles through winter weather simply to enjoy each other’s company. We were on a mission to determine our destiny. Each stop along our journey, whether planned strategically or stumbled upon serendipitously, was an opportunity to find ourselves as we envisioned our near future, knowing the next road trip we take will likely be a permanent move from Boston.
After Daniel finishes his PhD, will we wind up in Nashville, Austin, or Boulder? Maybe somewhere in between? Or none of the below? Read on to find out.
“You’ll like Nashville,” I promised Daniel as we cut across West Virginia’s rolling hills. I was remembering my college track days, when roaming the city felt like a musical, whimsical wonderland. That spring, Nashville’s flowers were in full bloom. The greenery of Vanderbilt’s campus was speckled with pink tulips that pirouetted in the breezes of the baby blue sky.
“Everything looks a little… brown,” Daniel decided. I scanned the streets for color but only found garbage in the gutters. We parked next to a painted mural. Noise filled the air as we exited the vehicle. Blue looked around suspiciously at what appeared to be blocks of frat parties. Clubs were overflowing with men in cowboy boots and women in bikinis, seemingly unaware that it was only 3 pm.
I later learned that there had been a mass exodus of post-collegiate Southern Illinoisans to Nashville. No wonder the city had turned into Polar Bear.
“You’ll like this motel,” Daniel promised me as we wound through the sun-kissed open roads of Texas.
“Okay, we’ll see,” I rolled my eyes, imagining a Super 8 that had been awarded “most eco-friendly lightbulbs in Texas” or something equivalently uninteresting.
We rolled our Tesla up to a phallus-shaped cherry red neon sign that read “AUSTIN MOTEL”. Underneath it, black letters were surrounded by blinking lights: “SO CLOSE YET SO FAR OUT”.
My jaw dropped. “This is where we’re staying?” I asked, entranced by the retro neon letters. Bright red lips twirled above another sign that screamed “ALL WAYS WELCOME”.
“I’ll get the keys,” Daniel said as he walked into a door lined with a rainbow flag promising “Y’ALL MEANS ALL!”
“Blue, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” I whispered to my puppy, whose eyes had glazed over at the scent of a nearby cat.
Our room could have been a film set for That 70’s Show. I dawned a rainbow robe and blasted a pre-set disco station on the vintage AM/FM radio as Daniel charged the car. Blue looked at me curiously. My heart leapt to my throat, and I stopped mid-dance when the old-school phone shrilled a sharp rrrrrrrrrrr-ring.
“Mrs. Ramirez?” The voice questioned.
I had an instinct to correct her. Oh no, I’m not Mrs. Ramirez, and we’re not really in the 70’s. This is all just pretend. Then I remembered that this was real life.
“Yes?” I asked, still startled. I was assuming she had called because of a noise complaint, and I turned the disco down a few more notches.
“Would you like a dog bed?”
“Oh, no… that’s okay. But thank you.”
The next morning, Daniel, Blue, and I ran alongside the Colorado River. “I could really see us living here,” Daniel declared.
We passed a man sleeping on the sidewalk next to a blanket of mini candy bar wrappers – the product of late-night munchies or the sick joke of a donated dinner?
“I don’t know,” I hesitated. “I really like the vibe. There are great coffee shops, nice running trails, warm weather, a university, plenty of Spanish speakers, lots of wineries and peach farms on the outskirts… but I don’t think I’m hipster or homeless enough to fit in.”
“I fit in perfectly,” Daniel argued.
I cast a side glance at his hipster glasses and his shirt that spelled out “S-E-X” in Teslas and replied, “Of course you do.”
El Paso, TX
The first time I visited the city of the 915, Daniel informed me that we would move here someday. I almost broke up with him on the spot. Who are you to say where WE are going to live? And who said I would even end up with YOU? I wanted to scream.
Despite the unsettling introduction, El Paso has grown on me. The city feels a little like LA, but more LatinX and less superficial. It’s sunny year-round, meaning that there are no white Christmases, but there are certainly cacti, palm trees, and tamales. I’m not a fan of the car culture or the many capitalist chain businesses, but there are enough cute cafes to keep me coffee shop hopping for several days.
But the best part about El Paso is the border. Just a mile down the road from Daniel’s family’s home, Juarez is an entirely different world. I would move there in a heartbeat. That is, if it weren’t for the safety concerns over being a gringa in a cartel-owned country. My not-so-sly habit of taking photos like a tourist also doesn’t help my situation.
