“Wanna Get Away?”: A Date Night Story

In a family of nine, date nights are few and far between. But last night we were fortunate enough to escape the laundry piles, childish mayhem and screaming toddlers. We managed our escape by begging the grandparents to babysit. We emphatically promised perfectly behaved children that they could throw countless pieces of sliced cheese and ice cream bars at- which seems to be what these particular grandparents love to do.

With assurances of drooly kisses from a fat-cheeked baby, we suckered the old folks into an eight hour babysitting stint. Poor grey haired saps.

Offering waves, well wishes and silent prayers that they wouldn’t change their minds, my husband and I strolled confidently to the small car and headed downtown. It’s a rare thing to drive in a car like normal people do, instead of our oversized fifteen passenger van.

Our first stop was a ghetto my city likes to refer to as China Town.

“Can you see it from the window?” My husband asked.

Even looking down through the dirty window of a moving car, China Town was unmistakably recognizable. The buildings were covered in yellow Chinese graffiti, it smelled of noodles and Jackie Chan was in the alley whipping an entire masked gang with a trash can lid and a pair of chopsticks.

“Yeah,” I said. “I can see it.”

We met up with good friends and after rock-paper-scissors, entered into the most sweltering hot Chinese restaurant on the face of God’s green earth.

“Ohhhhh, uggh,” Our friend declared upon seeing the interior, “Well, the thing is, I hear the dirtier the restaurant, the better the food is.”

We took her word for it, which in hindsight may have been a mistake.  Although Dim Sum is currently one of our favorite styles of eating asian cuisine, I can now assure you, dear reader, that if the lighting is Dim, then there’s likely Sum-thing they are trying to hide.

The frantic waitress seated us at a clean table accompanied by metal chairs with ripped vinyl seats. She ran up and down the aisles, handing out laminated menus, then snatching them back to hand to new patrons. The Dim Sum was ordered from poorly shot photos and we took turns guessing which item had once been a jellyfish and which one just smelled like it.

Here is where I will say that we are no stranger to Dim Sum. The trick is to find a good Dim Sum restaurant. If you don’t, you might end up wondering if it was actually legal to serve what you just ate- which is what I wondered after I opened my semi-cracked fortune cookie and the message said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Date night had just begun.

After dinner we walked to the local ball park to take in a game. I haven’t been to a baseball game in close to ten years and since our city has one of the nicest stadiums in the country, I hit a game on occasion just to see what my tax dollars have paid for against my will.

My husband and I have entirely different motives. He goes to baseball games to watch a sporting event. I go to baseball games to watch people and to garnish fantastic writing material.

Our tickets were scanned, our bags searched, we were wand-ed at the metal detectors by glowing mini-light sabers and overzealous stadium guards. Finally, we were ushered to our seats.

The anthem played, the bats cracked.

A gal with fluorescent green hair, fishnet stockings and several facial piercings stood hugging a rail-thin guy decked out in black and white plaid. An adult sibling group sat directly in front of us and tried to feign interest in being there. A creepy old man sat behind us with two (very young) blonde beauties and tried desperately to schmooze them with his money and flowery words. As luck would have it, a screaming toddler sat directly to my left and gave her parents a run for their money while they tried to chomp on cheeseburgers the size (and cost) of Rhode Island.  Loud, boisterous drunks sat several rows back and blessed us with their eternal opinions on how much the umpire stunk.

My husband looked at me and grinned and who could blame him? This was our section; our little “family” of fellow comrades who would ride out with us the next three hours of emotional turmoil. They would be with us through the highs and lows; through the good calls and the bad plays; through the overpriced beer vendors and the seventh inning stretch.

Pitchers pitched, bats swung, runners ran. The home-town heroes hit home-runs far up into the grandstands. Money rained down from the sky as intoxicated fans on the level above us celebrated by gleefully tossing paper money out of their wallets onto the crowds below.

We ordered nachos with dripping-white cheese from a vendor in a yellow shirt; which took so long to arrive that they likely came straight from Mexico. We ate deep fried Churros that came with so much sugar they were served with a shot of insulin.

We sat chewing on red licorice and “boo-ed” as an embarrassed fan was forcibly removed from the stadium for interfering with a ball in play. This would have been the perfect time to place a SOUTHWEST AIRLINES commercial with the tagline “Wanna Get Away?” on the big screen and how they missed that golden comedic opportunity, I will never know.

Night fell.

We sang “Take me out to the ball game.” We did the wave. We danced and we cheered. The guy in front of us received angry text messages from a girlfriend he’d abandoned to attend the game. My husband, who insisted he wasn’t cold (and refused to bring a jacket), finally caved and draped a fuzzy blue blanket around his arms and tried not to give me the satisfaction.

To our shock and amazement, our team eeked out a victory and the crowds dispersed into the darkness. A Hippie bongo player sat on the sidewalk straddling his drum and beat out melodic rhythms while people maneuvered out of the stadium.

Like cattle, the crowd walked along as venders hocked leftover licorice ropes, bottles of overpriced hose water and JUMBO HOT DOGS which, after a long day in a germ infested water bath, had shriveled down to the size of cocktail weenies.

