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.

 

 

 

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To the complete and total strangers at Costco:

Dear complete and total strangers at Costco,

I know you watched as we navigated our vehicle into the crowded parking lot.  You stood in awe as we wedged our trendy 15 passenger mega-van into a parking space between a 2 door Miata and a very roomy shoe box- on-wheels deemed a Smart Car. You saw us attempt to unload our family with as much class, decorum and organization as we could humanly muster… and 23 minutes later file toward Costco with our seven *progeny and three carts for our weekly shopping trip.

I can only imagine your thoughts as one wailing child donned an open-toed sandal on his right foot and a rubber boot covered in duct tape on the left. You correctly saw that a second child was wearing pajama pants that are at least three sizes too short, paired with a faded Thomas The Train pajama shirt, because he refuses to dress with his eyes open.

I’ve given up.

Our  toddler sported an ensemble perfect for an afternoon on a yacht.  Another youngster was flawlessly dressed for a cold afternoon at a ski resort.  The child sitting in the cart wailing was doing so, not because he hates shopping at Costco; on the contrary. He was wailing because we don’t let him shop at Costco naked.

You stared at our mobile carnival with a slight measure of horror and partly out of bewilderment. “Why on earth do they have SEVEN children?” you asked yourself. Now, I’d like to pause here and take the time to point out that the number 7 is really not that large. If I had told you that I owned seven goldfish, you might have curiously asked if I had other pets as well. If I had told you that I owned seven pairs of shoes, you might have shrugged and looked bored. If I had told you that I had seven dollars, you may have found my financial status tremendously lacking. But, observing that I have seven children seemed to invoke the same amount of shock as if I had asked you to lasso a bald eagle and eat it with your feet.

After making it past the Costco entrance bouncer, we maneuvered our troupe through various onlookers in order to fill up the carts and consume every available food sample.

It must have horrified you as you watched a tall, lanky teenager in poorly made cut-offs and a Seahawks jersey scoop up 14 paper samples of microwaveable beef wellington, down them in 3 bites and then reach for more. You see, this kid is the reason we shop at Costco in the first place. I can credit him for the reason we upgraded to the EXECUTIVE Membership after a checker said to me “Mrs. Diaz, our records indicate that you spend more at Costco than the average family.”  I’ll bet. At our house he is known as The Very Hungry Teenager. This kid can eat an entire meal, then want 2 sandwiches, 3 large carrots, a slice of watermelon, 4 mini bagels with cream cheese, a bowl of cereal topped with a fried egg, 6 pickles and a cookie, then look at everyone at the table and ask with a straight face “Are you going to finish that?”  

So you see? We are bound to the Costco warehouse establishment like an airborne rock is bound to the laws of gravity. We practically live at Costco and have made a habit of noticing reactions to our family from fellow patrons who are pushing their carts overloaded with frozen burritos, cheesy-poofs, vats of mayonnaise, candy bars  and weight-loss supplements.

Since discussing my fertility with complete and total strangers in the cheese aisle is what I LIVE for, I was more than happy to respond to your impertinent curiosity.

In fact, fellow club members, I  have loved answering your varied questions so much, that I’ve compiled a list for you to refer to in case you happen to encounter us again and so others who remain unaware can be ready for us with NEW questions next time around. Ready? Here we go.

Q: Cute baby. Is she your last?
A: This year, yes.

Q: Why do you have so many kids?
A: Because it will increase our odds of ending up in a good nursing home.

Q: Do all of your kids have the same dad?
A: Uh…so far….

Q: What is your food bill like each month?
A: How much is your mortgage?

Q: How will you ever pay for all of their college tuition?
A: Well bless your heart for taking a look at us collectively and still believing my kids could qualify for entrance into any institution that isn’t traveling with trained animals, acrobats and clowns.

Q: Does it get pretty loud at your house?
A. Didn’t catch that. What did you say?

Q: Are you trying to be like that other family? The one on TV with the nineteen kids?
A: Oh yeah, baby. Because the number 7 is just.so.close. to the number 19. Heck, I’m almost there.

Q: Why is that one taking his clothes off?
A: Don’t worry about him. He’ll stop undressing when he realizes we’re buying mustard.

There now. I hope that satisfied some of your curiosity.

