The Pantry Terror Alert

Today I spent the day with my beloved sister in law having an all-day playdate. 2 moms vs. 7 children ages 8 and under.  Although we are used to full days of juggling these kids, when you bring that volume of related children together the child-power multiplies exponentially. To prevent disaster,  the adults must switch back and forth from man-on-man to zone defense every three seconds.   I am fully confident that we made the motherhood playoffs today.  Making it to bedtime was a shocking victory that felt a bit like this.

winning olympics

Children only escaped the house naked a FEW times. The baby was only carried off by his head for a few seconds. My son only reacted to a toy theft by punching his cousin in the groin once. Three kids didn’t even cry!  We only contemplated calling FEMA for a minute.  Ironically, it was one of the three-year-olds that found the computer and Skyped a soldier overseas before either of us moms called for reinforcements. Really, we did beautifully.

Part of the challenge was a loss of home court advantage; we in their grandparents’ home.  This particular house is equipped with a myriad of toys that beg to be strewn. There is an array of beautiful glassware, heirlooms, and furniture that are unscathed. Yet, there is an area that now make me shudder—the Gauntlet.

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In the kitchen the gauntlet waits, quietly. The dining room wall blocks views from within the kitchen, allowing little ones to hide from adult eyes as they break down the 10 foot runway that holds a refrigerator and a pantry. The refrigerator’s refreshingly cool air wafts out to the seeker’s face through tiny cracks between a wide array of delights. Little hands eagerly snatch string cheese and yogurty treasures from this trove, shutting to door to turn around into another den of glory. Directly parallel is a long set of, folding accordion doors that hold inside every amazing snack food and desire of a young child’s heart.

My amazing sister in law and I spent the day protecting the fortification of The Gauntlet-the pantry and the refrigerator- from 6 of the 7 children. When the children are hungry, all reason and listening skill evaporates. They were coming for what they wanted and it wasn’t pretty. Kung Fu masters have nothing on the speed of little boys who have spotted chocolate chips, peanut butter, chips, crackers, and honey.

By 2:00 the Hunger Games: Pantry Edition had begun. At 3:45 we lost the Battle of the Alamo in glorious defeat. By 7:00 we had reinforcements and full children as we reclaimed total victory. Learning from history and still exhausted from the heat of such battle, I shall assess and learn from this experience. I shall henceforth code by the Terror Alert coding. Enjoy.

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CAVEAT: My mother in law is neat, orderly, and tidy. These pictures of the pantry are AFTER the children had rifled through for hours and an Alamo had been fought. Please maintain Pinterest-worthy ideals of her kitchen. Thank you.

First, BLUE: Terror attack risk is extremely low. This only exists when children are not present or are asleep.

Second, Guarded. This is literal. After today we were informed by my mother in law that a long, thin plank of wood can be wedged between the doorframe and the doors to prevent the pantry from opening. If only we had known sooner.

Other than that, it is when an adult is literally in front of or next to the pantry or refrigerator that adequate guarding occurs. When a 2 pronged attack is used, adults can usually lunge and seize taken items if the child has not yet escaped the Guantlet with a swiped item.

Elevated:

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The bottom floors seem safe, but are deceiving. sacks of potatoes and colas are mixed in with towels, either can be used for maiming a foe or spraying the ceiling. Point of fact: Repeatedly sneaking an orange cola can and beating it with a spoon will eventually open the can and cause a mess.

High Risk:

 Breads, crackers, peanut butter, bagels, and chips rest blissfully here. While these are excellent examples of little boy sustenance, proper eating requires more effort. While many items can be poured out, this will booby-trap the Gauntlet area with a mess and could potentially leave noise-causing shrapnel to give away future missions. Sandwiches and crackers can require spreading and dip to reach full potential. Today the boys opted for sneak attacks for Pringles while my son distracted me by carrying a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread to the table.

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Severe:

Oh Mylanta. Easily accessible with a climb and a reach, the contraband sits. Baking supplies, chocolate, and obvious non-stack foods. Y’all, by 5:00 EVERY bag of TollHouse Morsels had been reached, opened, and spilled. While some bags were simply overturned and handfuls grabbed and gobbled, some children opted to follow and eat the trails of small triangular glory leading to the loot. Little boys lined up like ants and gobbled the crumbs up like Hansel and Gretel. After two such instances while my sister in law cleaned, changed a diaper, and helped a child, I had to feed the baby. We returned to find this:

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These were the third and final bag of butterscotch morsels. The tiny head at the bottom is my son’s, who is following a trail from The Gauntlet.

