Halloween and Allergies

I’m a huge fan of Halloween.

It’s kind of strange, and almost hypocritical.  I really don’t care for the actual holiday, as there is some really bad stuff that goes on during that holiday.

On the other hand… it’s a holiday in autumn, which is kind of my favorite time of the year.    There are pumpkins, and decorations in reds, and yellows, and oranges, which are my favorite colors.  The air is crisp, and has a hint of winter in it.  (Well, actually, it doesn’t.  I live in Southern California, so the air has a hint of 70-72 degree weather in it, instead of 72-74 degree weather.  I just buy a Pumpkin Spice latte, put on a sweater, sweat slightly and pretend the air feels cool and seasonal.) 

It’s a holiday that revolves around dressing up in silly costumes, which is kind of one of my favorite things to do.  I like silly costumes, even if I’m not terribly creative.  I usually wear a great big Lion-From-the-Wizard-of-Oz costume. When I’m not feeling fat I throw on my chaps over my jeans and boots and go as a cowgirl. One year I went dressed up as Octomom.  Another year I went as a cow.

In exchange for celebrating a holiday in autumn and getting to dress up in silly costumes, people give you candy.  Why?

Because it’s a holiday.  In autumn.  And you’re wearing a costume.

It’s like a great, big, happy circle of sugar-laden happiness.  Halloween makes me happy.

This is why it makes me sad that the DragonMonkey can’t participate in Halloween.

The DragonMonkey is allergic to gluten.

The DragonMonkey is allergic to dairy.

The DragonMonkey is allergic to all food dyes.

If you can find me a tasty candy that has no gluten, dairy or food dyes in it, I’m all ears.

Even if there is a good candy out there that meets the criteria, I seriously doubt the houses in our neighborhood will be giving it out.  They’d probably get egged if they tried.

I’ve thought of dragging him with me from door to door to get the candy, but it just feels kind of mean.  “Happy Halloween, DragonMonkey!  Look at all the yummy candy!  Now give it all to me.  You can’t have any.  Go eat an apple.”

See what I mean?  I love the idea of trick-or-treating with my son, but it just seems cruel. 

This why I was absolutely THRILLED when Sensitive Sweets  offered a solution to my dilemma.

Sensitive Sweets is a new bakery that opened up down the street from us in Fountain Valley.  It specialises in custom cakes and desserts for people with allergies.  Everything they serve is gluten, dairy, nut, soy, and egg free.  They’ll also make it dye-free, upon request.

To be honest, after listing everything their food doesn’t have, I’m not really sure what they ARE making their desserts out of.  Sugar and unicorns?  Happiness and rice flour?    Special wishes from a trapped leprechaun?

I mean, I’m lucky if I can successfully bake brownies from a box.  These cakes are gorgeous – and the fact that they’re completely allergen-free is just mind blowing to me.

For the record, this is not a paid advertisement – they don’t even know I’m writing about them.  I’m just that grateful to them.  Not only is it actually tasty stuff, but it really is gluten-free.  I know, because DragonMonkey can sniff out a speck of gluten from five miles away.  Sometimes it feels like he can get a rash if he just thinks about bread often enough.  He has eaten several cupcakes from Sensitive Sweets over the past few months and never once had a speck of a reaction.  I know they’re careful about cross-contamination because the owner understands.  She’s a mom, she has kids with allergies, and she just plain gets it.

So, like I was saying, Sensitive Sweets recently posted a solution to my “Halloween vs. the Allergic DragonMonkey” scenario I’ve been facing, and it totally made my day.  I thought I’d share it with the rest of you, in case there is anyone else out there who is facing the same issues.

Halloween Candy and Allergies:  Trick or Treating with Allergic Children 

Becky the Big Name Trainer

His name was Boss.

Ever since I’d sent Jubilee off to be “trained” and he’d come back a couple hundred pounds lighter and sporting a wonderful set of spur scars, he’d had on again/off again issues with his back.  It wasn’t a constant issue, and it wasn’t anything a quick trip to the chiropractor couldn’t fix, but it always seemed to crop up at the worst moment.  Right now we were in the middle of the busiest season up at the ranch.  With three rides heading out daily before noon and a long waiting list, we didn’t have time for Jubilee to be hurting.  We also couldn’t afford for me to keep borrowing one of the ranch horses. 

“I’ve got a horse you can borrow.”  My farrier was like something straight out of a cliché western film.  Don had a long, handlebar mustache, weathered hat, and deep, quiet eyes.  He spoke with a slight drawl and had a quietness that drew people to him.  He was the local horse-whisperer, or as close as we had to him.  Out-of-control studs, “people-killers” ,half-crazed abuse cases… after a couple of months with him they all came up to you from the pasture in a big, friendly herd, vying for attention with good-natured respectfulness.  Even today, years later,  I’ve never met anyone like him.

I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of relying on a completely unknown horse, but I  trusted Ron’s opinion.  If he said the horse was a “good-un”, then he was.  Apparently someone had dropped “Boss” off at his house in hopes of finding him a new home.   I could ride him until he found him a home.  It sounded like a great plan.

