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Strawberry Fields, Not So Much Forever

Cora wants to be just like her big sister in all she does, and eating is no exception. Cora cries and kicks when she sees Maddie eating strawberries but I’ve held fast, determined to wait until her birthday as suggested by doctors for allergy reasons. Strawberries are just coming into season in New York, and I’d anticipated finding a pick-your-own-strawberries farm here right after Cora’s birthday and turning her loose in the fields – a sort of coming-of-age amongst the strawberry patch thing.

Then I found out last Thursday that the growing season in Texas is a wee bit different than New York’s, and last weekend was pretty much the last hurrah for strawberries here.

So on Friday, I packed the girls in the car, threw the allergy wait-list out the window, said a small prayer, and drove to the strawberry farm.

Maddie was, of course, ecstatic about getting a chance to pick her own strawberries, and chatted the whole way down about how many she was going to pick, then eat, and bring home to show Daddy. She speculated about what sort of bucket she’d be given to use and how fast she was going to pick. Cora was, of course, clueless that her life was about to change.

strawberries_and_butterflies_025.jpgWhen we hopped out of the car, slathered in sunscreen and sticky from the hot drive down, Maddie marched full of self-importance to the farmer. She stood, nodding solemnly, as he explained how to pick the berries, what to look for, and that she shouldn’t step over the rows but go around them instead. Then she was handed a cardboard bucket and turned loose.

As my mom and Maddie began earnestly picking berries, I grabbed Cora, walked hesitantly to an adjacent row, and sat her down for a heart-to-heart. “Ok, kiddo? I know you’re going to want to eat all of these, but you can’t. We can’t eat them until we’ve washed the sand off and paid for them, ok? That would be stealing, right? So you can walk around all you want, but don’t pick the strawberries, and don’t eat them, ok?”

Cora listened patiently, sitting contentedly as I spoke, until she happened to look around and realize she was in the middle of nature’s salad bar and it was all-you-can-eat day. Cutting me off in mid-sentence, she stood up, walked over to a plant, snatched three berries off the stems, and crammed them in her mouth.

Ok, time for plan B.

I quickly realized that nothing short of locking her back in the car would keep Cora from eating strawberries, so I had two choices: abandon her to the task and pretend I didn’t notice she was cramming EVERYTHING in her mouth – white strawberries, stems, leaves, whatever; or I could aid her in her crime spree and at least have some control over what went in her mouth.

strawberries_and_butterflies_023.jpgSo for the next forty-five minutes or so, I was frantically picking plump, juicy strawberries, removing the stems with a fingernail, dousing them in water, and shoving them in Cora’s hands before she could grab another inappropriate snack herself. Cora was happier than I’ve ever seen her, and quickly turned into a giant ball of mud. We worked our way about ten feet down the strawberry field, but left no red strawberry unpicked. For every five I fed Cora, I was able to put one in the box. I’m not kidding. I’m reasonably certain Cora would have single-handedly denuded the place, such a one-woman plague of locusts was she on those strawberry fields, but Maddie was visibly wilting and it was time to head home.

Maddie and Gamma took their bounty to the farmer’s wife to settle up, and I stepped forward to confess. “Uh, ma’am? Whatever our total is, you need to add extra to it, because my baby ate quite a few strawberries while we picked.”

The farmer smiled broadly in that forgiving, grandmotherly way. “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine; consider it our gift. How much could one tiny baby eat?”

I gulped. “Um, twenty-three strawberries?”

“Twenty-three?” she repeated faintly.

“Yes, ma’am. I kept track so you’d be able to tell how much we owed.”

“That’ll be an extra two-fifty,” she said firmly.

strawberries_and_butterflies_029.jpgBy this time I could barely find my baby under the layers of mud and strawberry juice, and the farmers magnanimously allowed me to hose Cora down in their outdoor planting sink. We ended up having to strip her down to ride home naked, since her clothing was a lost cause. Which of course prompted Maddie to say, “But I want to ride naked just like Cora!”

I had to wash the strawberries surreptitiously to keep the C-Monster from seeing them and demanding more; Maddie wanted Daddy to see her full bucket before we dug in. All in all, we brought home about seven pounds of strawberries: six in the buckets, and one in Cora’s belly.

strawberries_and_butterflies_036.jpgSo we now know that Cora’s not allergic to strawberries, and she and Maddie are happily working their way through the hand-picked ones. Every time Maddie eats one, she asks, “Is this one of the strawberries that I picked?” Cora doesn’t stop eating long enough to ask anything.

As for the strawberry farm, I think they’re happy they don’t also sell blueberries, which is next on our list; Hurricane Cora came through and denuded them enough for one year. And I’d not be surprised to see a “Warning” poster with Cora’s picture circulating the pick-your-own farms the rest of this season.

Anyone know good baby disguises for a blueberry patch?


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