The Tailgate Twist


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.

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22 Responses to The Tailgate Twist

  1. Patty says:

    Add this to your Christmas list! I just saw this in a magazine and thought it seemed interesting and wondered who would use it…Now I know!

    • Sarah says:

      Patty! You are hilarious. I am TOTALLY adding this to my list. In light of my most recent soy chai no foam, no water, extra hot addiction, this would come in VERY handy. Thank you for reading!

  2. christine says:

    Sarah, again, you inspire! How you go the extra mile (really, 10,000 miles) for your kiddos ~ they are so blessed to have you for their mom!

  3. Michelle says:

    This is a post I can totally relate with. So often, I find that having food allergies and being at the mercy of other’s kindness (in this case, your nephew’s) can be a reminder of other’s people goodness. My food allergic son often sits by himself at the peanut-free table at school, so the janitor, more often than not, takes the time to sit with him during his lunch, and so my son feels special. If he didn’t have allergies, I would not have seen this side of the janitor. Thanks for blogging!

    • Sarah says:

      Michelle, You are totally right. It can bring out the kindness in others and when it does, it is so wonderful. I don’t even know that janitor but I want to give him/her a big hug. Thank you for reading, Michelle.

  4. jen says:

    Did you still make it in time for the game? Good for you though! That will be an awesome memory in a few years. I would have loved to see the inside of a dorm as a kid.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes, Jen! We did make it in time for the game! They loved it. I, on the other hand, could’ve done without the slivers from the old bleachers that drove through my jeans and into my thighs… :) Thank you for reading!

  5. Cristine says:

    Hi Sarah, when I read this post it made me cry. Just because I could so relate to you (my younger son has many severe food allergies) and I was flooded with emotion and heaviness. But it was a good, needed cry. I feel better now and am ready to get back to keeping my kid safe and happy. Thanks, Sarah.

    • Sarah says:

      Well, Christine, I teared up when I read your comment. Sometimes you just need to let your fear and stress pour out in order to keep going. I am glad that you were able to do that and that you feel better now. We just need to keep supporting each other! Take care of yourself.

  6. Renata says:

    What a positive and encouraging ending to the story! I was sitting here worrying about an upcoming Christmas party at preschool that I have almost no control over, and then I read your post. Yes, there is always a way to have our kids safe and integrated in the same time. We have to be creative and unconventional and even brave sometimes, in order to help them live the best possible life they could have. Thank you, Sarah, for the reminder!

    • Sarah says:

      Definitely brave and unconventional and creative. And it is hard to be on top of your game all the time! I always tell my husband that one of the most challenging things about being a parent is always needing to be creative… both in action and in conversation. Thank you for reading!

  7. Diana says:

    It is great to see you doing so much to help your kids have that “normal” experience. It does get frustrating when things go awry with the plans but this is such a great inspiration to keep us all doing those extra things for our kids.

    • Sarah says:

      Diana, That “normal” experience is sometimes challenging to figure out but when you do and then you look at the kids and realize you are the only one thinking about how to navigate around the food allergies, it’s pretty rewarding, right? Take care and thank you for reading!

  8. liz says:

    Was just directed to your blog by a friend, and it has been incredible and emotional to read- I too cried while reading because for the first time I realized I am not the only one who goes through the 100 steps to “prep” for an outing- with the goal of not having to say “no” to anything…I sometimes get frustrated with the “its not fair” and often have thoughts like you did when you passed the bratwurst stand, but then I pull myself together and realize this is our life – My daughter has severe food allergies to milk and egg, however this week ate some candy, with no milk or egg listed, and she went into anaphylactic shock- so now I am at a total loss and terrified to give her anything thinking she may be allergic to something new….needless to say, I am so thankful to my friend for forwarding me your website, perfect timing after a stressful week!

    • Sarah says:

      Liz, Happy that you were referred to my site with such impeccable timing. I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s reaction. Such a scary time and, when you don’t know the trigger of the reaction, such a sad and uncertain time. I’ve been there and it’s like you become paralyzed…don’t have any idea what do to next. You will get through this though. Take care of yourself and I hope to hear from you again. Sarah

  9. I suggest adding a “google+” button for the blog!

    • Sarah says:

      Hello Hellen,
      Thank you for your suggestion. I will look into that. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t even know what a “google+” button is but I will soon!

  10. Thankyou for helping out, good information.

    • Sarah says:

      It is my pleasure to help. I am happy that you are finding the information useful. Thank you so much for reading!

  11. Jan says:

    You hit the highs and the lows of living with food allergies — definitely relate to “Why can’t we do that?” when hungry and their are vendors everywhere but the only safe one sells mini donuts. We have seen the kindness of many people because of the food allergies. Of course we would rather not have them but as you said, this is our life!

    • Sarah says:

      It is so hard when there are so many options for everyone else and so little for them. You have to stay focused on the kindness you find and let go of everything else… easier said than done but that’s the goal! :) Happy New Year to you and yours!

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