Now, don’t think that we women sat lazily on the couch and ate Bon-Bons. In the meantime we changed diapers, fed healthy trail-mix snacks, played referee, broke up fights, changed children’s outfits multiple times, laughed uproariously, defined vocabulary words, made felt crafts, conspired about Christmas gifts, and revealed to each other the ways our lives do not measure up to Pintrest expectations. It is hard to fake perfection when multiple children are in various forms of undress, someone is eating chocolate spread with a spoon, another is eating batteries, a baby is crying,  the remote is MIA and every kid has been up since 5:00am due to Daylight Savings.

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We fought for each other today, Y’all. We did it together, as a family. We are going to bed happy, exhausted, full and slightly terrorized.  We are still standing. In fact, while we made dinner, a horse was even ‘parked’ on my mother in law, Trooper Extraordinaire. IMG_5371

When outnumbered over 3:1 and in a home without childproofing near the food, battle lines are already drawn. Fight well, and “be advised”.

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Whatabummer

 

Good things come to those who wait…and those who work, and fight the good fight. I set out for a glorious lunch but instead became trapped in a world of wild disappointment. Join me for a tale of woe that turned into a tale of woah.

The plan was simple; have a wonderful lunch of Texan cuisine with my boys at my mother’s work with her. If there is anything a Texas girl misses when she follows a man all over the world, it is Texan food. Today I went on an adventure to get my beloved Whataburger with my boys, my Momma, at my beloved University.  Oh, my precious Whataburger.

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Thrilled that the boys were in a great mood, I gleefully clicked their seat belts and pulled out of the driveway at 12:04 pm. The Texas sun smiled down on me as I happily pulled into a very crowded line that wrapped around Whataburger. It is usually crowded around this establishment, but today there was apparently a promotion for high school students and a canned food drive.  Whatacrowd.

 I looked at a line of tailgates until 12:23, ecstatic to yell at a stranger through an electronic board to order my beloved artery-clogging glory.  It’s the little things, Y’all.  I realized that if Mom took lunch at 12:30 I could still get there without wasting too much of her available lunch break. She could even play with the boys for a little while before going back to work. I ordered lunch for myself and two others, eager to deliver lunch to my mother and an office-mate during her break. With the order repeated back to me correctly, I pulled up a whopping 4 inches and continued to wait…and wait. Three of the trucks in front of me pulled into the ‘waiting spots’ next to the drive-thru lane. Soon all the spots were filled with hungry people in large, idling trucks.I finally reached the window only to see a ‘Pay at the next window’ sign.

Firstborn, who is not much for talking, was now yelling, “Got it! Got it! YOU got it!” (Meaning ‘get it’). I was trying, darn it.  Any longer and I’d be yelling “GET IT!” too!  Future parents please note that two year olds are simply our inner feelings on display on the outside- except as unpredictable as weather and temperamental as a teenager.

The car thermometer read 71 degrees when I pulled in, which is impressive for October. That very morning a friend of mine in Colorado greeted light flurries with an annoyed sigh. That poor displaced Texan. My thermometer now read 82 degrees due to the Texas heat beating down on the car, which turns a simple vehicle ‘greenhouse effect’ into much more than an inconvenient truth.

 With the AC on full blast, my poor sons were now hot, hungry and inconsolable. I considered pulling out of the line, but I couldn’t escape due to the cars in the waiting parking spots flanking my left side.  Once in line and post order, you’re committed. Furthermore, I needed to solve world hunger for three people with the deliciousness of Whataburger. This was a cape-worthy endeavor.

When the second window’s door finally opened and I saw the man inside, I felt a bit like this. He took my money and handed me a receipt. When I did reach the next window, it was 12:41. Yes, I had waited in a line for a total of 32 minutes with two children in the car in a fast food driveway. I was as angry as a wet hornet, but simultaneously overjoyed. I declared to ‘Marcus’ that I would not have waited in a fast food line for over 30 minutes for anything other than Whataburger, and that is only because I don’t have them where I live.  He handed me my receipt and the drinks and then…

“We are still working on your food. Just pull over to a waiting spot and someone will have it right out to you.”

