October 22, 2021

By Susan Lieu

On Saturday I was determined to be the best mom in America and then went full-on AWOL. We were going to get that one photo surrounded by pumpkins where my one and a half year old would be so darn cute, anyone I showed it to, including my dental hygienist would gasp and say, “Well isn’t he a little darling.” We would get our $20 per adult money’s worth. The hour drive would be “part of the adventure.” We would have “so much fun as a family.” That is, until the tears came from me.

As we pulled up to Bob’s Corn & Pumpkin Farm, there was a line to get into the parking lot. When we were stopped by an attendant, I felt like I was a soldier getting parachuting into World War I. The line to get into the actual pumpkin patch was 25 people deep. 

“Marvin, I’m hopping out to get in line to get our wristbands!” As I pull on my shoes, Marvin opens the trunk with 10 cars piled up behind us also talking to the attendant.

“What are you doing?” I yell at him. 

“Aren’t you taking Art too?” 

“No! It’s less efficient!” I say gruffly as I grab my fanny pack and slam the car door. I jog over to get in line and by the time he, Art, and my brother-in-law Jay arrive from the parking lot, I have the wristbands in hand with seconds to spare. The map makes no sense and there are hundreds of other families pumping with adrenaline to also get their cute pic for instagram. 

Once we walk through the official gate, I see a staged front porch of a farmhouse with a small rocking chair, crates of pumpkins, and some sad looking corn stalks that have been pushed around likely from the thousands of other people who have made it before us in the morning. This will be perfect for the ‘gram! I watch patiently in line as the group of 12 other people just lounge around on the canopy doing nothing. They’re talking. They have obviously been there for a while. They’re hanging out. I am standing here with my toddler on my hip. A couple poses with a forced smile taking a selfie. The others don’t seem to notice me there. I am starting to steam so I take action.

“Hi! Do you want me to take a photo for you?” I passive aggressively ask. 

“Oh no, we’re good,” they mumble as they just keep hanging out. I look at them with my bullet eyes. I am going to shoot you with my corneas. I am not smiling. Art is starting to whine. They slowly move off the stage like cows complacently crossing the road. Four children over 11 years old are just sitting there cross-legged, not paying attention. I hoist Art up and put him in the rocking chair as an armrest breaks off revealing a sharp broken screw. More bullets shoot from my eyes and then the kids also move off like slow cows.   

  Marvin, Art and I squish together for our perfect family photo. My brother-in-law holds up our phone to take the shot. But he only has the capacity for just one energy level and vocal tone so Art is not the least bit interested and is playing with his rain boots. 

“Jay! Be interesting!” I hiss as new families with toddlers start lining up giving me bullet eyes. Jay does not get Art’s attention. I grab a pumpkin from the display and put it in Art’s lap. Nothing. I throw Art in the air to get him to laugh. More staring at shoes. More bullets from parents. I want to be conscientious of others and feel an ulcer forming in my stomach. We have to go. We had our turn. We didn’t get the shot. I sigh and pull us out from the creepy staged porch. We’ll get another one.

In the distance I see a cutout with a face for a scarecrow and a pumpkin, perfect for Art and me! This time I tell Marvin to hold Art’s face mid-air and get him to smile as he hides behind the cutout. This one will be a piece of cake! Jay tries to get Art’s attention by mumbling in the wind. Art is confused why his head is in a hole. We try for thirty seconds until Marvin’s biceps get tired and the people who were behind us at the fake house have now caught up with us. No bother!

I take Art onto my hip and try to regroup. We need to relax. Let’s have some fun. Yes! That’s what we’ll do. Fun! I get in line for the cow tractor ride which is a green John Deere tractor pulling 10 connected painted cows that are rusted cut-out water drums for kids to sit in. I hand Art to Marvin and run over to get in line. We wait. When the ride comes back and the kids unload, we get the second to last seat. Whew. That’s a relief! The tractor starts to pull us and he’s going at least five miles per hour and Art is holding the sides of the water drum so tightly that his hands turn white. I decide to up the ante to be the best mom in the world and start narrating every turn, every downward incline and decide it’s funny if I start screaming for dear life like it’s a rollercoaster. I decide to take over as the ride announcer in the back because that’s what the best moms in the world do! The six year olds in front of me all turn their heads back and are smiling. 

After our two laps, we pull up to the fence where the next set of parents are holding their screaming children. 