We marched to the car in the crisp night air, holding hands and moving swiftly along crowded roads. I had silly romantic visions of being swept away by my handsome man to a quiet street and having his love passionately declared under the starlight. Instead, he and I followed a crowd of inebriated college students and watched as an enraged man repeatedly beat a metal sign post with his fists.

The 4-passenger car carried us safely home.

The house was dark. The house was quiet. We dismissed the overwrought (and brave!) battle-worn grandparents. God bless them. We watched gratefully as they staggered toward the door. With torn clothing and hair askew, they left quickly without looking back.

I poured a glass of wine and prepared to sit in silence, which was the perfect time for the baby to offer a blood-curdling scream that curled our toenails and pierced deep into the dead of night.  Lights clicked on and curious, once-sleeping children began making their way to the hallway to see what the fuss was about. The baby responded to her impromptu party by throwing up 3 blocks of cheese, a blue duplo, 12 ice-cream bars and a rubber duck.

And those, my friends, are all the moments that make date night…truly magical.

 

*This post has been featured on For Every Mom

If you ever see a chicken riding a bus, she used to live here.

Life was lacking chaos, noise, excitement and poop, so we did what any normal, self-respecting American family of 9 would do; we went out and bought 14 chickens. They started as small, fluffy chicks in the garage and over the last year we have grown them into quite a brood of feisty, squawking hens. They reside in our backyard and sleep in a coop that was more skillfully designed than my first car.

The kids dearly love the chickens and consider them to be “pets.” I do not consider them to be pets, because in my mind, pets are creatures that are kept around for the sheer enjoyment of cleaning up feces off the lawn and vacuuming fur off the carpet. These chickens are only around because they do two things very well: they create an abundance of food by laying fresh eggs each day, and they bother neighborhood dogs we don’t like. It’s a win-win.

Not only has this small flock provided food for us, they have also served to provide a more than adequate amount of entertainment. This has saved us at least five whole dollars at the local REDBOX. In lieu of renting what could be a riveting movie with an exceptional plot, we stand and stare out the kitchen window and vote on which chicken will be the first hen to go sailing down the slide after being carried up the play structure by a preschooler.

Particularly amusing, is the way our seven-year-old daughter has adopted a certain chicken named “Squirt.” Squirt is her friend. Squirt, she says, loves her. But Squirt, I believe, would quickly pack a suitcase and hop on the nearest Greyhound to Cincinnati if given the chance.

“What are you doing with that chicken?” I have hollered out my kitchen window more than once at my dear, petite daughter.

“Squirt wants a ride in the wagon,” she yells. Of course she does. What feathered fowl wouldn’t want to be hauled at light-speed around the yard in a red plastic apparatus on wheels.

Day after day, I’ve watched this gold-headed Ameraucana endure humiliating circumstances while other hens look on, snickering and pointing.

Poor Squirt.

My daughter heads toward her and she doesn’t even run away anymore; she just stands there in disgust, giving the stink-eye and glaring with a loathsome expression that clearly says “What’s the use.”

One day I looked out the window in time to see the hen and her “keeper” walking around the yard together. Unsurprisingly, Squirt wore a makeshift leash around her midsection and my daughter was happily walking her across the yard like one would walk a small puppy. The other hens gossiped, sneered and drank tea while poor Squirt performed like a trained monkey in what could be known as the worst chicken circus ever.

Like people, chickens have individual personalities. Some are quiet and gentle, others are loud and some are downright mean. We have one obnoxious hen who’s always screeching loudly about one injustice or another. She likely honed her protesting skills after watching CNN reports of various Occupiers and has taken to painting picket signs that read “I am the 99%” in really poor handwriting (or chicken scratches- if you will). At this point, I am 99% sure that she will be the first one to end up as soup, should the need arise.

Several times a day I say to one of my teens, “Go tell that chicken to SHUT UP.”  So far, she’s refused to give up her crusade against the misdeed of being forced to use one of the empty nesting boxes and is still demonstrating daily against the unfairness of someone else sitting on her egg, or using her spot on the perch. As a result, we’ve investigated several DIY chicken nugget videos that look absolutely golden and delicious.

No matter how irritated I’ve gotten, the children are delighted with the chickens, purely because of the unpredictability they bring.

One day, after leaving the sliding glass door open, one of the walking poultry bags sauntered right into the house. The kids screamed with delight and accidentally chased the Brown Leghorn into the kitchen where she flew wildly around looking for an exit. Her dirty feathers and muddy feet thrashed about in my previously sterilized kitchen while she searched for a safe place to land.

The children, (totally thrilled with a live chicken flapping and cawing in the house), ran in circles after her until she flew up on the counter and found what she thought was the safest place to be.

It just so happens that she decided to land on top of a large, open waffle iron.

Not being from the south, I’m not accustomed to eating chicken and waffles together, much to the relief of Mrs. Fluffington, (I’m sure), who is now back safely with her bridge club, telling tales and spinning yarns inside their luxury coop.

Truth be told, we don’t have plans to eat any of the chickens, especially the beloved carnival performer, Squirt. But if any of them decide to land on top of the BBQ grill, all bets are off.

