This year on our annual family voyage to the Irishland, there would be no more walking quickly past the other tailgates filled with sub sandwiches and cheese cubes. No more having to say that those beautifully frosted golden helmet cookies are filled with wheat and milk and egg. Not this year. This year would be different. This year I would make our own tailgate. This year the kids would eat hotdogs on plates with ketchup and pickles. There would be an endless supply of safe cookies. There would be countless bags of chips and as many cans of Pepsi as the kids could possibly drink. Nothing would be off-limits. I would say no to nothing.
In order to pull this off, I spent hours and hours the night before preparing, cooking, frosting, and packing. The final detail of the evening was to put together a simple tabletop grill. As I opened the package, I realized that it was not a tabletop grill. Nor was it simple. I was completely overwhelmed by the number of nuts and bolts in the grill assembly kit. As I sat on the carpet and stared at all of the parts, it felt a reflection of how our life feels sometimes. Complicated. Hard to put together. When it should be easy, it so often is, instead, not easy. So tears streamed down my face. My tediously laid out plans were falling apart.
How was I going to cook these hotdogs? My mindwheels started to spin. I was going to figure this one out. It crossed my mind that we could grill the hotdogs on our George Foreman grill but I didn’t have an A/C convertor to get power to it. So, my husband headed out at midnight to the Home Depot. When he got there, he called me with our two options: one convertor that clipped onto the car battery (seemed intimidating) and the other that plugged into an outlet in the trunk of our car. The latter seemed more our speed. Crisis averted.
The kids woke us with their usual Saturday morning enthusiasm, dressed in their jerseys. After a quick breakfast, we headed to South Bend. We met my parents at the minivan and started to set up our tailgate. The Pepsi was out in full force (yes, it was barely 10am) and the Lay’s Potato chips were being pulled open, one bright yellow bag after another. The kids played in the grass and watched the neighbor tailgaters toss bean bags. They threw the football and fought over whether it was a catch or a trap. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer morning.
It was about 11 o’clock when I decided to get grill out and, with confidence, I plugged it into the outlet in the trunk. The green light on the Foreman lit. And then it went out. I tried it again. The green light on the Foreman lit! And then it went out. It proceeded to go out over and over again. There was not enough energy flowing from the car to the grill to heat it. We had bought the wrong convertor. If we would’ve bought the one that intimidated us, the one that simply clipped to the car battery, my hotdogs would’ve been grilled to perfection in a few short minutes.
Instead, there I was with 4 hungry kids in the middle of our tailgate with no meal. My mindwheels were spinning again. We needed an outlet. There had to be somewhere on campus where we could plug this thing in. We dragged all of our tailgate supplies (food, condiments, utensils) onto campus in a cart in search of an outdoor outlet. We walked and walked but there was not a single one in sight.
In the midst of our outlet hunt, just when I was about as hopeless and frustrated as I could get, I caught a glimpse of a bratwurst stand. $2/brat. I felt a sadness sweep over me. Why couldn’t we do that? How would it feel for things to be easy? When our tailgate plans backfired, why couldn’t we just have grabbed a brat instead? I shot my husband a desperate glance that he knows means he needs to take over. He called our nephew and asked him if we could use an outlet inside his dorm room. So, it was in a George Foreman grill, on top of a 20-year-old refrigerator, in Dillon Hall, that I prepared our first tailgate hotdogs, sizzled to a perfect crisp.
Despite how difficult a carefree day can be for a food allergic family, I try to keep focused on the prize: four happy kids. And when I brought down that paper plate filled with hotdogs, that is exactly what met me. Four kids who didn’t care where their hotdog was cooked as long as they were about to eat it. Four kids who were simply happy to be playing and laughing with their family. This is the life we’ve been given. We will always remember that at this year’s annual tailgate we made hotdogs in a dorm room. What a blessing to have such a vivid memory of a day! We have so many blessings. I mean, sometimes you just have to stop and count them… whether it is easy or not.