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Non Fiction

Corn Dog Mom and Me

Alizabeth Rasmussen

"No! Hold it the right way!"

She said it with such volume and force that we couldnŽt help but look, only to discover that "it" was a corn dog, and that the order had been directed at one of her many small children. It seemed everyone at this Renaissance Faire had decided to eat lunch at the same time, so the picnic tables were crowded. It was hard to tell where one family ended and another began, but it seemed at least three of the kids were hers, all under the age of five. I thought the man across from her might be her husband, but I hoped not. He was offering no support at all.

My son looked at me with squinty eyes, the hallmark of his new teenaged persona -- superior and irritated, always a hint of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. He had turned 13 a few weeks earlier, but had worked diligently his whole life to perfect this attitude.

"What is she talking about?" he said. "He is holding it the right way. ThereŽs only one way to hold a corn dog."

I checked to make sure the woman hadnŽt heard my sonŽs comment and was relieved to see that all her attention was still focused on trying to control her kids. And the corn dog.

I agreed with him. We had a good laugh. I took on his air of superiority and we both pitied those kids for having to put up with such a ridiculous mom. We finished our lunch and set off to explore the booths and enjoy the people watching. But as we wandered through that hot August afternoon, admiring the elaborate medieval costumes and weaponry, my mind kept going back to that stressed out mom, imagining the chain of events leading up to the corn dog outburst.

I thought of the stories I could tell my son. He doesnŽt remember (thank God), but I do...

All those family outings that seemed like such good ideas in theory, filled with unreasonably high expectations of how much he would love the blueberry picking or the hiking or the zoo, how much fun it would be to spend some time together and introduce him to new things. No matter how much planning went into it, there were just so many ways for things to go wrong.

Always, I would forget something -- extra clothes or diapers or binkies or food or water or sunscreen or blankets or jackets or toys or his bike or (worse yet) his helmet. Shoes left on top of the car. A cooler forgotten in the kitchen. The realization would hit me, of course, too far from home. And oh, how I could beat myself up for those mom failures. With great drama, IŽd ransack the car and the diaper bag looking for the missing item and, even after figuring out how weŽd manage without it, IŽd find it difficult to let go of the anger and frustration.

And then there were all the possible "tooŽs." Too hot, too cold, too rainy, too much traffic, too much waiting in line, too many people, too much noise.

I tried to time things right but invariably, heŽd miss his nap or fall asleep at the "wrong" time. For such a good-natured kid, he could throw an impressive tantrum, especially when he had an audience.

Always, IŽd lose him, at least once. He was the child they invented kid leashes for, but I could never bring myself to use one. Independent from the moment he took his first steps, he couldnŽt help himself. He wanted to take it all in at once, to devour the unfamiliar sights and sounds. Before I knew it, I was in panic mode trying to find him, calling his name as I tried to make my way through crowds of people, wishing IŽd dressed him in orange.

Once he was found, my panic would give way to an increasingly uncomfortable and familiar combination of anger and relief. WeŽd talk about the importance of staying close, IŽd hold his hand for as long as heŽd let me, or insist he ride in the stroller. IŽd warn him that if it happened again, weŽd leave. For a while it would seem the day was back on track.

And then...

At the zoo the person dressed as a giant bumblebee scared him. So for the rest of the day I was on high alert, ready to change course or cause a distraction should we cross paths again with the bee-man.

And another day, when we hiked, that first hill was too steep for him. He wanted only to sit on a big rock and throw little rocks into the river. All I could think about was how long itŽd been since IŽd been to the gym. I had my heart set on getting my heart rate up, so I suggested we have a race, I tried making a game of chasing him, I promised a view of a waterfall just on the other side of the hill. I begged. I pleaded. I bribed. But he would not budge from his rock.

And when I took him blueberry picking, he had no interest. Who could blame him? The sun was beating down and those things are so small it takes forever to accumulate enough to make it worth the effort. When I looked over and saw that all the blueberries were going into his mouth, I suggested, with more than a hint of irritation that I immediately wished I could take back, that he start filling up his basket. And he gave me a look that a decade later would turn into that squinty-eyed teenaged look...a look that said, "but Mom, thereŽs only one thing to do with a blueberry."

Of course, he was just as right about that as he was about the corn dog.

And so...

We sat down on the ground next to a blueberry bush and ate every last berry, and then we estimated high and paid for them along with a box that someone else had picked.

And I (eventually, and albeit grudgingly) let go of my hope of getting a workout on that hike. I gave myself permission to become part of his world for a while, gave in to the notion that rocks and rivers are really all that matter.

And once he recovered from the fright of the bumblebee, he went on his first pony ride. The smile on his face was one that, ever since, I have been able to unhesitatingly conjure.

He doesnŽt remember, but I do...

I was, on a very regular basis, as stressed out as Corn Dog Mom. I wanted to be relaxed and easy-going like the moms I compared myself to, the ones for whom motherhood seemed to come so easily, so naturally. But I was not that kind of mom. I was the kind who planned and scheduled and tried to control every last variable. I was the kind who might have yelled at my kid for holding his corn dog the wrong way.

At times I was convinced I really wasnŽt cut out for this mom gig at all. But when I let him, my son showed me otherwise, in moments of pure joy, unbridled curiosity and outright wonder. I had to learn and relearn that the whole world begins and ends and somehow makes sense inside his laugh.

I watched for her the rest of the afternoon but we didnŽt cross paths again with Corn Dog Mom. I had a brief moment of feeling guilty for having judged and made fun of her, but IŽm sure I gave plenty of perfect strangers a good laugh when I was a young mom. So I let go of the guilt and said a little prayer: that she might, at some point that day, allow herself the possibility of getting lost in the laughter of her littles...a moment of connection with each one to remind her that she is -- and they are -- more than okay.