It isn't often that an event lives up to the Cinderella anticipation surrounding it. Take New Year's Eve, for example—an occasion to which orbital expectations are pinned. Inevitably, someone gets dumped before midnight, breaks a heel, becomes mascara-smeared belligerent and pukes in the cab on her way home. Other someones get to negotiate with, hold the hair of, and pick up the tab for damages created by the puker, and both parties generally enter into fickle resolutions of Never Again. If you've experienced any variation of this theme, you've had a small taste of parenting a toddler, which is precisely like caring for a drunken friend, a perpetually drunken and unpredictable companion complete with flailing limbs and nonsensical outbursts. It stands to reason, then, that New Year's Eve-type situations are in abundance.Too often, the parent—in this story, me—gets crazy notions about how life should go and then attempts to force the non-forceable. With Ruby getting old enough to comprehend more information, I've pushed to create some traditions for her to dread—er, cherish as she grows. And what better time to instate a family ritual than the procurement of pumpkins for Halloween?Of course, I pooh-poohed the local strip-mall pumpkin patch, which seems to transform from inflatable playground to gourd fest to tree farm in the dark of night. After purchasing a Christmas tree at Home Depot last year, I refused to Califortify myself ever again in this manner. No, I had my sights set on a far more authentic locale for this pagan holiday and announced months ago that this Halloween, we would make the first of what was certain to become an annual pilgrimage to Bates Nut Farm. I could picture it clearly. Sam and I and our close friends would take our daughters to experience one of the innocent joys of childhood: Our girls would gallop amongst pumpkins in the golden light of autumn, frolic together between rows of acorn squash and corn stalks and gleefully select the perfect jack-o-lanterns-to-be. Ah, the photos I would take of the first pony ride, of little outstretched arms feeding placid goats, of the happy darlings arm-in-arm on hay bales. I would sip apple cider with my mister, and together we'd blink back tears at the profundity of the moment. Yes, it would epitomize the happy fam—insert needle being dragged across a record right here!Because this is the thing: Life ain't no Pottery Barn catalog.Our day at what we've come to call Nate's Butt Farm was straight out of the 101 Reasons to Live a Childfree Life manual. We arrived to an unpaved parking lot filled with monster trucks and Hummers. The sun was out, but the winds were unbearable, choking us with debris and dirt and dust and hay and, when it shifted just so, the pungent scent of human fecal matter emanating from the unending rows of port-o-potties. As we approached what appeared to be a bouncy house—a bouncy house!? We drove to the country to find a bouncy house?—the strip mall suddenly seemed the more organic option.
Determined to jam the pieces of this memory-in-the-making puzzle together, we pressed against the wind, fought our way past the taco and hot dog and snow cone stands to the general store. Once there, we pushed through crowds huddled in clumps around barrels of candy and tried not to get separated from our friends. We lost them as they tailed their wide-eyed babes and as we wrestled Ruby away from the salt-water taffy barrel to which she was clinging.We endured The World's Slowest Checkout Line while our child dribbled gray taffy goo down her chin and then demanded 'More! Candy!' We found our friends with their well-behaved children and forged on to feed the lone goat that didn't even pretend to acknowledge our tempestuous, attention-seeking toddler. I ended the goat session by pulling Ruby at the waist as she white-knuckled the chain-link fence, and wailed protestations of 'Gooaat! Noooooooooo! Goooooooaaaat!'Having peeled my own public spectacle from the fence à la Sophie's Choice, she thrashed manically in my arms, kicked my thighs and pummeled my face until I finally tossed her in the general direction of her father. The wind was at my back and made for a relatively easy catch on his part. She continued to express her displeasure despite his kind explanations of how we'd gone out of our way to provide her with this wondrous experience and blahdeeblah. Then. She saw. The Horsies. 'See the horsies?' Sam asked hopefully.The rational sober person would expect things to get better at this point, right? I certainly did. But-score one for the 27-pound inebriate-parents lose again.
'Hooooooorrrrrsiiiiiiieeee!' Her wails continued despite being allowed to pet the goddamned animal on its nose while screeching in its face. And they continued as we hurriedly picked out six puny pumpkins, small enough to carry in our arms alongside the contorted monster. And they continued, still, as we stood in the World's Second Slowest Checkout Line to pay for my self-delusion. On our way back to the car, Ruby collapsed to the ground on all fours, threw her head back and sobbed for the horsie or the goat or the taffy or some other object-de-moment that I could not discern through the snorts, coughs, gags and subsequent vomiting. I was not about to hold her hair. I was over it.It was during this dramatic performance that I overheard some passerby say, 'That poor thing! Where are her parents?' Which happens a lot when Ruby wanders a distance away from us, and usually it irks me. But not this time. This time, I thought to myself, 'Indeed, where are those mean parents?' And I kept right on walking toward the car, no longer wishing to be affiliated with that poor, deprived child. Sam escorted our raging tot with his free arm and buckled her into her car seat. We offered resigned goodbyes to our companions and took the last of our punishment from the relentless wind while carelessly tossing all of our crap in the trunk. As we passed a mile-long line of trucks eagerly waiting to get in on the mission we'd abruptly aborted, Sam turned to me and said, 'Nate's Butt Farm: Check it off the list!' Then we resolved, steadfastly: Never Ever Again.