 Oh, no. Sir. Nope. Not happening. I looked over and saw that there was NOWHERE to go but the driveway. I smiled and politely said, “Nope” because I had nowhere else to go.

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“Oh wait, here is your food!” As he handed me my food, I glanced over at the cars waiting in the spots lining the curb. They had waited almost 40 minutes for their food by this time. The receipt read 12:41 but I didn’t pull away from the window until 12:47. Then Marcus handed me a SURVEY. A SURVEY. “Tell us how we did today and you can get a free Whataburger.”

Good gosh, Man. You know not what you ask.

42 minutes to get through a fast food stop less than 7 miles from the house. FAST food. 42 minutes is a minimum wait time in an ER from the heart attack this food can ultimately cause!  As I struggled through lunch-hour traffic the glowing red circles of traffic lights mocked me as if to taunt, “Torro! Torro!”  As I finally made my last turn into my mother’s office across the famous train tracks on Texas A&M’s campus at 12:51…

A train. A TRAIN. Mother of Pearl!

train

At 1:02 I dramatically swung the door open, gathered my sweaty sons and bags of food and met my poor victims of starvation in the lunch area. As I unpacked our order I realized that our ticket was correct. Our food, however was NOT.

EVERY order was wrong. My burger was made incorrectly. The drinks were not correct. The gravy was missing. We had been shorted fries. EVERYTHING was cold.

When my mother stopped kissing the baby’s cheeks long enough to come up for air, I informed her that I was going to have to maim someone. My auburn hair was glowing red. My normally fair skin was red. In the words of Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White, there were “flames- flames on the side of my face! Heaving, breathless- heaving breaths…”

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We ate what we could, saved the receipt, and I slowly coiled. I refused to go back into the den of despair from which I had just escaped. Naptime was upon us. No, I would wait until nightfall for a more effective attack, when defenses would be down. I was going in armed. There is no finer back-up in the art of delicate reaming out than my mother. It was time for a good-old-fashioned-customer-service-fanny-spanking.

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When my Firstborn were nestled in his bed, all good baseball fans were seated for the World Series game 1 and Whataburger’s lights attracted more moths than patrons, The Queen and I drew up a battle plan. Shall I let her handle it and simply stand back and watch the Master work? Shall I finally show the Master that I had learned the art form? Perhaps a Mother-Daughter act? We slight smiles and perfect posture, we carried ourselves through a glass door toward a poor high school boy. Momma was armed with a receipt. I was armed with a baby in a sleeper, sucking his thumb. The only combination that takes down someone faster without military experience is a pair of Girl Scouts with Thin Mints.

 “Can I get you something, Ma’am?” “Yes. The manager, please”, my mother gently commanded.

The timbre of her voice in her opening tone was like the first clear note in a symphony. Soon a middle aged man joined us. “Hello Sir. I understand you had quite a busy day with your promotions. Were you working this afternoon?”

“No, Ma’am. I didn’t actually know about the promotion  until I got in tonight. It blindsided me.”

“Oh dear. What a frustrating thing for you! Well Dear, we had a rough day here too. We ordered lunch here and it took such an inordinately long time that I called your store to inquire as to the delay. “

Our poor boy looked stunned. TAG.
I began, “Sir, I had the unfortunate experience of sitting in your drive through with two babies for 40 minutes today, only to be given food that was made incorrectly. EVERY meal, Sir. Unfortunately, when we did receive the meal, everything was stone cold. I am from out of town and dearly love Whataburger, so it was particularly heartbreaking.”

The manager now looked befuddled. “Okay. I’m sorry that happened.” Long pause. Oh, no Sir. WE did not come for an apology. TAG.

Momma took a tiny step forward and lifted the receipt to his chest level, her smile widening to show four more teeth. “Sir, how can you make this right for us?” The man was in shock. He looked back and forth between us. He stammered, “What-uh, what do you want me to DO?”

TAG. “Can you please refund us the amount of lunch on a gift card?” I asked, tilting my head into the’ questioning mom look’ with a closed mouth smile.

“No, Ma’am. I’m not allowed to do that.”

TAG.  Momma cleared her throat in a way that sends me running like a cockroach from the light- a clear indication that the boom was about to come swinging.  Only now did her smile fall to a determined line. “Well then, what CAN you do for us to make this right so that I will not have to drive to another Whataburger location to avoid such unacceptable service?”