Especially if that chicken is holding a protest sign.

 

 

 

 

Gardens aren’t for pansies.

Each year I look forward to spring so I can try my hand at screwing up another garden. Experts say that gardening can relieve stress and help us feel more productive. All it does for me is keep the children outside longer so they aren’t creating more clutter.

If awards were handed out for effort, I might earn a trophy. Or perhaps I could win for being the pathetic sap who keeps on trying. Despite my valiant efforts in horticulture, nothing ever seems to take root… except my disappointment.

I’m not new to gardening attempts. I’ve been steadily failing at this for years. If Post-Apocalyptic Gardening ever becomes my family’s sole chance of survival, we will all be knee deep in troubled waters.

I’ve been accused of various things in my life, but having a “green thumb” isn’t one of them. Nah. I have lethal Thumbs of Death.

Just so nobody can accuse me of being a quitter, every winter I pour over gardening websites and Youtube videos trying to unlock the secrets to victorious vegetable growing, all to no avail. Nothing can hold me back and I still try my Death Thumbs at gardening, again and again. This form of persistence is either very noble, or incredibly stupid based on the consistent end results of my craptastic “we-will-starve-to-death-in-the-apocalypse” garden.

This year we’ve gone a bit further and the kids have gotten involved too. “I’m going to water the plants,” they yell and off they trek to dump a gallon of muddy water on a single pepper shoot while neglecting eight other plants entirely.

None of my efforts have been successful and the kids are losing patience.

“Why can’t we eat this now?” the kids will ask as soon as they see a cherry tomato the size of a pea. “Why is this taking soooo long? Where are all the strawberries you said would grow?” These perfectly valid questions are followed by exasperated whining. “Why did we even start this garden if it doesn’t actually make any FOOD?” 

Why indeed.

By all means, I should have all of this plant-growing-stuff figured out by now. One by one, I’ve procured crucial gardening essentials: hoses, watering cans, gloves, raised beds, rakes, shovels, compost, mulch, horse manure, horseradish, horseshoes, and a charley horse. I have acquired everything except actual talent, which is apparently one more thing I can’t grow.

One year I was able to raise a billion and a half tomatoes. They never turned red. Another year powdery mildew rotted out all my zucchini and squash plants. Abusive squirrels and fat gluttonous insects chomped and burped as they devoured the tender leaves of my kale and lettuce starts. My seedlings fast became fodder for ravenous crows and demon-possessed chipmunks. I sighed and muttered “Maybe next year.” 

And here we are again.

Day after day, I have watered and tended my little sprouts while all of nature has perched on nearby tree branches, sniggering and sneering at my fruitless efforts. Furry woodland creatures have laughed and hurled out taunting animal swears. Snails have been throwing keggers and fraternity hazings on my raised beds.

In exasperation and anger, I plucked several snails off my dead leaves and squashed them under my feet. “Noooooo” the kids cried, “Mom just killed TURBO! She squashed TURBO! ” This was followed by shrieks, wails and catastrophic sobbing from my preschool crowd.

Look, Skippy, your slimy “friend” is the reason we won’t have food if zombies come.

The gardening efforts for this season are already forecasted as a total FAIL. At this point, all I can do is hope my children learn something from watching my repeated efforts. Perhaps they can learn perseverance. Perhaps they can learn patience. Or maybe all they’ll learn is that the definition of “insanity” means doing something over and over and expecting a different result.

You’re welcome to join us for dinner, but don’t expect lovely home-grown vegetables to grace the table around here.

All we can grow is clutter.

If you’re going to surf in toilet water, make sure you’re naked.

We live with one of the roughest, toughest  five-year-old guys you could ever hope to meet. Since the day he could walk, he’s been tearing apart everything he comes in contact with. It isn’t uncommon for him to enter a room and 3.2 minutes later leave that same room with nothing but a light fixture barely hanging on by its electrical wires and a trail of devastation looming behind. He’s one Tough Guy.

This kid is built like a Mack truck and charged with enough energy to light up half the houses on the Eastern seaboard. We frequently yell his middle name in conjunction with his first name, and I’m not sure that’s ever a good sign. Tough Guy makes us all laugh. Hysterically. Usually right as punishment needs to be doled out.

“Look at me,” I say, in a stern voice. And he looks. Then opens his eyes as wide as they can go before bugging-out and popping out of his face. We have a stare down. I see his fuzzy brown head and his dark chocolate eyes jump out of their sockets while the rest of his face remains perfectly still. I force myself to keep a straight face. I speak slowly.

“Listen to me, you canno-

“Whooooooooooooooooooooooooo!,” he tips his head back and howls loudly at the ceiling. I bite my lips to keep from smiling.

His head lowers back down into the stare-down.

“I’m…a…train,” he enunciates in a soft, low, serious voice. He stares back again with a poker face. He sees me breaking. He knows I’m going to lose it, and he wields his power over me. It comes down to a battle of wills. I’m the loser.

In case you are the one person on this planet who has never held a conversation with a five year old boy, let me tell you something: five-year-old boys have no concept of reality, which is why they are so amusing. They also seem to lack any concept of time, which is why they have zero inhibitions about parading into your bedroom at the crack of 0:dark-30 to announce that someone has unjustly mistreated them in some various way. Tough Guy recently entered our room before dawn and woke us from a deep, glorious sleep to offer such information.

