I make a concerted effort to plan fun family “adventures” on our days off when my husband is home and the kids are free from the scheduled weekdays of my preschooler’s many therapies and school. It feels like I could waste so much time day to day and week to week, getting lost in tasks that barely make a dent in the housework and ever growing to-do list and letting the kids lose themselves in tablets and Netflix and never get out there and make our coveted memories. The ones that are all bright and shiny and post-worthy on social media.
We had been planning to take the kids to the local pumpkin patch the last couple weeks but plans had been derailed due to one illness and then another. We’d finally settled on Sunday to make the drive to Bates Nut Farm and planned to get there shortly after the place opened and hopefully leave around Willow’s nap time. I wasn’t naive enough to think we would have the time or the attention span to do all the attractions but surely we could get through the hay ride, face painting, and maybe the corn maze or pony rides while the kids were happy and cooperative enough to go along with a schedule. I expected once we got through three or four of the proffered family friendly activities we would need to pump the brakes, get the kids some food, make a mad dash through the patch to grab some pumpkins and then high tail it the hour car ride home. If I was lucky, we could spend the rest of the day posting cute pumpkin patch pictures on my Facebook page and recovering from our efforts.
At least that was the plan I had concocted in my head. In the attraction of making golden family memories, I sometimes forget that these outings are very often more work on my part as a parent than the amount of fun had by the entire family put together at the event itself. But that never stops me from planning them because I just can’t help myself.
The effort alone in getting a two-year-old and a four-year-old ready for the car can be daunting. Both kids need to be changed and dressed, about forty reminders to eat their breakfast (we call them “bite breaks”) while they are playing and watching their morning cartoons, teeth need to be brushed (and since they seem to like to take turns running from their toothbrush every day this is how I get all my steps in), and hair needs to be de-matted and brushed through all while our small children are screaming (Nooo! My hair! Don’t touch me! I don’t like water on me!). After about an hour of this nonsense, during which I’m filling a Costco cooler with enough snacks, diapers, and wipes to get through two hours of family fun it’s finally time to leave. Then Matt and I realize that neither of us has actually eaten anything or finished coffee. That means an extra ten minutes of throwing drinkable yogurt and granola bars in our bag and finding travel mugs to bring what’s left in the coffee pot for the car ride.
So finally after an hour and a half of this nonsense we’re on the road and I realize we haven’t packed juice boxes or blankets for the ride home making the eventual needed bribery options limited but we will have to make do with the bare minimum I suppose: Lunchables and Skittles (which are actually my bribery for adulting but I make sacrifices in the name of weekend outings). Once we arrive at the actual farm, I realize I’ve made another error in judgement. Assuming the dust and hay against bare skin would send Olive into a sensory turmoil (although she doesn’t have a lot of sensory issues, I always seem to misjudge what environmental triggers will or won’t be an issue), I dressed both girls in stretch pants and a halloween t-shirt. Unfortunately, although it was 75 degrees when we left, it was 90 degrees on the farm and we were all hot within ten minutes of getting there. Add this to the fact that the parking lot was already half full when we arrived (meaning lines would be longer and the kids would get overwhelmed more quickly from the crowds alone) and I knew we would have to readjust our expectations in terms of what we were going to be able to do at the farm.
The first family fun activity we had to check off our list was a pit stop at the porta potties. The bathroom was both badly needed and would be super frustrating but I found out after taking Olive inside the box of ill repute that she was terrified of portable toilets. She took one look down the portal of poop and started screaming as if her life depended on it, bashing into the plastic walls, and eventually managed to claw the door open (thank goodness we were both fully clothed at this point) and made a mad dash out of there with me chasing after her (and I really needed the damn bathroom at that point if I’m going to be honest). I can only imagine what my fellow pumpkin patch goers thought of this spectacle as I was in hot pursuit of a screaming toddler making a mad dash out of a literal hot box.
Thank goodness we had remembered the training potty in the car and we eventually were able to check off this first family fun activity (the only one that was free of charge by the way). Next we found the line for the ticket booth (which was a requirement for all activities, including purchasing pumpkins) and waited in an exorbitantly long line so we could buy enough tickets for the privilege to wait in all the other long lines to actually participate in any of the available activities (pony rides, hay ride, horse drawn carriage, corn maze, henna tattoos, face painting, balloons, bounce house, bounce slide). This was also the only line that both of my children were able to wait patiently for.