When Don came up the next day, it looked like he was dragging an empty horse trailer.  I looked through the windows for a pair of ears, but couldn’t see a thing.

“Where’s the horse?” I asked, as he got out of the car.

As if he heard me, from inside the trailer came a long, deep, impressively masculine trumpet of a neigh.  The other horses all sounded like soprano choir girls when they answered back. 

“What do you have in there… Invisahorse?”

In response, Don walked around the back and dropped the back of the trailer….

…and out backed the world’s SHORTEST, FATTEST dark bay Arabian gelding.  He looked like a claymation horse straight off a children’s show – He was just a big ball of dough, with four little stick legs, a square little neck, and a a pleasant, albeit slightly long face.

“Don, what on earth…?”

Boss stared around, and trumpeted again.  It sounded like the whinny of a 3,000 pound Percheron Stallion….. except Boss was MAYBE 14 hands, and about 1,000 pounds.  He should have been closer to 750.  I’d seen Shetland ponies that looked like skinny supermodels next to him.

“Don, that’s not a horse, that’s a pony.”

“He’s a good horse, Becky.”

“He’s short.”

“You like them short.”

“Yeah, but there’s short and then there’s SHORT.   I don’t want my feet dragging along as training wheels.”

“He’s too fat to worry about that.  Your legs are going to stick straight out, not down.”

I snorted.  Don had a point.

I threw on a saddle and headed right over to the round pen and climbed on, walking him around for a few moments to settle him down.  He was alert, a little overly responsive, but he seemed nice.  We did a couple of figure eights in the round pen, testing how much he respected the snaffle bit and making sure his breaks still worked.  After a few more laps I asked for a trot.  With a slight squeeze of my calves he broke out into the world’s fastest, smoothest trot.  We were covering ground at an incredible rate, and I didn’t even have to post.     I grinned over at Don, and gave him a thumb’s up. What a cool little horse.

Maybe Boss was a little short, but I didn’t care.  I liked him.

When I crawled down, Don helped me untack.  “You looked good up there, Becky – looked like he had a nice trot.”

“He was smooth!  I really liked….”  My brain caught up as I processed what Don said.  “Wait, haven’t you ridden him?”

“No, he’s been in someone’s back yard for the past couple of years. They just dropped him off.  I could tell he’d be a good horse though – he has an honest eye.” 

“Don!  You let me just crawl up there!  How did you know he wasn’t going to bolt and run into a wall?”

“Well, he didn’t, did he?’

“DON!  You’re supposed to warn me that he hadn’t been ridden in years!  He could have bucked me off!”

“Naw, he’s not that kind of a horse.  You can tell.  Besides, if I told you he hadn’t been ridden it would have made you nervous.  Since you expected him to be nice, he was.  Don’t you like him?”

“Well, yeah…..”

“Well, then what are you complaining about?”  He looked at me, eyes twinkling. 

Boss was fun to ride.  He was short, but he was fun  He had just enough peppy alertness to keep me from going to sleep on our endless trail rides, but I never once felt nervous on him.

Of course, he was also pretty fat. Trail rides with him went at a very leisurely pace, as we had to stop at the top of every teensy hill and let him gasp and blow to get his heart rate back down.  It felt like a last-chance workout scene from the Biggest Loser.

It took a couple of weeks before I started to see an improvement, but when we did, I realized he was an awesome little horse.  He never complained, he approached everything with a willing, happy attitude, and he had that wonderful little ground-eating trot. 

One day, when coming back to the barn after clearing trail, my boss and I got into a bit of a trotting race.  My boss road a large, roan, 16 hand thoroughbred mule that could outtrot anything on the place..and probably off of it..  I felt a little silly riding alongside him, as from a distance Boss looked short enough to be a yearling.  I’m not sure what set it off, but one minute we were both jogging along… and the next moment we were racing at a trot.  Even the horses seemed to sense it.  The boss’ mule had legs a mile long, and she swung out easily, eating up the terrain.

Boss lengthened his stride and kept up. 

The mule went faster.

So did Boss.

Back and forth, back and forth…

Fast enough that I started posting…..

Fast enough that I started laughing….

Fast enough that I realized I didn’t even know it was POSSIBLE to trot this fast…..

and the next thing you know, Boss and I weren’t just keeping up, we were pulling away into the front. 

A head… a neck… nearly a length… a full length….

With a laugh, I reined the little guy in, patting his neck and cheering.  “Take THAT, mule!  Beaten by a dwarf!” I laughed, leaning down to give him a hug.  He was the little engine that could.

Boss taught me that, sometimes, it’s okay to meet a horse on their level.  You don’t always have to win.

The first time I rode him up to a stream, he acted like I was trying to asking him to travel through lava.  He danced, he jigged, he tried to spin… he did it all so smoothly that I never actually felt frightened.  He snorted, he blew, he raised his head up high and stared down at the tiny streambed with dramatic rolls of his eyes…. But he never actually crashed into the trees on either side of us.  And he never tripped over the logs and rocks that he was dancing over.  And he never threatened to bolt.