“Mom” he whined loudly from the foot of my bed, “[Humdinger] punched me in the faaaaaaace.  Can I have cereal?”

Tough Guy never fails to catch us off guard. The other day he came downstairs after bedtime and said from the stairway, “My lamp broke.”

“Oh?” I asked. “You mean the light bulb?”

“Glass can break.” He said with a defensive, informative tone, as if I had never heard such a thing. I walked upstairs and found the broken bulb and all it’s pieces piled neatly right outside my bedroom door.

Now, pause here and insert into your memory the scene from “Home Alone” where the burglar walks barefooted across broken glass bulbs. That was nearly me- howling, hopping and holding back a string of expletives as foam spewed forth from my mouth. There’s a pretty picture.

Mr. Diaz and I have these moments; moments when we are blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that Tough Guy is involved in just several yards away. Moments where we are sitting happily on the sofa in a cocoon of lovely ignorance, knocking back dark chocolate and peanut butter and pretending, that for a moment, the kids are accounted for and nobody is sneaking outside to burn a petrified raccoon carcass in the backyard.

We had one of those moments not long ago.

There we were, watching television after a long hard day. We were tired. We were happy. We were oblivious.

Tough Guy casually strolled into the living room without a single stitch of clothing, looked straight at us, and announced sincerely “I’d rather use a clean bathroom.” He padded off up the stairs. A second later we heard toilet water rushing down the hallway at light speed right toward us. Tough Guy had stuffed an entire roll of toilet paper down the pot, flushed multiple times, then tried to clean up on his own by throwing all the clean laundry he could find onto the rushing river of pee water. He even took off his own clothes and body surfed.

I’ve lamented to my friends over these short years about Tough Guy’s brilliance, his antics and his ability to escape from any locked area. “How will I survive?” I’ve cried, “I can’t keep him anywhere! He always escapes!”
“Don’t worry,” my friends have comforted, “God can use his abilities one day for something positive…like escaping from an overseas prison.” Fabulous. Good to know the lock-picking and computer hacking may pay off for all of us one day.

I sure don’t love the wreckage Tough Guy makes. I don’t love doing CPR on a squirrel after he’s pelted it with a football. I don’t love finding my favorite book floating like a raft in the bathroom sink.  I don’t love learning that there’s a ham sandwich and yesterday’s underpants shoved down the air-vent hole.

But I really do love my very Tough Guy. He’s my favorite.

Tough Guy provides this household with bountiful amounts of comedic relief, which almost makes up for the catastrophes he unwittingly creates. Plus, he’s simply off the charts on the adorable-o-meter.

And that is why he’s still allowed to live here.

 

I might take the Vodka.

It’s been with absolute dismay that I peer into the mirror and see small silvery hairs growing out of barren places on my scalp. These minuscule hairs are growing in where strong, vibrant, dark hair used to be, but is no longer. My luscious, thick hair began falling out by the handful a few months ago after hormone fluctuations from being postpartum.

Gray hair is now growing on my very sparse head in small batches of light colored fuzz.

I should be happy about the gray fuzz, because the alternative is complete baldness, and nobody wants that. Unless it’s baldness on my legs, and if that’s an option, show me where to sign up.

See this?!” I whine to Mr. Diaz as I part my bangs back and lean my head down toward him. “You can see my scalp! I’m BALDING! My beauty is ending and I’m in agony, because I’m far too young to have a head like a buzzard!”

My husband spends a whole half-of-a nanosecond looking me over and says he has no idea what I’m talking about. He declares I’m not bald(ish), nor do I have a small army of grays invading my head. Well, I don’t believe him for a second. I’ve seen the evidence. I know that he’s lying so I’ll shut up and he can go back to watching football.

You never can tell how you’ll react to certain situations until you’re in them. I admit that the thought of losing my hair has me desiring to hide in a closet and eat even more dark chocolate than normal.

Every night, with as much hope as NASA has of discovering life on Mars, I investigate my head using an extra-zoom mirror, super-slow motion, and gently comb through the existing hair in search of new growth. Honestly, I never thought I’d be in a position where I would suddenly care immensely about hair follicles. I’ve even found myself praying, of all the ridiculous things; actually pleading, “Please God, PULEEZEE help my hair grow back up here…” As if God doesn’t have far more important things to do than pay attention to my vanity and my glabrous buzzard head.

I’ve been searching out solutions on my own. It never ceases to amaze me what I can learn from Google. Just yesterday I Googled, “How to treat a bald spot,” and I was overwhelmed by the amount of recommended information:

Waxes. Scalp massages. Egg concoctions that soak into the scalp. Hanging upside down. Slapping the head. Essential oils. Olive oils. Coconut oils. Enough oils and grease to incite the permanent look of a vagrant. Salt scrubs. Sugar scrubs. Even Vodka. Though, I’m not sure Vodka is for a rub as much as it’s for drinking ahead of time to gain the courage to slap a dozen eggs across your head and wear a plastic bag around for 48 hours.