Looking back, I’m sure you have subconsciously blocked out the savagery of what you saw in our check-out lane. Let’s just say it involved a twirling sister, a sprawling brother, escaped oranges, a Flop Tantrum, and a flying churro. After St. Peter (the receipt angel and exit-guardian), gave us his nod of approval to move on out, we trekked the circus back to the van and headed home. Much to your relief and silent applause, I’m sure.

That leaves me here, sipping coffee and recollecting another Costco adventure that I look forward to each and every week.

You are always welcome to join us on our next shopping trip, of course. We like new friends. I’ll even put you to work pushing a cart. But you’ll have to swear upon chocolate milk that you won’t show us up by dressing like normal people do.

Which means you’ll need to be wearing attire suitable for a day on a yacht. Or a slumber party.

Or a ski resort.

-Sincerely Yours, Mrs. Diaz

*the word progeny (paragraph 1), in this instance refers to 7 quirky, bedraggled, colorful and unconventional offspring slightly resembling a funeral parade for fellow Big-Top performers. Mr. Diaz has informed me that the word progeny is far too sophisticated for this blog and I have to agree with him and therefore apologize.

 

*This post has been featured on Scary Mommy
*This post has been featured on For Every Mom

 

 

Poop-Skittles and mustard shots

Now seems like as good a time as any to introduce you to my three-and-a-half year old, Humdinger. He adds quite a lot of spunk (and copious amounts of pee) to our house and I will try to paint an accurate word picture to portray his personality.  Humdinger is aptly named because the right words to correctly explain him do not exist. He’s cute. He’s indescribable.

He’s naked.

Mutiple times a day I hear myself vocalizing utterly ridiculous phrases to this kid such as:

“It’s not polite to eat lunch naked,”

“You may not get into the wagon when you have no clothes on,”

“No, the mailman is not naked too,”

“You do NOT want to go feed the chickens without underpants on. TRUST me,” or

“It’s not okay to squat and shake yourself. In the kitchen.” 

For whatever reason, the kid is well-nigh a nudist. Which is unacceptable. Because I’m not sure he’s all that great at wiping.

This little corker is always doing crazy things. Recently I came downstairs from feeding Squidgy and I heard Mr. Diaz call out to me “Hey, come watch this.”  So I walked into the kitchen and saw Humdinger standing atop a tall empty Costco-sized salsa container, covered in sink bubbles and doing shots of yellow mustard. Yes.

Eating it.

Naked.

Who knocks back mustard-shots while naked? And isn’t roaring drunk?

Humdinger does.

Mr. Diaz was squirting it directly into his mouth from the bottle. And Humdinger loved it. Heck, I wish he liked clothing as much as he seems to adore yellow mustard.

Humdinger is also at the tail end of toilet training. This has taken an unusually long time. After endless months of rewards, charts, clapping, discipline, cheering, begging and whining (that was me) and an endless supply of skittles, he is finally not pooping his pants.

“WHAT pants?” You’re asking, “I thought he doesn’t wear pants.” 

Exactly.

The road I’ve traveled to get this kid on the pot has been long and rough and paved with Skittles. Then the unthinkable happened. The cow dried up and the skittles ran out.  In order not to rock the world Humdinger lives in after the progress we made (because that gets ugly), we reluctantly resorted to offering the only candy we had in the house that was leftover piñata bounty from a recent company picnic. NOW every time he poops, instead of two skittles, he’s getting two good-sized chocolate coins. Humdinger has brilliantly figured out that if he eeks out the tiniest remnant of poop possible, he’ll get two chocolates. Less than an hour later he creates a few more nuggets and gets even more candy. He’s currently gorking down 8 pieces of candy before breakfast, and I’m getting played.

I can well imagine that look in your eye. No doubt you’re thoroughly impressed by my wicked awesome parenting skills right now. What can I say? I have been manipulated by a 3-year-old nudist who has a hankering for chocolate and yellow mustard.

I love this moppet. Our lives would be rather dull without his crazy shenanigans. At night I sneak into his room, see his tiny unclad body, and I tiptoe to his bedside and whisper into his ear “I love you. You are original. There’s no one like you. You’re my very favorite child.”

And you know what?

It’s totally true.