In truth, my existence as a helplessly white girl is perhaps the greatest challenge of visiting El Paso. As we walked through the bright Christmas day sun, I asked Daniel, “Do you wish you would have married a Mexican girl?”
“Sometimes I think it would be easier,” he admitted. “To have someone who can speak with my family – more than just ‘si.’”
“I want to learn,” I said somberly. “To make tamales, to celebrate Día de los Muertos, to watch Mexican Jesus movies on Christmas, to decir muchas cosas en español. Snowpea’s not going to grow up without knowing where she’s from.”
“I’m setting myself up for disappointment,” I said with a heavy heart as we rode through the tumbleweeds of New Mexico. “I know you’re not going to like Boulder. You have such high standards.”
Admittedly, Daniel’s introduction to Colorado was not an ideal start. As we crossed the state border, we were suddenly hit with a snowstorm that bolted sleet like lightening from the darkening sky.
“Just four more hours of this,” I said through gritted teeth as we rolled like a turtle down a mountain colored by feathery flying snow.
“Don’t talk, I’m trying to concentrate,” he hissed back at me.
Daniel dropped me off a Walmart while he charged the car. “Ya just can’t stay away from Walmart even in a blizzard, huh?” An elderly greeter laughed as I walked in.
I replied with a smile. In truth, I couldn’t remember the last time I had shopped in Walmart, and I was only going now because I no longer fit into any of my pants.
After a late night of driving, the next morning’s beginning was also rocky. Our lodging in Boulder reminded me of the Stanley Hotel, and Blue thought so, too. We had planned on going to the diner next door for breakfast, but Blue refused to be left alone in our ghost-infested room. Hangry and stir-crazy, I eventually placed an order for pancakes to-go.
When we finally made it to Pearl Street, the sun was blazing upon the melting ice. Tears welled in my eyes as we people-watched over coffee and Bhakti Chai. “You don’t like it, do you?” I asked with a quivering voice, preparing myself for heartbreak.
Daniel took a long sip of his mocha before replying, “No, it’s nice. I would probably move both of our families here.”
“Wait… but I haven’t even showed you the mountains yet,” I stuttered in disbelief, my eyes wandering to the tall snow-capped peaks in the distance. “Are you just saying that to make me happy?”
“Girl, have I ever done that?” he said, rolling his eyes. “I don’t need to see the mountains. I’ve seen enough.”
“But… what do you think about the city? And the people here? I told you they’re pretty hipster.”
“I wouldn’t call them hipster.”
“Okay, maybe eco-chic? Environmental? Outdoorsy?” But I knew that those descriptions didn’t quite capture the people of Boulder. “In a way, the personality here kind of reminds me of the ex-pat community in Myanmar. They…”
“They seem like they’re trying to escape,” Daniel said, stealing the words from my lips.
“I hate thinking about it because it feels like I’m holding a mirror up to my face. But to be honest, I don’t think we can decide where we want to live. It’s up to the whims of the universe. We just have to look for the signs.”
Just then, I had an incoming call from a 617-area code. “Lacey, where are you? We need you in Boston. You’re supposed to be teaching now.”
A shock ran down my spine. Was I dreaming? Oh no, I’ve had so many nightmares about this.
It turns out that the schedule for this particular class hadn’t been updated, so my sub didn’t receive a reminder that they were supposed to teach. A perfectly logical explanation. Yet in that moment of panic, I survived one of the greatest terrors that plagued my subconscious mind. And it didn’t feel so scary after all.
Still, I couldn’t quite rationalize letting the universe decide my fears and my fate. On the way out of Boulder, I bought bags of odd souvenirs and useless mementos – arrowheads, dreamcatchers, “I love Colorado” stickers, a sugar skull, a pet gnome in a jar – all this to burn into our memories the fact that Daniel had once said that he liked this place.
As the mountain range disappeared into the distance, the cultural landscape was quickly transformed. The highway was surrounded by miles of flat plains dotted with bright billboards that read, “JESUS SAVES!” and “My mom chose life.” We decided it was a good time to play Kanye’s new album, and we squawked at each CHICK-FIL-A.
We stopped to charge at a Starbucks, where I watched a barista call out back-to-back orders for a venti double chocolate chip frappuccino with two pumps of raspberry and a venti iced tea with seven pumps of sweetener. My eyes nearly bugged out of my skull, but the barista didn’t bat an eyelid.