You wouldn’t believe the “recommended treatment” lists I’ve sorted through of absurd growth-stimulating suggestions. It has been the education I never wanted. I read through editorials with snickers, sighs and even outright bewilderment. “Where’s the punch line?” I ask as I scroll down through preposterous yet detailed instructions.

My mind flashes back to Ricky Ricardo with tinfoil on his scalp. Rob Petrie with his oil and vinegar salad-dressing-soaked head. Suddenly every character I’ve ever seen on TV, trying to cure baldness, sails through my memory.

But my personal favorite was the Googled suggestion of a cayenne pepper scalp concoction that I promise will indeed solve anyone’s baldness complex. Because it’s guaranteed to blind you after it drips into your eyes and you’ll never have to see your own balding head again. Problem solved. The End.

All this to say, I’m cutting off a large amount of (what’s left of) my hair this coming Monday. Hopefully the little grey baby hairs won’t be so intimidated and will work to catch up to the rest of their comrades. I’m not entirely certain of the road I will take to stimulate hair growth and resuscitate the hibernating follicles that are sitting up-top sneering at me. The harsh reality is that I may end up hoping for Rogaine in my stocking. If I really get desperate enough, I may try some oils and even a sugar scrub.

Or, I could just end up getting the Vodka. At least that one serves a dual purpose.

It just might be worth a shot.

The Emperor has no airplanes!

So here’s how it went down:

It was my Mother-in-law’s idea. “Let’s sit at the airfield and watch all the airplanes.”

We were totally alone as we laid out our bedraggled kept-in-the-trunk-blankets and sat down to observe…uh…whatever we thought was going to happen. When you spontaneously unload seven children out of the van to sit at an airfield, you expect something spectacular. Or at least mildly amusing. I’m sad to inform you that it was neither.

Oh, there were plenty of large jet planes to look at. They just happened to be completely stationary. Unmoving. A grand total of two small planes landed and took off. And if I’m honest, I’m pretty sure it was the exact same plane twice. Nevertheless, the kids waved and yelled and jumped around and clapped their sticky hands, and hollered out their love to the sky. 

Then it happened. 

Because we are a huge (ahem, and loud) group, and because our dear children insist on creating chaotic amounts of fun wherever we go, other people driving by thought something spectacular was happening at the airport. 

And so they pulled over. 

And got out of their cars. 

And walked up the hill and stood eagerly with tripod cameras ready to snap up pictures of something FABULOUS.

Mr. Diaz mumbled “Oh good, we aren’t the only idiots out here.” 

I have to point out that he said this while draped in a blue Aztec patterned towel, which the adults and older children were wearing across their shoulders like shawls because none of us thought to bring coats or jackets. That’s how we roll. We make DO when our spontaneity overrules our common sense.

Several car-loads of expectant onlookers came. 

While our children paraded around laughing and pointing at imaginary flying machines, hopeful observers parked and walked up the hill toward us to watch all the airplanes. “Do you see the emperor’s new clothes?!” they asked one another.

Eventually, someone yelled “The emperor has no clothes!” and half an hour later people clued in that there were NO airplanes either landing or taking off, and with disappointed looks, they sauntered back to their cars with empty cameras and sad hearts. 

As for us, we just kept sitting, (because that’s what you do when you’re old and tired) watching our kids roll down the grassy hills until they smacked face-first into the chain-link fences, and running and jumping and laughing in the fresh air. We stayed until we could safely say all children were exhausted. Then we loaded up the party bus and headed home. 

We brought home all the towels-turned-coats, some memories, and several gnarly grass stains. Thank God for Resolve Stain Remover.

I’m sure we will find ourselves back at the airfield again one day soon. If you ever want to join us, feel free. Just don’t show us up by coming with actual coats. Because if you’re ever in the mood to join our Red-nex-ican ho-down, you’d better arrive as ill-prepared as the rest of us.

I’ll throw several more hideous towels into the back of the van, just for you to wear on such an occasion.

You’re welcome.

Dear Santa, it’s too late to bring us trendy names, so please bring us some allergies.

Dear Santa,

My brother, Uncle Fun, got all the good stuff when we were growing up. He was the one that got the roller-blades, the bunk-bed,  and all the good allergies. Now, I’ll grant you this, food restrictions were simply not cool back in the 80’s, but they’re rip roaring trendy right now and I’m feeling a bit left out.

Not only do none of us have any riveting hipster names, like “Jansen” or “Ryker,” none of us here have any reason to read food labels. Having no food restrictions means we can’t claim, “I’m so sorry Aunt Myrtle, I can’t eat your Figgy Pudding because I’m allergic to figs,” at those horrific family get-togethers that require such atrocious pudding traditions.

You see, Santa, I believe some allergies could improve my friendships. Having severe allergies and near anaphylaxis has resulted in deeper relationships for Uncle Fun. Uncle Fun can tell who really cares about him based on how much epinephrine they store in their emergency kit at their homes, just in case he should happen to visit and accidentally pet a small Scandinavian pony standing in their dining room. By the time he was 25 years old, he had acquired a lineup 50 friends deep that claimed dibs on sticking him with an Epi-pen, should the need arise. Those are true friends right there, Santa, and those are the type of sacrificial relationships that I want too.