Basically, the whole thing felt like a big, gigantic, dramatic act… So I pushed on.  It was just water, after all.  And he stubbornly refused to go.  And I stubbornly refused to give in. Eventually he soared over the stream with an undignified scramble of a leap.  It was anything but pretty. 

It was the same the next time, and the time after that.  I was tired of being launched forty feet in the air every time I led a trail ride, so the next time Don was up to shoe a horse, I asked him about it.

Wordlessly, he motioned for me to follow him over to a muddy rivulet where a water trough had overflowed.

“Pretend that’s a stream, and you’re a horse.  Cross it.”

I shrugged, but obeyed willingly, and stepped over the stream.

“No, I said cross the stream.”

I stepped back over it, the other direction.

“I said CROSS IT!” he snapped at me angrily, and I froze.  What the heck?  “Just cross the stream, and we can continue on with the lesson!”

I lifted a foot to hop back across. 

“NO!” Don snarled.  “Not like that.”

“Well, what the heck do you want me to do, Don?”  I stared at him, foot frozen in the air, frustrated and more than a little hurt.  “I am crossing the stream.”

“No you’re not.  I wanted you to put your foot down in the mud.  You stepped over it.”

“Well, why didn’t you just ask me…”  I’m not the brightest crayon in the box when it comes to horse training, but I am not completely hopeless.  “Ooooh.”  Now I got it.

“Boss is doing what you want, Becky.  You told him to cross the stream, and he crossed it.  He just didn’t cross it like you wanted.  Maybe he can’t tell how deep it is and he’s scared.  Maybe he doesn’t want to get his feet wet and is jumping it, just the same way you hopped over this mud puddle.  Who knows?  You need to take a step back and realize he’s doing what you asked, and not get both you worked up.”

There’s a reason horses liked Don. 

The next day I saddled up Boss and headed out to the creek, eager to breach the communication barrier between us.  .  I was steady and confident, armed with new intelligence and a clean outlook on how to approach this issue.  I was calm.  I was quietly assured.  I was alpha. 

Fifteen minutes later, both Boss and I were sweaty, grumpy, totally pissed at each other, and still on the wrong side of the creek. I took a pause and let us both catch our breaths, insisting that he face the stream and not back up any further, both of us fuming.

I had no idea how to make him understand what I wanted, and it was irritating both of us.  The problem was I wasn’t fluent enough in horse.  It sucked not being able to tell him what I wanted.

But what if…. what if I showed him, much the same way Don showed me?

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I got off, tucking the rein over my arm.

I walked straight into the stream, and splashed about, soaking my boots.  “Boss, LOOK.  It’s water.  Water, water, water.  You’ve been drinking in it practically your whole life.  Remember that stuff you splash with your nose?  It’s a million degrees today, so I’m not going to take that whole ‘it’s cold’ excuse.  It feels good.  See?”  I splashed some more, walking back and forth, soaking my jeans.  “You don’t die, there are no alligators, there’s no hidden pack of wolves in here…. nothing.  Nada.  Zip, zero, zilch. Nothing bad happens.  You just get in, walk through, and walk out the other side.  Get it?”

Boss stood there, head cranked up high, eyes rolling in anticipation of continuing our fight…. Watching me.

Intently.

I splashed a few more times, then brought him closer.  Trembling, he reached down and flipped the water a couple of times with his mouth.

“See?  It’s water.  It doesn’t eat horses.  It makes you wet.  And then you get over it, you big ninny.”

I climbed up and urged him forward, half-expecting to jump right back into the fight we just had.

Nope.

Boss hesitated slightly, and then walked straight through the water, as if he’d done it a thousand times.

I was both elated and ashamed – why hadn’t I tried it earlier and saved us both a lot of trouble? 

When we came to the next stream, after a minute or two of trying to force him to cross, I did the same thing.  I got off, I splashed around and showed him that it wasn’t a bottomless horse-eating cavern of death.

Boss watched, and then I crawled back up and we crossed.

After that, he seemed to trust my judgement.  Something about the way I got off and led the way on the ground in front of him clicked with his brain, and I no longer had to get off to show him. 

I felt like such a horse trainer.  Screw Monty Roberts and his join up system.  Pat Parelli and his seven games could kiss my dirty saddle blankets.  They had nothing on me. I was Becky, Horse Trainer Extraordinaire.

A couple of weeks later, one of the other wranglers and I were out on trail again.  He was on his own horse, and I was working with Chip, one of the string horses. 

We came to a new streambed that neither horse had seen before, and for some reason both horses balked .  After a couple of moments of both horses jigging at the water’s edge, refusing to take another step forward, I knew what had to be done. 

“Here, this works like a charm.  Watch this.”

Confidently, I dismounted and walked forward into the stream bed, making it about knee deep before I ran out of rein.  “See?  It’s just water.”  I kicked and splashed for a moment, waiting for the light to click on in both horse’s heads like it did with Boss. 

“See?  It’s just water  You’ll be fine.”  I clucked a couple of times, pulling slightly on the reins, trying to coax the spooky little bay gelding forward.