We decided that the best plan of attack was to start with the hay ride while the kids’ patience was most likely to hold out since it had the longest line. Unfortunately, Willow had used all of hers up in the wait to get the tickets and decided that she was done waiting for the day. My best efforts to get her to stop screaming and crying (snacks, water bottle, walking around the farm while daddy and Olive stayed in line) only seemed to silence her frustration momentarily and by the time we were headed to the front of the loading bay area I knew the likelihood of her not ruining the entire wagon’s experience with her banshee shrieking and violent flailing was at about zero percent so I abandoned the hope of actually experiencing a hay ride with my two smiling happy children (I still haven’t been on a hayride since college when there were actually zero children and copious amounts of rum).
I carried Willow kicking and screaming at extremely loud decibels to the shade of a nearby tree and waited out the tantrum, until she was tired of screaming and we were both covered in dirt and essentially looked like we belonged there. This seems like as good of a time as any to impart this kernel of wisdom: if you see a mother struggling with a screaming toddler trying to high tail it out of the immediate vicinity, don’t take this opportunity to stare, gawk, make snarky comments and asides to your friend, or otherwise pass judgement or humor on their predicament. Because I SEE you and just because my hands are full does not mean I’m not silently cussing you out, laying a curse on your next of kin, and judging you harshly and silently for being a monumental douche canoe.
Once Willow had cooled her jets and was at the level of “sniffling and sad,” I pointed out to her that there was a lemonade vendor and if she could wait patiently and quietly in line with me (that was only two people deep), I would buy her a lemonade while we waited for daddy and Olive to finish their ride. Although it took two attempts to get in line, because Willow decided yet again that lines weren’t worth her precious time (at which point the line was five people deep). I did eventually get her a lemonade which she held onto for dear life for the remainder of the visit and refused to share with any one.
Once Matt and Olive met up with us Olive decided she was ready to have her face painted. We braved the line for about twenty minutes before Olive announced she absolutely did not want her face painted. She wanted to go on the pony rides, except the line for the pony rides was a good fifteen people deep and we knew the likelihood of Willow making it through both a line and sitting still long enough to enjoy a pony ride was minuscule so I kindly suggested to Olive that we go through the corn maze and then come back for the ponies. Luckily, she was at least minimally flexible to the idea and we headed for corn hell.
We weren’t in the maze for more than five minutes before the actual meltdown started. I don’t know if it was because she was entirely closed off by bales of hay in 95 degree weather (OK – I admit, not the most sensory friendly environment) or because she was still bent out of shape over having to forgo ponies, but Olive started getting pouty and closed off, stopped following us or responding to prompts, and then basically picked one corner of the maze to shut down. I tried to wait it out for a few minutes and I employed all the tactics we’ve learned from ABA (deep breaths, counting to ten, offering alternatives, setting a timer for a break, etc.) but nothing was making her budge and it eventually evolved into a crying hysterics that there would be no coming back from (At one point I began to wonder if she was turning into one of the actual towheaded children from Children of the Corn). At that point, it was time to throw in the towel and call in an end to our fun family outing. We made a mad dash through the pumpkin field and let each kid pick out a pumpkin (which almost became a second toddler crisis when Willow discovered much to her dismay that she couldn’t physically carry her pumpkin).
And then we all shuffled back to the car and headed back home to lick our proverbial wounds. In that moment, I broke down myself for a few minutes and cried (quietly too myself). We had driven over an hour to get there and stayed for an hour and fifteen minutes and had another hour drive home. The amount of planning and effort that goes into an outing like this between getting the kids ready and the car packed and making sure the kids behave and are safe and then getting them back home is exhausting, even when the day goes well. I’m not saying it didn’t go well but for the amount of moments we had that looked like this:
There were five times as many moments that went like this:
Once I was done throwing myself a pity party, I gently reminded myself that I knew what my kids’ limitations were when it comes to lines, crowds, outings, sensory stimulation, and attention span and I decided to make this outing worth pushing their limits in 95 degree weather, no less. One day they may be able to come to the pumpkin patch and stay for three or four hours, enjoy every single activity and gorge themselves on fair food, but this was not that day. If I was going to take them places outside their comfort zone then I was also going to need to embrace the chaos that comes along with it. And even though the memories that are seared into my brain from this day will probably be unbearable heat, screaming, crying, and porta potties, I’m hoping what my kids will remember will be pumpkins, hayrides, and lemonade.