Seven hours of plains later, we made it to Atchison, where we would ring in the new year with my cousin’s wedding. The minister precluded the vows by saying, “Elliot, you are marrying a sinner.” I watched my mom in the row ahead quietly choke on laughter.
Prior to the wedding, my father and I tried out Sunflower Coffee, a café daintily decorated with knick-knacks and “Jesus & coffee” signs. A pair of women at the window-side table were divulging the depths of their souls over their lattes. I made a mental note to write a dissertation one day on the role of the Midwestern coffee shop as a modern-day confessional.
“How’s your coffee?” I asked my father.
He gave his standard response for small-town coffeehouses, frowning and muttering under his breath, “It’s not quite a cappuccino.”
I had planned to show Daniel the lay of the land in Columbia, but nearly everything was closed for New Year’s Day. Instead of my favorite coffee shop, we ended up at an Arabic coffeehouse. Daniel ordered a southern praline latte, which was saturated with so much syrup that he quickly felt intoxicated.
“I told you not to order flavored lattes in the Midwest,” I said with conviction.
That night, we went out to a dinner and a movie theater – minus dinner because the in-house café was closed. Following the film, we stumbled into the only open restaurant – drunk Mexican food catty-corner to the closed clubs.
“This is not a quesadilla,” I declared, claiming newfound authority from my Mexican last name. “What is this made with, Velveeta?”
“You’re not supposed to think about it,” Daniel replied.
“I promise, this city is really exciting when you live in a small town.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t want to move back to the Midwest?” Daniel asked me at least 10 times when we were visiting my hometown. “There’s so much space here.”
Outside, Blue leapt across my parents’ backyard, hunting squirrels and digging ditches.
“And it’s all so cheap,” Daniel continued starry-eyed. “We could build our farm and turn an abandoned mall into a community garden center.”
“And grow wine grapes in our backyard and cacao pods and coffee beans in our greenhouse,” I elaborated. “But I don’t know, it’s almost eerie how empty this place has become. I think the deer population is outpacing humans in the city. Could you really live here?”
“No, but we could control our shipping container farm with an app from wherever we’re living - maybe even from mars.”
“Uh huh… wait, I thought the benefit of moving to the Midwest was living on the land?”
When asked about our trip over Italian dinner, Daniel tried to convince his best friend Ahmad, who was doing his residency in Columbus, to move to San Diego.
“Definitely, I’d love to be somewhere with sun,” Ahmad said with encouragement.
During our endless hours of driving, I had sketched out a Venn diagram of places we could both see ourselves living. Boulder and San Diego were the only two locations we matched on. We had also decided that exposing Snowpea to Spanish would be a priority. So, San Diego it was?
“Actually, you should probably move to England for now," Ahmad said. "The cost of childbirth is going to be a lot cheaper there.”
“Wait, you can do that? Why haven’t you thought of going to England?” Daniel widened his eyes and turned to me.
“I’ve thought about it,” I said truthfully. My British citizenship meant that I was entitled to free healthcare with the NHS, as long as I was “ordinarily residing” in the U.K. “But that would mean I have to move to England right now, not at seven months. I would have to uproot my life. Not that I have a problem with leaving Boston, but… I need you for the birthing experience.”
Daniel shot me the look of a deer in headlights. Wearing his doctor hat, Ahmad continued, “You should really look into it.”
On the way out of the city, we stopped for coffee at what looked like a neatly graffitied shack from the outside but was a thriving hipster’s haven on the inside. A buzzcut barista with black gauges peered at me over his grandfather glasses and asked, “Can I interest you in one of our house special buttermilk biscuits? The ingredients came fresh from our cow, and we’ve dressed them up with homemade strawberry jam and a dusting of sparkly Aegean Sea salt.”
“Sold,” I said, drooling.
With one hand, the barista was etching the shape of a peacock into a latte; with his free hand, he served me my warm biscuit on thrift shop 18th century China. I made a mental note to write a second dissertation exploring why specialty baristas are so cool. Did café owners seek out the most eccentric, inked-up young jobless adults in the city, or did they simply flock to these spaces? It’s the ultimate chicken-and-egg conundrum.
“I kind of like this place,” I said as I delivered Daniel’s latte through the driver’s side window. “Would you want to move here?”
“Hell no,” he replied defiantly, and we whizzed past the dilapidated homes, the silvery skyscraper medical buildings, and the brown of the Olentangy River.
Sleepy Hollow, NY
“Next stop, Newark, New Jersey!” I exclaimed, hungry for the approaching empanadas restaurant I had discovered on Grubhub.