I’m only allergic to cats, which is rather boring and isn’t unfortunate enough to make me interesting. I’m just not trendy, and I feel a bit like an outcast. I feel entirely inadequate while meeting with other moms during play-dates or park rendezvous.

Discussing their childrens’ allergies, Amanda turns to Lauren and says “Stella is highly allergic to deep-sea-squid, shellfish, pine nuts, pine cones, pilot whales, airline pilots, bees wax, candle wax, ear wax, vanilla extract, felt, snowmen and anything the color of yellow.”

“I understand,”  Lauren replies “Atlas is allergic to anything containing the word “cheese,” any type of pickled radish, calcium citrate, all herbs, fresh fruit, spring water, toothpaste and anything pre-packaged in plastic.”

“I know what you mean,” Meghan responds, “Finley is solely a peskatarian now, and his father and I are gluten-free-Paleo-vegans.” 

The moms exchange looks of solidarity and I feel completely left out. Then I hand my kids CHEEZ-ITs and they quietly gasp, and exchange horrified glances they don’t think I can see.

My kids have been noticing the difference too. Just last week my seven year old came to me and explained the cake she wanted for her next birthday.

“I don’t want a plain old Betty Crocker cake this time,” she demanded. “I want what everyone else is getting. What I want is a gluten and dairy-free, vegan, non-soy gelatin,  formed into a cake-like shape with carob icing. I want faux gelatto made from organic, hypoallergenic Peruvian goat-milk, from goats raised free-range on a mountainside and fed exclusively with “fair-trade” acorn and hemp-flour pellets.” 

“Are you sure you want that?” I questioned her.

“Yes,” she whined, “I want it exactly like Crispin and Lavender had it, and don’t forget to decorate it with the dancing Narnian wood nymphs.”

So here we are. It appears I’m not the only one from my family trying to blend into mainstream society.

This year I’m asking for a bit of help, Santa. It may be too late to bring us vougish-mod names, but you could at least bring us some fashionable allergies and provide a reason for us to shop exclusively at Whole Foods. An extra Epi-pen or two would be nice for Uncle Fun if you happen to have some lying around somewhere.

Thanks Santa,

Sincerely, Mrs.Diaz and family

P.S. I’ll leave you some soy-free, vegan, hemp chips and a tall glass of coconut milk. I know you’re trying to blend too.

I survived my childhood Thanksgivings, but Red Death still haunts me

Write what you know the old adage goes.

That is good advice, and as I do know a few things, here is where I will write about them. For instance, I know that raisins are an utter disappointment for anyone who was expecting chocolate chips. I know that a budding clarinet player has the unique ability to call down wild geese right out of the sky. And I know that the morning you finally decide to water your dying lawn, it will rain all afternoon and evening, even though it hasn’t rained a drop for an entire three week stretch.

But I also know this:

If a certain type of Thanksgiving Jello-salad has earned itself a nickname, then it’s best to not eat it.

Before I explain this, let me give you some background on my childhood Thanksgivings. Thanksgiving was a huge affair in our family. It wasn’t very often we gathered the extended kinsfolk together. Relatives drove for multiple hours, all to meet up in the elite and affluent neighborhood where my Aunt and Uncle lived.

The entire lot of us arrived in formal attire and invaded their house for the full length of the day. We ate appetizers off silver trays and exotic nuts out of crystal bowls that were strategically placed throughout the house. Adults laughed and sipped Bloody Marys and knocked-back expensive beers while the wine chilled outside in ice buckets.

To this day I cannot smell any beer without thinking of my uncles with their khaki pants and sweater vests, warm smiles and Heineken bottles.

The cousins and I would remove our dress shoes and run and slide down the long wooden hallway in our socks and tights. We girls twirled in our long dresses, while the boys played Foosball and tugged at their ties.

Although blood related, this entire side of the family outclassed us in nearly every sense. It was not uncommon for my aunt to rent linens, silverware and table accessories that might have come directly from Martha Stewart’s own house. Large tables were set up in the “library” and placed atop a dazzling white fur rug. My aunt threatened to cut off our heads if we spilled even a drop of cranberry sauce, so the children sat at the end of the room, further away from the adults and all the interesting conversation.

Not only was the turkey roasted and carved in grand splendor, fancy dishes were passed down the table while soft candlelight flickered in the dim room and our food gleamed on top of our china plates. Everything was delectable. The tables carried every available food accessory down to the last detail; gherkins, olives, butters and giblet gravy, sauces of all kinds, cloth napkins and fresh rolls. Grown ups chatted and laughed and sipped their wine while a fire roared quietly in the lovely brick fireplace behind the table. Cider popped and fizzled from the bottles. Cousins giggled and told jokes. It was enough grandeur for the royal family.

Except for one thing.

Next to each place setting, was a perfectly square piece of jello salad. It was a layer of shiny, thick, translucent gelatin (probably dyed red from the blood of naked mole rats), with a bottom layer of chunky maggot paste and toenails masquerading as whipped cream and nuts. This was all cheerfully served atop a romaine lettuce leaf on a small fine-china plate.