“Did you hear us?” I ask Marvin.

“Oh yeah. I recorded it,” he says. Oh great! Art will appreciate this when he’s older! We climb out and then I jog over to the barn where I hear children having the time of their lives. Oh great! We can create another childhood memory here! When I arrive, I see a pit of dried corn the whole width of the bar with basketballs, toy dump trucks, and white children screaming. I take off Art’s shoes and put him into the dry corn pit ready to take some cute photos. He starts crying as he sinks into the yellow sandpit. I take off my shoes and climb in with him. It’s so nice and cool. We lose ourselves and play with the dump truck for ten minutes, filling it with grain over and over again. I get a few cute pics and when it’s time to take him out, Art starts to cry again. Moms never win! He’ll thank me when he’s older!

Finally I pull out Art and head over to the giant line of people outside the barn. We’re warmed up and ready to go to the pumpkin patch for the cutest photo of the year. No pandemic is going to stop me from getting this photo that could be our holiday card. I hand Art to Marvin and jog over to get in line. When Marvin finally arrives, we start counting the people in front of us and keep looking over to the tractor that is slowly making its way half a mile from here. As we observe the load time of the current tractor to the other tractor coming back, we estimate it will be another 20 minutes before we are actually on the hay ride to the pumpkin patch. Art starts to cry because he wants to roam free. I want to cry because I want to make sure we don’t leave without our perfect picture. We could go to the main patch or go to the less cool patch in the lower lot 50 feet from us. Marvin insists we go to the inferior patch. 

“What we don’t know what we’re missing out on!” I warn him. He walks down to the subpar patch and comes back. 

“It’s fine,” he says without the least bit of reassurance. I roll my eyes. Does he not understand what’s at stake here? 

“I think we could make it onto this hayride!” I whine as the next forty people unload like more slow cows. Plus, when’s the last time you’ve been on a hayride?

“It’s going to be an hour before we come back and that doesn’t include walking around the pumpkins,” he says rationally. I let out a big sigh.

“Fine. You make the decision,” I huff. Marvin picks up Art and starts walking him over and I pick up our pile of wool jackets and baby backpack carrier. I’m sweating in my turtleneck under the beating sun. Alexa said it would be 55 degrees. It’s not. 

To my pleasant surprise, we arrive at a perfectly staged area with piles of pumpkins against a red barn wall, a giant red tractor people can climb up on, and little stations that are going to be perfect for our family photo! I place Art on a large pumpkin and I get behind him, beckoning over Marvin and handing Jay my phone. This is it! Art is so disinterested and Jay is mumbling to the wind again. My forced smile fades. I get up from my perch and then decide Art is going to have the best father son pic! I find a loose squash on the dirt farm and start throwing it in the air next to Jay so Art can look at me.

“Art! Art! Honey! Oooh! Look at Ma! Art!” Art could care less. I wish I had a secret squeaky toy that he’s never seen. I keep trying but now Marvin isn’t even looking at the camera. Now I have two people I am trying to look in my direction and be super cute.

“Art! Marvin!” I have found two squash and am throwing both in the air. We still haven’t got the perfect shot. I decide that the backdrop needs a change. I get in line at a spot by the red barn wall. This single woman who is directing her boyfriend seems almost done. She’s not. She keeps throwing her hair back so the wind catches it just right. I start shooting bullets with my eyes. Art is squirming. Come on! The other families are taking their sweet time. I try to breathe slow deep breaths. This happens just once a year! We already made the drive. We will get the shot. After the woman without a care in the world leaves the pile of pumpkins, I place Art on a flat pumpkin and as I back up to take a photo, another family gets way too close to us! Like Art will be in their photo and they are now in ours! I stare at them. They do not care. I shoot more bullets. 

Marvin is tired and says “not to worry.” Not to worry? He doesn’t have to worry because I’ve been doing all the worrying for us! I’ve been doing all the worrying so he can read his New York Times app as I’m crouching over coaching Art to be adorable. 

The men in my life totally excited about pumpkin day.