Without any warning Chip obeyed – launching himself forward – right on top of me.  I managed to stagger back at the last second as he landed where I’d been a second before, falling on my butt in the water as he blew past me.  Somehow I managed to hold onto his rein, and as when he hit the end of it he spun around, snorting and dancing at the edge of the other bank as I tried  to regain my feet.  The current was stronger than it looked, and wet jeans and boots filled with water didn’t exactly make me nimble.

Finally, finally, I stood up.  I sludged my way over to the dry bank, leaning on the saddle as I struggled to empty my boots. 

“Oh, yeah, Becky.  You’re right.”  With Chip on the opposite bank the other wrangler’s horse suddenly remembered how to cross a stream, and was striding through calmly.  “That worked like a charm.  Great method.  You thinking of marketing it?”

“Shut up,” I said, as I started the difficult process of trying to remount in wet jeans.

Camp Spooky

Congratulations! You’ve been selected by GigaSavvy as a VIP member to attend…

Those weren’t the exact words, but still.

Spam. UGH. I hated getting all excited when my phone told me I had an email on the weekend, only to find out it was just junk mail. I slipped my phone back up on the mantel and went back to herding the boys.

Monday morning was busy, so it was almost noon before I had a break to check my emaill. A little bored, I decided to actually read the email before completely deleting it.

Boy, am I glad I chose to do that.

It wasn’t spam. It was a legitimate email from a marketing company, inviting me and my family to Knott’s Berry Farm’s Camp Snoopy.

It took a moment to sink in but when it did……Holy crap.  My writing just got us into Knott’s Berry Farm for FREE.  There would be breakfast with The Peanuts Gang.  There would be rides.  There would be costumes and candy.

Did I mention there would be rides?  And that it was free?  And that they chose me because of this blog?  And that it was free?



Did I mention that I have a slight obsession with free stuff?  I’d probably line up to get my head chopped off if someone advertised it as a “Free Guillotine Ride!”

After bouncing around and squealing in excitement for the better part of a day calmly sharing the news with friends and family, I did what any good parent would do:
I immediately set about hand sewing two adorable, classy little costumes made out of organic dye-free hemp.
Ha.  Haha. Ha.
No, I didn’t.  I procrastinated about getting the boys’ costumes all week long, waiting until the last possible moment on Friday evening after a long day of work.  I decided to ignore the fact that it was dinner time and that we were all cranky and chose instead to drag two tired, hungry children to a Halloween Superstore.
The flickering lights, demonic masks, lifesize blood-covered dummies and soundtrack of anguished screams were all a REAL hit with the DragonMonkey.
Not.
About fifteen seconds after we entered the store, he began pulling at my pants leg.  “No yike.  No yike dis.  No yike.” 
“Shhhh.  It’s okay.  We’ll be out of here soon”.

“NO YIKE.”

“Here, it’s okay.  Oooh, look at this!”
“No Yike.  Outside.  Pease.”
“This is a cute costume. Your baby brother could be a fishie!  And look, it’s on sale.  What do you think, should The Squid be a fishie?  Seems kind of appropriate, right?”
“NO!  NO FISHIE!  OUTSIDE!”  He stared in horror at the wiggling skeleton above him.
“DragonMonkey, don’t look at that.  It’s just… it’s fake.  It’s silly.  We’ll be out of here soon.  Don’t be scared.

“OUTSIDE.  OUTSIDE!!!

“DM, give me thirty more seconds.  That’s all I need.  Please.”  I knew I had about 30 seconds before I had a full-blown meltdown, but if I could just pick something reasonably priced in the next 30 seconds…

“OUTSIDE!  OUTSIDE!  OUTSIDE!  NO YIKE!  OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE!”

His volume was increasing, and he was tugging even more earnestly at my pants, trying to lead me out of the store.

“Baby, it’s okay…  Don’t be scared.  We, uh… we just need to find you a costume.  Squid will wear the fish, and you will get….”  I reached down and snagged his collar as he tried to bolt.  He twisted, whines building up.  Uh-oh.  I recognized that look.  I had about two seconds before we had a complete, screeching, red-faced/sweaty meltdown.  “Without a costume you can’t ride the train tomorrow!”  It was mean of me, but it got him to stop and think.
“No twains?”  He chewed his fingers, shifting his weight nervously.

“No.  No trains.  Knott’s Berry Farm won’t let you on without a costume.”  I was rifling through the packages at top speed, trying to find anything…ANYTHING that would fit him.  It didn’t matter if it was a fairy Princess or a clown costume… just please…. something that would fit him…..

The skeleton above us, apparently set to go off at intervals, came to life with a howl,  shaking suddenly, eyes flashing red.
“NO TWAINS!  NO TWAIN!  OUTSIDE!  NO YIKE!”  He screeched and pressed close,  jostling me, and I dropped the fish costume.
“Fine, DragonMonkey, we’ll leave.”  I bent down to pick up the fish costume I’d dropped to return it to the hanger, and by the time I stood up, he was gone.
I was standing in the middle of an empty aisleway, baby on my hip, fish costume in my hand, and no DragonMonkey to be seen, anywhere.
With a heavy sigh I dropped the costume and trotted to the front of the store, certain I’d find him there.
Nope.
I checked a nearby aisle.
Nope.
I checked another nearby aisle.
Nope.