Red Death.

Even the adults called it that and still do.

Year after year the cousins and I sat and wondered who would be the first to cave in and eat the Red Death, in order to be excused from the table and earn dessert. It was a death match. Kids vs the jello salad from Hell. And Hell won each and every time.

One year in particular, a pact was made, as we sat at the end of the kid table, buttering our rolls and pretending we didn’t just smudge Martha’s table linen with cranberry sauce. With quiet whispers we all agreed that nobody would eat the Red Death, no matter what the threat. The parents sitting up yonder, sopping up gravy and knocking back Budweisers, could just deal with the fact that when dinner ended, Red Death would remain next to each of our plates, untouched. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, fools. It was a brilliant plan and we soared through the first rounds of competition with ease.

Time passed and eventually we were outwitted by my Aunt, who shrewdly and loudly announced “I’ll pay $5 to anyone who eats their enire jello salad.”

My brother (Uncle Fun) and I exchanged solemn looks. Was she serious? Five whole dollars just for a brief encounter with the Red Death? Now there’s a deal. After all, we only had to eat it once a year. Being that Uncle Fun and I were broke, rednecky children, anytime cold hard cash was offered for something as mediocre as food bribery, we were sure to take it.

So we caved.

On that cold dark Thanksgiving night, as candles flickered and sparkling cider gleamed in our goblets; as we endured jaw-dropping glares from our fellow comrades, we broke the unified resolve in the war against poison. Bite by bite, with the last shreds of our dignity and determination fading, we solemnly collected that money with outstretched hands and upset stomachs.

There are fond memories that spring to my mind as I think back to my childhood, especially after flipping through old family photographs that have been worn around the corners and grayed over the decades; the family photos that were taken in front of my aunt’s fireplace as we stood in 1980’s formal wear. To this day I want to breathe into a bag when I look back at how horrifically my bangs were cut and how I wore a plaid pleated skirt with a red sweater covered in 100 white sheep, and one black one. We stood together and smiled while a friendly uncle snapped multiple photographs for our album.

I know a few things. 

I know I will never cut my daughters’ bangs myself. I know cannot possibly duplicate the giblet gravy, because I’m convinced even the cooks themselves didn’t fully realize what went in there. And I know I will never be able to replicate the elegance and splendor that Thanksgiving brought each and every year.

And I know this:

Thanksgiving runs just fine without serving jello salad.

 

 

 

Swim-goggles and Ork bodies; The truth about the pumpkin patch

Over the years our family has trekked out to various farms and pumpkin-picking locations, but no matter where we go, the basic experience remains the same. If you’ve never hauled your brood off to a farm for family bonding let me explain what fun you’ve been missing. Ready? It will go something like this:

Your young child will wake you up before a sliver of daylight has appeared in the sky. He has figured out that it’s Pumpkin Patch Day.

It’s your fault he knows this, because you have the day circled in red pen on your calendar. Forget the fact that your cherub can’t even read, or that you wrote on the calendar using indecipherable Enigma Code, which required the best military minds of WWII to crack.

You thought writing on the calendar in code would be clever. Nah.

Your 3 year old will crack that code in a nanosecond, knock back whipped cream straight from the can and do a ninja dance on top of your oven. Naked. Then he’ll parade through the house waking up every single sibling shouting  “We’re going to the pumpkin patch todaaaaaay!” Every child can understand this announcement with perfect clarity although your tot can barely speak English.

Now you’re up at the crack of dawn, whether you like it or not. You give each child explicit instructions on how to dress and point them to where their pre-assembled outfits hang freshly pressed and labeled with their name. Socks, underwear, pants, shirt, sweater, shoes and coat. You’ve aimed for clothing colors that are coordinated, in hope of that ONE magical photo that you can use on a Christmas card to send to your ungrateful relatives who don’t even like you.

Despite your simple, direct instructions and well-thought preparations, be assured that one kid will come down in a Cinderella ballgown, pink rubber gloves, swim goggles and a tiara. You have a better chance of field-dressing a Sasquatch than getting that perfect and illusive family photo. The sooner you accept this, the better. Chug some coffee and get over it.

Into the van go three different name-brand baby carriers and a sling. For the baby you load a puffy orange pumpkin costume because your unrealistically optimistic mind can’t let go of a “Baby’s First Autumn” photo to place on your mantle so your Thanksgiving dinner guests can ooh-and-aah while choking down their yams. Also into the van go 8 old towels and 10 plastic garbage bags, because you learned from last year.

Outside it’s dark. It’s dumping buckets of rain, and the air is colder than Jack Frost’s snot. Everyone is bundled in attire perfect for skiing and yet you know by the time you arrive at the pumpkin farm everyone will be sweating in sunny 85 degree weather. The sweat will make them itchy and miserable, so you load 14 more shirt combinations to accommodate various weather outcomes, just in case. Everything is color coordinated, of course, except for your daughter’s light blue Cinderella ballgown and swim goggles. You’re basically screwed with that one. It’s best to load everyone in and move on.