“I need a corn,” I sigh. I’m overheating and my long sleeves are plastering my skin. My brother-in-law is about to go get me some form of sustenance when I get the brilliant idea to wait in line for the red tractor. Art loves steering wheels. This is going to be it. I get a second wind and jog over to get in line. There are two groups in front of me. The first group is a young family like us and they are terrible at getting their kid’s attention. I am going to put them to shame. I’ve got this. The kid looks scared up there. He clearly doesn’t want to be there. Clear out people! They take their time. The next group is two different couples doing every possible type of shot: separate couple shots, girls only, boys only. They are forcing smiles to look like their natural habitat is on the farm when we all know we’re all city folk. Maybe these are future photos for their future wedding website where they will have just a cute celebrity combined name like Bennifer. They are taking their time. I am standing there about to have a meltdown. I am out of bullets! That is how spent I am! After 15 glorious minutes where I hate them so much, they leave. Finally! Then, an Indian family starts climbing onto the tractor. Do they not see me? I raise my voice without yelling but it sounds like I am almost yelling.

“There is a line! I am next!” And I beckon over Marvin to bring Art. I beckon over Jay to use my phone camera. This WILL be our cute photo. This WILL happen. Turns out, Art loves the steering wheel so he is looking downward the whole time. I put on my sunglasses so the camera cannot see how disappointed I am as I force my smile. I’ll get ‘em next year. This year is a warm-up year. Maybe Art will understand instructions better next year. More families wait in line. I remember what it was like to wait. I am a good neighbor. We climb off the tractor. 

I sit in the dirt and wait for my butter-dipped corn. I have retired from my post as a professional photographer. Maybe Art will appreciate the cow ride when he’s older even if we don’t have the perfect photo to put in our annual holiday letter where we put in a collage of four photos to deceive you that the pandemic has had plenty of silver linings. I drink some water. I need to eat some of Art’s cheddar bunnies. I am losing it. 

And then, Art does something cute. He is pushing the wheelbarrow with pumpkins in it! Like really trying to do it! There is a god! I jump to my feet and start taking photos from every angle. I add in more pumpkins. I coach him.

“Wow! You’re helping so much, Art! You work on a farm!” I test out different angles in portrait mode. I WILL get this photo. I WILL have something to show acquaintances when they ask me how it is being a mom. 

Child labor turned out to be cuter than I thought.

By the time the corn comes, I think I’ve got the shot. It doesn’t have the whole family in it, but Art was cute. I know it. We take the corn and roasted acorn squash and walk two hundred feet with my heavy heart to find an empty table to eat. Art can’t eat off the cob yet so I take two big bites and then mama bird out the corn into the bowl we brought for Art. He’s not interested. I eat in silence. When we’re all done, we make our way back to the car, passing by the line of the hundreds of people waiting for the hay ride for the super wonderful main pumpkin patch that we missed out on. Then I see a cutout with four holes — three pumpkins and one for the tractor driver. Perfect! This will be our cute photo! I beg a mom in line who is watching the 40 people unload. We have exactly one minute before she starts moving too. We shoo away all the kids log-rolling down the grass by the cutout to roll somewhere else. I kneel down and place my head into the hole. I coach the family that THIS is going to be the photo! The woman shouts “1-2-3” two times. I hear Art complaining. I sigh. Oh well.

As I pick up my phone from the mom, she whispers, “Sometimes the ones where they’re crying are the cutest.” I nod. Marvin and I walk slowly back to the car, exhausted. I wanted to be The Most Fun Mom in America. But instead, I ordered them all around like military sergeant. It’s like they went to bootcamp and not an idyllic day in the pumpkin patch. Maybe the photos weren’t for Art but for me to prove that I’m a good mom. I scroll through my photos. Art looks the most happy with the broken rocking chair. And instead of smiling at the camera, I’m trying to fix the perfect moment. Another mom fail for the books.  

Art having a great time with the broken rocking chair as I prevent him from getting tetanus.

5 Ways Not Lose Your Mind at the Pumpkin Patch for that One Cute Instagram Pic

  1. Get in line for the buttered corn and lemonade. You are going to need sustenance for this heroic feat. 
  2. Head straight to the staged pumpkin area first when everyone is feeling fresh, fed, and hydrated. Go to the cow rides, slides, and apple cannons at the end. Get the perfect picture and then do all the actually fun things afterwards when there’s lower stakes.
  3. Don’t force. Let your child roam free in different areas and see what they’re curious about and mimic them. See where they are finding joy and then have the camera ready!
  4. Shoot eye bullets at anyone who gets in the way of the plan.
  5. The crying pictures are actually kind of classic. The seasoned mom may be right.