Losing your 2 year old in a store is such a fun, calming, totally not-panic-provoking experience.
I found him about a minute later, but oh, what a long minute that was. 
I located him when I finally heard a familiar screech.  I bolted over to find him crouching away from a snarling witch mannequin, sweaty, crying, and trembling with terror.
“Aww, baby, come here.”  I picked him up with a grunt, ignoring the fact that he was choking me with his clinging grip and lumbered outside of the store, doing my best to keep Squid from lunging over and pulling his brother’s hair.

I popped them both in the car and headed over to bright, happy, non-ghoulish Target, where to my delight I was able to find a pair of pinstriped overalls in the little boys section.  One red handkerchief later and we were done. 

He could wear his Thomas the Train hat and be a train conductor.

The Squid could go dressed as an 8 month old baby.

Like a responsible adult, I put off getting everything ready until the next morning.
I also failed to set my alarm clock properly..
If being a mom was a job, I’d probably be fired.
Instead of everyone skipping into the car, well-fed, dressed, and in happy moods, 7:15 in the morning found our house in utter chaos. The Squid was howling, DragonMonkey was jumping up and down on the furniture squealing, “Twains!  Twains!  Wide Twain!  Wide Twain!  Twain?  Twain?  Wide Twain!”The Bean was loading the stroller in the car and I was slapping together Gluten-free ham and soy cheese (eww) sandwiches and other snacks.  Breakfast might have been provided, but the DragonMonkey is apparently allergic to everything except noise so we we always have to bring our own food.
We arrived 45 minutes late and stood at the back of a small group of latecomers.  I hadn’t been to Knott’s Berry Farm in years, and neither had The Bean.  I think we were both more excited than the DragonMonkey.  It was exactly the same as I remembered it – wooden planks and warm western decorations clashing with the brightly colored roller coaster tracks twisting overhead, promising excitement.

Nothing had changed a bit, not even me.

Ha.  Ha, ha, ha.

The last time I was there I wore stretchy jeans and tennis shoes – the better to run in.  I had a flat stomach and a smaller butt, and I crowded the gate at opening time and dashed headlong along the aisleways to the best rides so I could be first in line, laughing with friends and reveling in my freedom.   I carried a wallet, and an extra scrunchy around my wrist to hold my hair back (in case the first one broke.)

This time I had a husband, a baby, a toddler, a double stroller, a diaper bag, a bigger butt, a bag of lunches, a baby blanket, two binkies, a nursing cover, an extra pair of pants for the DragonMonkey (just in case), two hats, my purse, my phone, a sippy cup, and, of course, an extra scrunchy to hold my hair back, in case the first one broke.
Ah, well.  I guess if I were feeling optimistic I could add “cleavage” to the list above.  There are some benefits to being a nursing mom.
We stood at the back of a group of stragglers as a woman with a badge handed out flyers, VIP wristbands – and cowboy hats.

“Oooooh!”  I brightened as she handed us a stack of four hats.  Fun!

I immediately put on one The Squid – it fell around his ears, blocking his view.  He began whining.

I sighed, took it off, and tried to put it on The DragonMonkey, who ducked and twisted away.  “No.  No wide howsies.  Wide TWAIN,” he said forcefully.  No way.  Uh-uh.  He wasn’t falling for it – if I put a cowboy hat on him, that meant he would have to ride a horse, and he was here for the TWAINS.
I sighed again, and put the hat on my own head — where it perched uncomfortably high, several sizes too small.
And NO, I am not full of hot air – I have a big brain.  That’s why my head is big. Yeah, that’s it.
With an even bigger sigh, I tried transferring the hat to The Bean – who stood there stoically, staring at me with one eyebrow raised as I placed it on his head.

“You look good!” I said hopefully.

“Are you done yet?”  He stood there, waiting for me to take it off.
I snagged the hat off of his head and stuffed the stack of hats grumpily into the overflowing double stroller.  Fine.  No hats for anyone.  We’d all just be hatless, and get skin cancer from the sun.  See if I cared.
We followed a volunteer past the front gates and western-themed stores and paraphernalia and up to the restaurant at the entrance to Camp Snoopy— or rather, since it was Halloween time, Camp Spooky.  I’d never been in the park before it opened, so it was kind of exciting.  The decorations were light and tasteful – a couple of cobwebs, etc, etc.  It had a nice Halloween-ey feel without creeping the kids out.

We parked the stroller in a small herd of strollers and set about unloading.  I handed the baby to The Bean and unstrapped the DragonMonkey from the stroller. All around us there were parents with children in various adorable costumes, all of them smiling politely and clutching their parents’ hands happily.

“Welcome to Camp Snoopy!” said one of the volunteers brightly.  “Would you like to follow me?”  A group of well-dressed, polite, VIP-type families began calmly ascending the stairs.

