Yesterday morning, about 3:30 or so, the breast pump broke. I was bottle-feeding Veda while Penny was just starting to pump — yes, it seemed convoluted to us as well, but that’s our system for you — and the reassuring chug-chug-chugging of the pump motor suddenly fell silent. Penny looked up, her bosom heaving and growing increasingly painful, while Veda paused momentarily at the realization that no more milk was being added to her stockpile. I, in turn, started assessing the problem.
We do not live in a major metropolis. We used to, on more than one occasion, but for the moment we’re nestled nicely in a modest town of about 4,000 souls, continuous with a slightly larger city of 12,000 or so. This, while imparting an undeniable charm to the vicinity, does limit one’s options for attending to a fallen breast pump at four in the morning.
Fortunately, I was coherent enough, even at that hour, to perform a little troubleshooting. Most likely, I reasoned, the problem was not in the pump itself but the power supply — the little wall-wart box you plug into the socket. Maybe it just burned out, and a new AC Adapter would put us back in business.
But where to get one? This town is tiny, to be sure, but we do have a Wal-Mart. Of course. I wasn’t sure of the store’s hours, though, so I quickly looked up the number online and dialed to check.
Well, it rang. And rang. And rang. I pictured groggy floor sweepers, riding their hissing contraptions across all those acres of white linoleum, either not hearing or actively ignoring the telephone. But I needed an answer, so I hung on the line.
On about the ninth or eleventh ring, a tired voice answered, “Hello?” Immediately I knew something was wrong.
“Um, is this Wal-Mart?” I glanced over at the digital clock, reading 3:50 or so. “I’m, ah, I’m really sorry if this is a wrong number.”
“That’s correct” said the groggy person on the other end, and hung up. Oh man. Sorry about that, buddy. I double-checked the number on the site, and it must just be posted wrong. I dialed it right.
Eventually I found an alternate number and verified that the store was open. I sped over, pump and power-supply tucked into my sweatshirt’s front pocket, and strode on in. The electronics department was empty, as was the majority of the store — save a few of the floor sweepers I’d envisioned.
I did find an adapter of the proper voltage, current and polarity, and began to head for the registers. Just then, one lonesome bearded fellow about my age, who must have drawn the short straw when shift assignments were drawn up, appeared around the corner.
“Hi, can I help you?”
“Hey there. I hope so. I’ve got an out-of-commission breast pump at home, and it’s kind of an emergency.” I looked down, noting his wedding ring, and added, “I don’t know if you know much about engorgement, but it’s not something you want happening. I’m really hoping this adapter works.”
The guy said he didn’t have any kids yet, but that he actually did know what I was talking about — he used to be a dairy farmer.
“I bet your wife isn’t complaining as loudly as the cows did” he said, and we both laughed a little. He kindly cut open the impenetrable plastic packaging and unraveled the various cords therein. We checked to see if the pump worked with the new adapter, and it would — as long as somebody held the plug tightly in the socket. I figured I could do just that, and rig up some more secure system later. I thanked him and departed, swinging by the maternity section to grab a manual breast pump just in case.
On the way home, where I connected the new universal adapter and confirmed my initial hunch — we were back in chug-chug-chugging business before long — it occurred to me that this was something of a feat of modern survival. It didn’t involve rappelling down into a canyon or choking down a dung beetle or anything, like that awesome lunatic Bear Grylls or anything, but it was a feat nonetheless.
In the dead of night, in still fairly unfamiliar territory, and with resources limited to an internet connection, a car and a credit card, I’d essentially field-repaired a specialized piece of equipment in under 40 minutes. As I thought about this, I tried to estimate how vast an area I’d had to consider for my initial search as compared to the really very tiny precise location of the adapter. (I checked just now; of the county’s 554 square miles, I’d correctly drilled down to a parcel of about ten square inches — one 222,402,723,840th of the total area — that contained the part we needed.)
And as I thought more about this accomplishment, so ordinary on the face of it but in truth a marvel of 21st-century societal convenience, it occurred to me that this was still really nothing. Not in comparison to the feat pulled off a few weeks ago.
You see, out of nowhere, Veda came into our lives. And of the observable universe’s 93,000,000,000 light years of space, what were our chances of ever locating the 20-inch-long, six pound, five ounce little person who would puff up our hearts with immeasurable joy? Practically negligible. It would be like picking the exact right quark out of the right electron in one single particular atom of the Empire State Building. Tripping over the exact grain of sand you were looking for, out of all the beaches in the world. Not a chance. And yet here she is. (Along with her mom — only slightly larger in cosmological terms, and whose path was just as miraculously intersected with my own.)
So in retrospect, lining up the electrical adapter that re-secured Veda’s food supply and Penny’s comfort wasn’t so impressive after all. It was but a dim shadow of the herculean effort put forth by forces I’ll never understand but will eternally appreciate.
I did get to hear some cow jokes at 4 am, though, and that has to count for something. Don’t you think?