As any child development expert will tell you, rituals are an important part of life for young children. Not that we need child development experts to tell us this – watching your three year-old melt down if you try to skip one (or five) of the six songs you always sing before bedtime is pretty much a dead give away. In our house, we have lots of rituals. Bedtime is a big one, of course, as are holiday dinners, when my daughter colors paper place mats for everyone and then helps me set the table with them. But my favorite family ritual occurs right around this time of year, in preparation for Halloween. It’s something we started doing when my daughter was just five months old, and for the last five Octobers, my husband and I have engaged in the ritual of getting ripped off at the Beverly Hills Pumpkin Patch.
Now, let me just say that the phrase “pumpkin patch,” as used to describe this place, is something of a misnomer. For me, the words “pumpkin patch” conjure an image of vast farmland where pumpkins grow on vines and scarecrows stand amid the corn husks. This place, however, is actually an empty lot near Sunset Boulevard that is nestled between a hair salon and an office building, the ground of which has been covered with a two inch layer of hay. Sitting on top of the hay are several hundred pumpkins laid out in neat rows, interspersed every so often with a gourd, or a squash, or a husk of dried corn for maximum effect. The pumpkins are, of course, for sale, and they cost about twenty five times what they would cost if you went to the supermarket down the street. You say pumpkin patch, I say empty lot with hay on the ground and a bunch of overpriced orange vegetables. If only we could call the whole thing off.
It’s not that I mind paying more for my pumpkin. Halloween only comes once a year, and getting a cute picture of my kids sitting on top of a giant pumpkin in a place that looks sort of like a real pumpkin farm is, as they say in Mastercard commercials, priceless. But, amid the hay and the imported pumpkins, the Pumpkin Patch people have also been thoughtful enough to include a petting zoo, a pumpkin- shaped bouncy, pony rides, a face painting booth and a maze, all of which require tickets. And this, you see, is where the ripping off ritual begins. Tickets are a dollar a piece, and three minutes on the bouncy is three tickets. The maze, which is just bales of hay stacked on top of each other in a zig zag formation: two tickets. The petting zoo: four tickets. You can see where I’m going. Multiply it by two kids, and the overpriced pumpkins just got a whole lot pricier.
But what is a city dwelling working mother to do? I need to have my annual, Halloween, sitting on the pumpkin in sort of a pumpkin patch shot, and I’m way too time crunched and lazy to drive out to God knows where in search of a real pumpkin patch. And so, year after year, in the middle of October, we load the kids into the car and stop at the ATM machine in preparation for the Green family getting ripped off at the Beverly Hills Pumpkin Patch ritual. The actual ritual goes something like this: the kids pick out their pumpkins and put them in a wagon, and then the kids climb into the wagon and my husband pulls them around for a few minutes before he starts to sneeze uncontrollably from the hay. My husband then goes to buy the tickets while I take forty seven pictures of the kids sitting on pumpkins, none of which turn out to be good, and then the kids go off and bounce and pet and get their faces painted, while my husband and I complain to each other that we just shelled out fifty bucks for them to jump up and down on what is essentially an air mattress and to pet three goats, a blind sheep and two mean chickens that are probably already carrying the bird flu. Then I take a few more pictures, we tell the kids that no, we are not buying one of the eight foot spiders that is displayed in the tent with all of the other, overpriced Halloween decorations (did I mention that the Pumpkin Patch also sells Halloween decorations?), I pull seven or eight sharp pieces of hay out of my son’s diaper, somebody throws a tantrum, and then we all go home, one big, miserable family plus two pumpkins. As far as rituals go, I realize that it sounds pretty horrid. And in truth, it is. But it’s what we do, and somehow, we still manage to look forward to it all year long.