“TWAIN!!!!!” shrieked the DragonMonkey, twisting out of my grasp and bolting in the opposite direction at approximately 37 miles per hour. 
I bolted after him, catching up after a couple of steps and grabbing his hand to drag him back to the group.  I was blushing.  He was not.
“Is this where we get breakfast?”  I tried to seem intelligent, mature, and a respectable, good mother, but the DragonMonkey had other plans.  Why were we wasting our time here?  There were twains to be ridden.
“Twains!  TwainsTwainsTWAINS!”  He shouted happily, twisting out of my grasp again and bolting in the other direction.  
This time, when I caught him, he fought me, twisting wildly and letting his legs buckle out from underneath him.  “Twaaains!  Twaaaaaaains!” he screamed. 
I grabbed him by the back of his overalls and marched back to the restaurant, carrying him beside me like an angry, striped, howling little briefcase. He was beyond discipline – all of his little neurons were on sensory overload.

“Is this where we eat?” I gestured with my chin at the restaurant, ignoring the raised eyebrows on the volunteer.  Whatever.  Judge all you want, lady – let’s see you do any better. 

 “TWAINS!” howled the DragonMonkey.
“Uh, yes.  This is breakfast – just head on in.” 
“TWWWAAAAIIIINS!!!!!”
“Thanks,” I said, starting up the steps.
“TWAAAII—“  And then, suddenly, there was silence, and the thrashing bundle under my arm went still.
There, in the doorway, stood a giant masked figure.  The notice had said we would be invited to a complimentary breakfast with “The Peanuts Gang!”  I anticipated Snoopy, or Charlie Brown.
I had no idea who the costumed person in the doorway was supposed to be, but as far as I could tell, it was “Leprosy Man”.
Look, I’m sorry if that’s not PC, but that’s what he looked like. 
He was dressed all in black, with a flowing red hood, and had a giant, misshapen, lumpy face and goggly eyes.  He blocked the doorway, and waved cheerfully – which was at complete odds with his “I’m-Going-To-Kill-You” mask.

(Hello.  Welcome to Camp Spooky.  Please come closer so I can eat your soul.)
The DragonMonkey instantly went into prey mode – maybe if he was still, Leprosy Man would be distracted and wouldn’t see him.  He was hanging tense and silent from his overall straps, so I lifted him up to my hip.  He buried his face against my shoulder and his hands tightened painfully around my neck. 
He wasn’t the only one.

“Daaaadddy!” shrieked the little girl ahead in front of us as she scrambled up into her father’s arms..  “No!  Make him go away!”

“No yike,”  The DragonMonkey whispered in my ear.  “No yike.  No.” 

“DADDDY!  NO! Make him GO!”  the little girl shrieked.

“No yike,” DM whispered again.
Hey, Knott’s Berry Farm?  When hosting an event for little bitty kids, you may want to rethink having Leprosy Man as the door greeter.  It’s just a thought.
Breakfast was a short, noisy affair.  The Bean and I ate.  DragonMonkey screamed “TWAIN!” at regular intervals.  Eventually we managed to convince him that it was too early morning and that the trains were barely waking up and were off brushing their teeth.
Then, instead of hearing “TWAIN?” screamed every two minutes, we heard “BWUSH TEETH?”  It wasn’t much better, but after hours of “TWAIN?!” hearing anything else was kind of a relief.

Trains are very big on oral hygiene.  Didn’t you know that?

The Squid smiled placidly from his car seat before falling asleep for the next few hours. 

Snoopy came by to say hi, but after his encounter with Leprosy Man the DragonMonkey wanted nothing to do with him.  Snoopy did an admirable job trying to seem friendly and approachable – he knelt down, waved, pretended to be sad that the DM found him scary, and otherwise did everything possible to seem sweet and adorable.  I bought into it.

“Awww, DragonMonkey, look!  Snoopy likes you!  Look, that other kid likes him!”

“No yike,” The DragonMonkey whispered tensely, poised to either bolt or scream.  No way.  He wasn’t going to fall for the nice act.  Snoopy obviously liked to suck children’s brains out of their heads with a giant straw. 

“You’ll be fine, little man.  Come on.  I’ll hold you.  We can go together.”

Okay, fine.  No picture with Snoopy.

Breakfast was tasty but not terribly memorable, Being the incredibly observant parents that we were, The Bean and I never realized that DragonMonkey’s breakfast was served in an adorable little lunchbox. We thought it was just a piece of red plastic and we threw it away when we were finished with our meal.  We didn’t realize our mistake until about an hour later. 

“Do you think… uh…. Do you think they’ve emptied the trash cans where we tossed it?” I glanced at The Bean.  What I was really asking was whether he would be extremely embarrassed to be seen with me if I started digging through the trash in public.

“YES.  The trash cans have DEFINITELY been emptied.”  Translation:  If you go dumpster diving I’m drawing up divorce papers.
I moped about for a few minutes before I had the bright idea of begging a new lunchbox off of the kitchen crew.
They were incredibly gracious and gave us another one. 

 Yaaaay!

I was annoyed when The DragonMonkey saw me with it and claimed it for his own.  Being the adult sucks sometimes.  I’m still waiting for him to get tired of it so I can steal it back.

After that, the day kind of blurred.  Chasing two kids around a theme park is exhausting, but worth it.  The rides were pretty incredible.  Going out in public with The DragonMonkey is usually a chancy affair at best, but this time we.  HAD.  A.  BLAST.


