Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Tale of Surly Hollow

I had sick children home last week. Fevers that turned into coughs, coughs that made me wonder if it was swine flu. (I'm already tired of worrying about this year's flu season and it's only October.) Luckily the fevers never got that high and the croupy coughs were the only residual sign of illness. Nevertheless, Elizabeth and Will spent several days home from school, and Elizabeth (my five year old kindergartner) was very worried she wouldn't be well enough for the annual daddy-daughter campout on Friday. Thankfully, she was well enough just in the nick of time.

Despite his fastidious preparations, my wannabe-die-hard-ultra-light-backpacker husband forgot one important item for the campout that night: the tent. Being the resourceful Eagle Scout that he is, he went to the campground store and bought a box of heavy duty trash bags which he cut and taped into a tarp for he and our two older daughters to sleep on under the stars that night at the beach in Malibu. (Very backpackerish - I think subconsciously he did it on purpose.)

Dad and said daughters got home around 1pm the next day after a late night, lots of smores, early morning, lots of pastries, and goofing around at the beach. When he told me all the details I wondered if Elizabeth wasn't going to be too worn out for that night's highly anticipated family outing of the season: Sleepy Hollow dinner and program at Riley's Farm. I say highly anticipated because I first caught wind of this event last year and have been looking forward to it ever since. I hadn't put together the two big activities (campout and Riley's) being on the same weekend until I had already purchased the tickets for Riley's. It was a little much. I was glad when Elizabeth fell asleep on the two hour drive there and hoped it would be enough to make up for the lost sleep of the night before.

We arrived at Riley's just in time to catch a hayride around the farm before dinner. The evening would be just like I had envisioned for so many months: all of us together enjoying a fun and festive evening in the country with good food, games, dancing and a spooky program. What could be more "family friendly"? Surely this was one of those activities that all of our children could enjoy.

Right after the hay ride we got our seats in the 1880's barn for dinner and the program. There were several long tables running through the barn with people sitting pretty close to each other. That had me a little worried. The kids weren't interested in the folksy little family band providing entertainment, so they played happily with the the farm dogs outside while waiting for dinner to begin. That was okay, I thought, they had been sitting in the car for a long time after all. But then dinner began.

I will leave the details of our family dinner to your imagination. Brandon and I took turns standing in line for heaping plates of super messy BBQ, beans, corn on the cob, etc. and then took turns holding Rachael on our laps and passing her back and forth across the table while occasionally shoving mouthfuls of food into our faces. Nary a highchair to be found. The highlight for me was when I had Rachael in one arm on my lap trying to keep her from making too big of a mess while frantically searching in my purse with the other hand for one of those little packets of wet ones. I pulled out a mini pad instead. (So glad my neighbor was a woman!) Dinner aside, things started to really break down for Elizabeth when the games began.

Now I have thought long and hard about some of the challenges that come with a group of four children ages 2-12. What, for instance, does a family do for fun when you have both a toddler and a preteen? The next stage is possibly tougher: preschooler and teenager. You can't take them all to a children's museum. (Too babyish for the teen.) Lasar tag? (Not happening for the younger ones.) While there are many things that are fun for all ages, I know the next few years may prove challenging at times when certain activities just aren't well suited for some of the children in our family. Despite what I had expected, this was one of those times.

The first activity planned was dancing. Colonial Hoedown kind of dancing. This was not easy for Elizabeth to pick up and the crying began. Dad was chasing Rachael around outside at this point so I was trying to dance with Will (who was having a great time) while simultaneously appease Elizabeth (who was NOT having a great time). Next was apple bobbing. This version required three people. One to hold the apple attached to the string, and two to eat the apple with their hands behind their backs. Still utilizing the "divide and conquer" method, Brandon was outside carving a pumpkin with Kate and Rachael so I held the string while Elizabeth and Will got ready to munch. The poor child couldn't even get her teeth into the skin of the apple! And that was the straw that broke the over tired, over stimulated camel's back.

And that's when my behavior went bad.

I took her outside and told her to stop crying because she was ruining everyone else's fun. (Ahem, my fun.) Can you believe that?! I sounded like one of those moms I sniff at! Brandon said I needed to give her a break because she was probably tired and still not feeling that good and I immediately knew he was right. Now my evening had really and truly gone to pot. Brandon kindly took the two younger children to the van (he was getting tired of the hassle amid the crowds anyway) and I mildly enjoyed the third act of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with Kate and Will. It ended with everyone going outside to watch Ichabod walk home and the headless horseman come tearing down the lane on a large horse, flaming pumpkin and all! I knew I should be enjoying myself more now that the little ones were "out of my hair" so to speak, but I felt so badly about making poor Elizabeth feel even worse than she already did that I lost all my enthusiasm. I was tired too.

The next morning I had a nice long talk with Elizabeth about how even grown ups make mistakes. I apologized, hugged and kissed her until I felt better. (Of course, being a child, she was over it long before I was. Another topic entirely!)

Isn't it funny how we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over again? Forcing children to have fun and be happy when they didn't even ask for whatever you're shoving down their throat is never a good idea. And having certain expectations (especially high ones) for how something is going to turn out when there are small children in the mix is one of the ultimate no-no's of parenting that I thought I had learned long, long ago. Apparently not.

The moral of this story?

Minimum age for dinner programs: 8.

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