“I’ll get the General Manager’s card and put a note for a total remake on this order for you to redeem at any time. I’ll get it right now.”

When he promptly returned and Momma graciously accepted his card and receipt, I closed for the night.

“Sir, as I finally received my food I was handed a recipt with a survey, asking for my opinion. I refrained from doing so thus far. I’m very pleased that I can now add a happy ending to the situation when I complete it. Thank you.”

After a continued and unnecessarily nervous exit on the manager’s part,  we looked over to the high school boy who had watched the exchange with wide eyes. “I’m glad everything worked out!” he said in a voice that clearly conveyed he meant, “I’m glad you didn’t pitch a fit and kill us all.”

We smiled the same sweet smile at him and answered in unison, “ Me too. Have a great night!”

Bad service is a part of life. Poor customer service is an increasingly regular occurrence. Thus, angry fit-throwing, cussing, ranting and railing is now so common that it doesn’t accomplish much of anything other than shaming the family and raising blood pressure. Any two year old can pitch a fit. Only true ladies accomplish their goal by getting quieter. The calm before the storm is a deadly quiet.

When we redeemed the meal it was a perfect lunch with excellent service. Whatamom. Whatavictory. Whataburger.

Road Trip Part 2

Roadtrip part two.

In the words of Willie Nelson, we were on the road again.  After our unpleasant pit stop it was wonderful to get out of Georgia…but I forgot about speed limits in Alabama. We were trying to get as far as possible before dark, when the boys would go ballistic but were promptly stuck with a speed limit of 55 on the highway. It was like  getting the heck out of Dodge City and getting stuck behind a cattle drive.

cattle drive

It was apparent that by dusk we would have to choose between stopping for Tuscaloosa or a Mississippi town. I was wearing a Texas A&M shirt and suspected it would attract comments in Tuscaloosa. It is hard to be gracious after a full day in the car with kids. Standing and smiling while deflecting comments about a game I didn’t play while trying to get kids ready for bed in a new place didn’t sound fun.

We booked a room from the road and got accurate directions from the desk clerk, which came in handy as we approached the town. The GPS was still angry at me for turning it off at the beginning of the trip, so it told us to take a 5 mile detour in a loop around to reach the hotel. As we exited the highway the GPS (Hal) told us to turn right down a deserted road that had no lights. A large, unlit sign read, “Begin State Maintenance”. It was hard to read the sign because the grass was literally reaching the sign. We glanced at each other and decided it was worth the extra 12 miles to follow directions from a human being, which turned out to be much faster anyway. I am starting to think that GPS directions are entered by sociopaths that try to lure directionally challenged girls into a knock-off slasher movie.  Once a dear friend ended up in a corn-field that was supposed to be a post office. Pretty sketchy.A Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one thing, but a Mississippi Massacre…no thank you.

As we happily entered the hotel in Mississippi, the boys were on the verge of melting. They looked a bit like this:

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As we went to our room, I saw that several men were gathered around the lobby television. A few were staring over at us—or, more accurately, my Aggie t-shirt. I then realized I was wearing an Aggie shirt in Mississippi 10 minutes before the kickoff between Texas A&M and Ol’ Miss.  Again, you think I am about to be intimidated by a few glares? I’m a mom of a two hear old. Please.

We wrestled the boys into baths, mohawked their hair with shampoo, made them little towel mummies, and put them into warm jammies. Johnny Football was beginning his moves just as my little runner finally decided to call a time out. As two little boys drifted off to sleep, we watched the football game nearly on mute. Just then, The Hell’s Angels arrived.

Loudly revving their engines in the lot between the hotel and the Roadhouse, we could not only hear but SMELL the burning rubber. As the 2 year old stirred, we were ready for a throw down. She popped out of bed like toast from a toaster and grabbed her room key with a swift motion, gathering speed and steam as she flew out the door. At that point in the day, I think my mother could have taken on a biker gang. I wish I could have seen it. She returned a few minutes later with silence surrounding her.

When the door opened she quietly slid into the room. “What happened?” I whispered. “When I got downstairs the group had gone out, but I talked to the girl at the front desk to say how outrageously loud the bikers were. The whole lobby and second floor reeked of smoke, so some of them are probably here. If they come back, I’m going to hurt someone.”