As we approached the city, the scenery changed. We were a few blocks from the budget motel I had scouted out on Google, and the streets looked like Harlem pre-gentrification. “Girl, where are you taking me?” Daniel said nervously.
We crept past two hot chicken wings restaurants, an Afro-beauty parlor, and a gang of men wearing dew rags and pants that sagged down to their knees. “Oh, this doesn’t look like the pictures on the website,” I admitted as I peered out the window at our final destination.
“I’m not parking the Tesla here,” Daniel said with fear in voice, and he sped off to the nearest exit.
“So… Sleepy Hollow?” I giggled at the irony that we were trading a hoodlum city to one best-known for its hauntings.
The headless horseman statue seemed serene in the next morning’s daylight. Even Blue thought so. She burst out of the car to gallop across the haunted bridge.
“Not that I would want to live here, but I can see the appeal. Beautiful houses, cute local pubs, rich in history, and still close enough to New York that you could escape to the city whenever the urge hits. What do you think?”
“Nah, I wouldn’t live here. There was a biotech job posted here, but I wouldn’t make half enough to pay for these mansions.”
New Haven, CT
I envisioned Yale as a Gilmore Girls small-town getaway, so I was surprised when we parked in a city-scape. “Are we at Yale?” I asked suspiciously.
“New Haven is Yale,” Daniel replied.
Blue sniffed out her new surroundings as Daniel loaded quarters into the parking meter. An elderly African American woman slowly rolled by us in her wheelchair, snarling at Blue as she passed.
“That dog don’t like Black people!” she nearly spat at us. We roamed around the campus in search of a dog-friendly restaurant – a nearly impossible task in the New England winter. Eventually, we settled on empanadas from a food truck.
We sat down near a fountain facing a wilting Christmas tree. As Daniel fed Blue half of his meal, a group of carolers joined us.
“Are they singing in Hebrew?” I asked, discretely pointing at the group who was staring intently at the withering tree.
Daniel shrugged. “Maybe they’re trying to resurrect it.”
“I don’t think Yale is even half as beautiful as Harvard,” I decided. “But I wouldn’t want to live in New England anyways.”
But where did that leave us? We were only hours away from the end of our 6,000-mile road trip but no closer than Day 1 to predicting our final destination.
“I keep telling you, Boston wouldn’t be so bad. It’s the city where we met, where we got married, where we’ll be having our first Snowpea. Our whole history is there,” Daniel said nostalgically.
I paused, chewing on my words before stating, “I’m tired of this narrative.”
“What do you mean?”
“You wanting to settle. Me wanting to escape.”
“I don’t give up on places. Or people.”
“Moving to Europe doesn’t mean giving up on America.” My eyes glistened with fresh emotion. “If you had the opportunity to move to a place where you could provide a better life for your family, wouldn’t you do it? A place where there's accessible healthcare, education, and maternity leave? Where guns don’t grow on trees? Where you're not punished for sinning with the death penalty? Think about it, Snowpea could easily learn Spanish if we moved to Madrid. Or French if we move to Paris. Or have a British accent if we move to England…”
“No place is perfect,” Daniel said.
“I know, but I like Europe’s flaws. Growing up in a nearly atheist family in the bible belt, I never truly felt like I belonged in America. Do you know how many times ‘friends’ tried to save me as a kid?”
“Growing up undocumented, I never felt like I belonged here, but now that I’m becoming a citizen, I finally have a chance.”
“It’s not just about belonging. It’s a question of morality. I don’t agree with the capitalist, consumer-driven lie of the American dream that tries to convince you that anyone can make it to the top and makes you feel like a failure when you’re defeated by your race, income, or gender. And that farm we’re planning? I don’t know if I even believe in owning land.”
“America is like a greedy five-year old, and Europe is its wise 40-year-old uncle. We’re still learning. We can’t expect ourselves to be anywhere near as civilized yet. Just give this country time.”
“I only have one life, and I’ve given America all of it so far. I can’t wait around forever for things to get better.”
“I mean… we did tell your parents that Snowpea was going to have a British accent.” Daniel glanced at the back of our Tesla, where he had scribbled “YOUTUBE Andrew Yang” onto the window. “I’ll make you a deal. If Andrew Yang becomes president, we stay in America. If it’s anyone else, we can spend a few years in Europe.”
My tears began to melt away, and I laughed at my winning proposition.
Smiling, I said, “Deal.”