We had the park practically to ourselves for the first bit.  It was pretty cool. The DragonMonkey went on all the rides.

He jumped on the bouncy house.

He flew the airplanes.

He rode in the little cars and smiled the whole time.

He rode in the little semi trucks with the annoyingly loud horns and smiled the whole time.

 He pushed the kid ahead of him on the little go-cart ride and smiled the whole time.

He smiled the entire time we were at Camp Snoopy.  I didn’t even know that was possible.  I knew he had that many teeth, but that’s only because we’re used to seeing them while he’s in the middle of a meltdown.

Even The Bean had fun.  At one point the Squid got hungry, so we took a break in the shade while The Bean snuck off to ride one of the big roller coasters.  When he came back he was smiling and relaxed.  If you look, you can see him waving happily to us, swinging his feet like a little kid.




 I don’t think I’ve seen him that happily relaxed in months.

After the rest of the park opened we left Camp Snoopy and went to visit the trains.

 
Yook!  A twain!  Yook!  Yook! Yook!  YOOKYOOOKYOOKYOOK!


 Once we boarded the the train, the DragonMonkey became very quiet and very still.

Apparently riding in a train is something to be taken very seriously.

 Hey, DragonMonkey.  Psst… Over here.



No, over HERE.

How do you feel about being here at Knott’s Berry Farm on a train – an actual, moving, chuffing, train?  Are you enjoying yourself?  How do you feel about Camp Spooky?

Yeah.  Me too.

As far as I can tell, Knott’s Berry Farm sprinkles Kid Crack on their streets every morning.  You know what? I’m cool with that.  Sprinkle away – if it can produce happy, relaxed DragonMonkeys, I’m all for it.

I mean, last night (in a fit of spite after I told him he couldn’t jump on the couch anymore) the DragonMonkey snuck into the bathroom and got the toilet brush – oh, yeah.  THAT toilet brush.  The one that makes your skin crawl at the thought of touching it?  The one I keep meaning to sanitize after I scrub our toilets?

When I heard the ruckus in the kitchen I thought he was playing drums with the kitchen utensils.  Silly me.  He was actually systematically “washing” all of pots and pans with the toilet brush.

When I took too long noticing how “bad” he was being he came over, grabbed me by the hand, led me into the kitchen, pointed at the disaster and said, “UH-OH.  Bad.”  You know, just in case I couldn’t realize on my own how horrified I was supposed to be.

If I’m really nice, maybe Knott’s Berry Farm will give me some Kid Crack to sprinkle in my house, too?    Pretty please?  With sugar on top?

They May Take Our Lives, But They’ll Never Take Our Beans!

Sometimes I wish we still lived in a more romantic time… a time with horses, and knights, and honor.


I know, I know.  If I was alive back then I’d either be dead or a really old lady. I’d crippled by work and arthritis, and I’d probably be toothless from mild scurvy and a lack of calcium.  I would have married at 15, and with my fertility I would have 14-15 children instead of the two I have now.  I might even have a grandchild or two.

Yes, yes, I know all that.  I just choose to forget about that.

In my daydream, despite the fact that I’m female, I’m a totally cool warrior chick – like Paksennarion from the Elizabeth Moon series.  I kind of imagine a world where women are equal to men and we can serve alongside them.  Since it’s my daydream, I’m in perfect shape, can run for miles and hit a target with my bow at 300 yards.  Basically, I just run around, riding horses, defending justice, and kicking ass.  I have a coat of arms, a family sigil, and a battle cry that I cry out to the heavens as I raise my sword and charge into battle.

It’s a good daydream.

And then reality sets in, and I start thinking about how stupid I’d look wearing a coat of arms with the insignia of a piddling cocker spaniel.

And, you know, crying out “Beeeaaaaaans!” wouldn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of the enemy.  I’d just sound hungry, or like I was complaining about being gassy.

Oh, well.  I guess it’s for the best. 


Regret

When I was 22 I bought my first horse.

She wasn’t the first horse I owned – and in fact I still owned Jubilee at the time.

On the other hand, this was the first horse I had ever seen on my own, evaluated, decided to purchase and bought with my own saved money, no help from the parents.

A friend of mine had picked her up at the auction a few months before. She was a leggy chestnut, probably 15.2 or 15.3, maybe two or three years old, although she looked much younger. She didn’t have any papers, but she had long, long, thoroughbred legs and a dishy little arab face with absurdly big, sweet, warm eyes. Something about the way that she was built let you know she still had a lot of growing to do, and that when she was done she was going to be something.

Everything she did was dainty, feminine, and well thought out. She moved like a ballerina, never setting a hoof wrong. She was graceful, and beautiful.

Most importantly, she had a brain. You could actively see her thinking. There was something almost eerily human about her expressions.

From the moment my friend brought her back from auction, I suffered from a deep sense of jealousy. I wanted that filly. I NEEDED that filly. She was perfect – if you overlooked the fact that she was a little lame. It was hard to say exactly what it was – some days she was sound, and other days she was completely off in her front.

After watching my friend grow increasingly frustrated for a month or two, I made my move.

Two hundred and fifty dollars later, she was mine.