Again, two Texan women watched a football game and could not wake the babies sleeping 2 feet away. This became increasingly difficult as the game remained close until the last minutes of the game. Sadly, we were both so incredibly exhausted that without sound, we both fell asleep in the final minutes and hoped the other was awake. When we woke up the next morning we had to search the scores to see replays of what happened. The Aggies made the clutch plays and beat Ol’ Miss. Whoop. Satisfied that I could trudge down to the breakfast area in the t-shirt of the winning team in enemy turf, I joined my mother downstairs.

My boys were happy, but with a full tummy the 2 year old started getting the wiggles. Time was running out, as so was Firstborn. As he escaped his seat and ran a lap, I looked up to see three men at the table near us, staring around in a bit of a daze.The young one was tattooed, wore a black t-shirt and a black baseball cap on backward. The other had a scruffy beard, a dirty shirt and red eyes. The last one had his back to me, but there was a very familiar sense to him. The soles of worn black boots backed up to the chair, under black jeans. A loose white shirt was rolled up enough to show arm tattoos. Long, blonde hair cascaded down a thick back.

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It was Dog the Bounty Hunter.

I looked over at my mother. She looked at me. I motioned with my eyes over to the table and raised an eyebrow. She looked and shook her head to the negative. I made the “Really? You think not?” face.

“Not rough enough.” She said quietly.

Honestly, look-alikes? At this point Firstborn took off past the table, and I followed. He had crashed headlong into the chair next to Dog.

As I wrangled him, I gently scolded, “Don’t run off. He’ll come after you. He’s used to chasing people.”

I gave the three men the nod, knowing full well that I looked like an exhausted mother who was traveling across the country with babies. Still, they looked equally worn out and much more grumpy. Completing the meal, I gathered trash and searched for a can. I asked a very chipper clerk where the trash was to which one of the men called out, “It’s over there where Dog is standing.”

As I returned a darling couple in their 80s stopped me and asked if I went to Texas A&M. A Class of 68 Aggie and I had a wonderful chat about the game and Texas, sharing that special Aggie bond. With that lovely encounter, I returned to my room to tidy the room and load up. With everyone in place I checked out with a very nice young lady who had been on the night shift. I mentioned that life must be exciting if Dog the Bounty Hunter showed up early in the morning. She immediately stopped, pushed out her hip and assumed the “Let me tell you!” position.

“That is NOT Dog.” I smiled. “Really? My mom thought it wasn’t too!’

“Honey, that is an imposter. They drove us crazy all night insisting that they smelled weed on the second floor. We didn’t smell anything but they were wanting to knock down the doors! They had little bounty hunter badges and everything. It was a mess. Who impersonates a bounty hunter? Honestly.”

I was trying not to chuckle. No wonder the boys looked so terrible. Fake reality television bounty hunters. You can’t make this stuff up.

Around lunch time we were nearing the state line of Louisiana, but would solidly be in Cajun Country before it would be time to eat. Now, I’ve made the drive from Texas to the east coast dozens of times and if there is anything I’ve learned it is NOT to eat in any places on I-10 or I-20 in Louisiana. This is now a cardinal rule. I reminded my mother of this. She was skeptical but trusted me. Still in Mississippi but dangerously close to the state line, we pulled into an establishment for brunch. While the food was good, we soon learned that we were too close to the Louisiana line to have good water, which was in the drinks.  Lord have mercy on the women changing diapers.

Deep in the bowels of Louisiana we pulled over to a gas station and Popeye’s in a attempt to regain cleanliness and composure. Ironic, I know. I sat with Firstborn while my Mom went in. She came out shortly after looking jaundiced and haunted.

“You will NOT go in there. Go to the gas station across the street.”

I was befuddled. “You mean I have to leave a restaurant to go to a gas station to find a cleaner restroom?”

“Yes. It smelled like rotting chicken skins, as if the water backed up and wasn’t cleaned out. On smell alone it might have been worse than the Deliverance bathroom.” (See Part 1)

Driving through the state of Louisiana was dismal, which only increases the sheer joy of finally reaching Texas.  Exuding excitement, we stopped at the state line to use a clean restroom, kiss the ground (not in the restroom) and hug the state.

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We made it through a few more hours and finally reached home. There is no place like it.

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