Upon your late arrival to the farm, the kids will pour out and immediately want to run 13 different directions at the exact same moment. Force everyone to freeze and choose your optimum baby-wearing device. Now’s not the time to lose your wits. Keep it together, man.

Steer your brood into the line for the next hayride out to the Pumpkin Field. Dad will go into the barn-turned-produce-stand-and-farm-boutique and buy tickets to the corn maze because it sounds so fun at the time. The little kids spot a distant tractor that pulls miniature train cars painted like drunk cows and want a ride. You have to convince them that the time will come and that first they need to pick out their pumpkins.

Nobody gives a crud about pumpkins anymore because they are doped up on dreams of riding the tractor-cow-train and getting high off the smell of kettle corn, which is layered between the odors of wet hay and cow dung. Ignore their whining and point out the hay wagon that’s coming in your direction. It’s their turn to pick out pumpkins down in the field across the way.

Wait.

Is that a field? It looks like the stinking marshes that Hobbits trek through on the way to Mordor.

At a distance, you notice the “field” is covered in thick mud and shimmering with water from the morning rainfall. See those orange specks bobbing up and down…way…over…there…? Those are your pumpkins. Betcha didn’t know pumpkins can swim. That kid with the swim goggles on? Way smarter than you are. Apparently she learned from last year too.

Load into the hay wagon and hang on for dear life. You don’t want to know the details about this ride, so I’m leaving them out.

After exiting, one of the small kids will spot a Honey-Bucket nearby and become entirely obsessed with needing to pee. This will be a totally new experience and they will not leave you alone until they have peed while standing in a portable blue sardine can. Ironically, this will be the same child who is ENTIRELY UNMOTIVATED to use the toilet at home, for any reason.

Join the rest of the family and prepare to make the best memories ever. Choosing everyone’s pumpkins will be slightly uneventful…Unless you count the 80 minutes it takes to wade past all the dead Ork bodies in the stinking marshes and the wheelbarrow that won’t quite float or move no matter how strong Dad is. Not to mention the three kids who have slipped and fallen face-first into the mud, or the 4 year old who wants a different pumpkin about every 6 minutes. *REMINDER: Don’t leave all your ski coats out here in the field. You will have several of them laying in the mud at this point and you’ll need to carry them all from this point on. After all, it’s 85 degrees now.*

Pay the $139.76 for the pumpkins and head into the corn maze. Because it is incredibly fun dragging muddy, wet children and toddlers down a smelly path lined with rows and rows of dead corn stalks, for about an hour. Or is it three days? Nobody knows. Hopefully you can get everyone back out before the vultures circle.

Now that the baby is screaming, try and breastfeed holding her with one arm while simultaneously holding onto a Flop Tantruming preschooler who refuses to walk and is sitting criss-cross-applesauce in a puddle. Don’t be shy. Go ahead and nurse while leaning over and trying to yank him back up. I’m sure Google Earth won’t be photographing this day.

After emerging from the corn maze, it will be time for the tractor-cow-train, which is what your young children have really wanted all along. You never can tell how a small person will cope with sitting inside a barrel that’s being towed behind a John Deere tractor driven by a fat man in overalls. If your kiddies start screaming and crying as they go zooming past you, just smile and wave and pretend you don’t hear them. After all, you paid $11 bucks a piece to have this experience, so let them live it and love it. If they vomit, just pretend it was already there when they got in.

You spot a perfect photo op, so line up the muddy, dazed, motion-sick kids and force them to stick their faces into wooden cut-outs of sheep, cows, Indians and pilgrims. It’s nearly a perfect picture, except for the one screaming and foaming at the mouth. Never mind. You can scratch this from your Instagram album.

Last stop is at the barn-turned-produce-stand-and-farm-boutique, where you spend $85 on a home baked apple pie and a jar of apple butter. Control your impulses here because it’s very tempting to go overboard. Like on those LEAVES that are being labeled and sold as festive seasonal decor. Take it from me; don’t spend your money on yard waste. You’ll need that money later to buy wine.

Don’t even consider buying that charming, hand-sewn, red apron that says ‘I Love Autumn’ because it will cost you a kidney, and you need both kidneys to process all the wine you’re about to drink when you get home.

Dad will lay down towels and load the pumpkins into the van. Chilled and muddy kids will begin stripping off their pants in preparation to sit on plastic garbage bags in their seats. Despite all the extra shirts and all the previous years of experiences, you still made a classic blunder and forgot to pack extra pants. Don’t panic. Towels are perfect makeshift skirts. Load everyone in, buckle up, pull up Yanni on Pandora and try to lull the little cherubs to sleep with soft instrumentals and a snack.

Distribute kettle corn onto paper napkins on everyone’s lap and try not to think about the fact that your kids are consuming lap-food with no pants on. Haul everyone home, wake them all up and carry them off to baths and bed.

Next time you see a family of Jack’O’ lanterns gracing the porches of your neighborhood, pause and have a moment of silence for all they went through to get them…unless they cheated, and bought pumpkins at the local Walmart.

The Pumpkin Patch is the perfect place to experience memory-making adventures. Plus it gives you extra reasons to buy a truck-load of dark chocolate and wine; not to mention giving your children plenty of stories to tell their grandchildren. Or their therapists.