MINE.

I borrowed a friend’s trailer to go pick her up. When I saw the trailer, I was less than amused. It was a ridiculously tiny, two horse trailer. Rusted and short, it looked like it was built for ponies. Still, it was a trailer, and beggars couldn’t be choosers. I knew it was dangerously too-tiny, but I did it anyways. I figured it would take us quite a bit of training to get her to go in something that small, but she seemed like she might be willing. I set aside an entire afternoon to work with her and drove down to pick her up.

She walked right in.

I couldn’t believe it. I put on her halter, walked her to the trailer to let her sniff it, and she just ducked her head and wandered right in. Disbelieving, I snapped the chain and closed the gate behind her. I didn’t tie her head, because it was a long trip and I wanted her to be comfortable. Smiling, I went to pay the money. I chatted for about 5-10 minutes beside the trailer before shaking hands and turning to head out. On a whim (and because she was MINE, finally MINE) I went to go check on her.

I hadn’t anticipated her being so thin or so flexible. In her curiosity to know what was going on outside the trailer she had twisted her head around to look over her back, and was promptly stuck. The divider kept her from being able to straighten and the height of the trailer kept her from flipping it up and straightening it.

She was bent double like a pretzel, with her chin resting securely in the center of her back, her neck doubled completely in two. I tried to keep calm, but inwardly, I was freaking out – at any second, I knew she would explode and would snap her neck. I held my breath.

She stared at me with a pleasant, amiable expression. Hello. Can you give me a hand?

Moving quietly and quickly, I unhooked the butt rope and opened the trailer doors, fully expecting her to explode backwards.

She stared at me, eyeballing the exit. May I?

I walked into the empty stall beside her, and applied a bit of pressure to her chest, clucking twice.

She took two steps back, enough so her neck had the room to straighten out. She heaved a big sigh and gave a big shake, like a dog drying off.

She was half in, half out of the trailer, and standing there calmly. It was unreal. I gave a gentle tug to her halter, clucked twice…. And she stepped quietly back in. It was crazy. How could she be that smart? I tied her VERY well and took her home.

Personality-wise, I’ve never met a sweeter horse. You could tell someone had taken the time with her. She had a little bit of issues with boundaries that needed to be reinforced, but that was it. Even her ill behavior was endearing. I would sit in her stall reading books, and she would stand by me, sniffing, licking, whuffling my hair. Once, as I was engrossed in a particularly exciting section of a book, I completely lost track of what was going on around me. Lost in the world of words, the book sucked me in, the world fading into oblivion as the hero…

Disappeared.

There was a hoof on my book, right where I was reading.

I jerked up in surprise – and there she was, one leg lifted, hoof covering the book carefully, feather light, like a cat placing its paw on your arm for attention.

I laughed and shooed her off, then went over to groom her. Maybe I had to discipline her for her behavior, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t earned a little love.

The problem is she never got better – she was always lame in her front. First it was her front right knee, then both knees…. The vet said that she grew too much, too fast. Severe osteochondrosis lesions. There was nothing I could do. Something about excessive growth and poor nutrition as a foal… to be honest, I didn’t really pay attention. The only thing I heard was that she would never be sound. Surgery might make her more comfortable, but it wouldn’t ever heal. She’d never be rideable. She’d never be sound. At most she’d be comfortable and a really sweet pasture pet.

I gave her a couple of months, hoping for a miracle, but it never got better.

I was 22 years old and making $8 an hour. I already owned one horse. I tried to find her a home as a pasture pet, but no luck.

I should have put her down. But she was just, SO sweet.

I think every person has those moments in life where they would give anything, everything, to be able to turn back time and change a decision. You could go back to that pivotal moment and make the right choice, and change what you did, and be a better person.

You wouldn’t know the burning, secret shame of bad decisions.

I wish I had put her down.

Instead, I took her to auction.

I knew way less about auctions than I know nowadays, but I knew enough. I wasn’t fixing a problem. I was passing it onto someone else… or worse.

It was an absurdly hot day. By ten o’clock I was sticky with sweat. The auction yards didn’t have any watering troughs, so I let her drink out of my McDonald’s cup.

I couldn’t meet her eyes.

She was one of the last horses to go through. She went for $125. I didn’t check with her new owners, because I didn’t want to know.

I left without saying goodbye.

I really, really should have had the balls to put her down.

Communication

The Bean is a stereotypical guy – he doesn’t pick up on hints and he takes things pretty literally. 

If I were to say to him in a pitiful tone, “I…I…. …..I don’t want to talk about it right now….”  He would take me at face value and change the subject.

Girly, emotional games are lost on him, which is fine, because I’ve never been very good at those kinds of games anyways. 

Despite his lack of emotional intuition, I find that The Bean and I have developed an incredible, intuitive ability to know how the other is feeling. 

When he’s happy, I know it.  I can hear it in his voice, and I can see it in his posture when he enters the room, before he’s even spoken a word.

When I’m feeling down, or am grumpy, he picks up on it almost instantly.


It’s almost eerie how he knows my moods, without me having to say a single word. 

They say that good communication is the key to a good marriage.

 

I agree.