No love like toddler love

[This originally appeared in The Journal, a daily newspaper in Seneca, S.C.]

Over the weekend, my parents and I flew up to Maryland to celebrate baby K turning one on Saturday. There wasn’t too much fanfare – a homemade cake with help from big sister, a unicorn candle I found at the last minute, a few gifts and a lot of snuggles.
While we all enjoyed extra time in person with the girls – and I’m sure my brother and sister-in-law enjoyed having a few rare moments of peace with extra adults around – what really struck me was how big these little ladies get when I’m not looking.
K may or may not have said, “Bye, bye, Dada” while we were sitting in the living room and the almost-3-year-old M may or may not know every word to “Let it Go” from a Disney movie I have yet to see. Of course, that didn’t stop me from donning my Else cape and gloves that were actually toddler socks and dancing around the living room.
I know kids grow. That’s essentially how being a human works — until you get old enough and start shrinking. That’s a topic for Norm to cover, though.
Whether they intended to teach her or not, my brother and sister-in-law have taught M a thing or 12. For instance, she knows how to take pictures on my smartphone and requested to do so several times. Of course I let her and now cherish the pictures of her forehead and blurry toes, but what floored me was her recognition of other apps on my phone.
“That’s Chick-fa-way!” she announced upon spotting the red and white fast food icon. “And that’s mommy’s coffee,” she added when she saw the Starbucks logo next to it. Luckily, she also recognizes the Aldi logo, so there’s some semblance of budget balance going on in her brain.
I later downloaded two new apps just for M — an ocean-themed puzzle game and an Elmo alphabet thing. She would periodically bring my phone and ask if she could play the puzzle game.
It’s sweet that she asks, because we all know she could find the game all on her own if she wanted. And that’s not all she can find. Every night when I closed out the apps on my phone, Chick-fil-A was hiding in the background. Even on Sunday, she was determined to eat some chicken.
She also knows how to work the nap time system.
When we were reading books before her Sunday nap, I told her she could pick one more and then it was time to turn the lights out.
She picked the thickest book on the table.
I opened to the index to browse my 5-minute story options and wasn’t surprised when she opted for “Toy Story.” When I finished the 3-minute version, she put the book away, crawled back on my lap and asked for snuggles.
Known for not being a very still sleeper, I jumped at the chance to get some extra love from my eldest niece. She wriggled and wiggled and kicked her feet despite multiple warnings that I’d get up and leave if she couldn’t be still.
In one last hoorah, she rolled over to face me, squeezed her little eyes shut and buried her face in my arms. Success, I thought.
Her head popped up and her deep green eyes searched for mine. Unsuccess, I thought.
“I love you,” she told me before continuing to kick my shin.
“I love you, too, Little Bird,” I replied.
“And Chick-fa-way.”
I kissed her forehead and decided to call it a draw. At least she loves me as much as chicken nuggets.

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The 2nd 1st of 2018

[This originally appeared in The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

Apparently 2018 is going to be a year of firsts for me.
Writing this, we’re 25 days into the year and I’ve already had two experiences that I wasn’t counting on taking place any time soon. First, as regular readers will remember, was the great chicken slaughter of 2018. Everything went well, by the way. Our church still has a preacher, so I didn’t contaminate anything.
The second task was honestly a little more terrifying for me, yet it was a necessary evil. It wasn’t as bad as the dentist, but getting an eye exam is a close runner-up to necessary well checks and is allegedly a contingency of being an adult.
As it turns out, avoiding eye exams for a decade doesn’t make them any less worrisome for someone who breaks into a cold sweat at the sight of those little black letters.
But, back in December, my dad had a teensy tiny speck of cancer removed from his eye, so it seemed in my best interest to use my new eye insurance to get the ol’ peepers checked out.
I made a quick call to Seneca Optical to set up my appointment, and then another a few days later to reschedule it —not because I wimped out, but because news happens unpredictably.
Alas, it was time. I made it to the office, filled out my paperwork and let Dr. Prescott begin the torture. Or exam, whichever you want to call it.
Just like in the movies, we did the “which is better, one or two?” thing where she changed lenses in front of my face. I wasn’t very good at picking, but I was doing a great job of nervously picking at my nails.
I embraced the vibrant yellow eye drops and then the dreaded dilation. Having never experienced this before, I didn’t heed her warning too well when she told me I’d lose the ability to see up close for a while.
I grabbed my phone to text my mom and sister and let them know my vision was still good as ever, minus astigmatism in my left eye.
I also took a few selfies so I could see how big my pupils were, but as it turns out, I couldn’t see my phone to view the photo. Or take the picture.
A woman walked in to pick some new frames and her shoes reminded me of a pair my best friend, Jenny, wants for her birthday. I sent Jenny a picture of mostly the floor and attempted a message letting her know I’d found her shoes on a lady who could be our mom.
By the time Jenny replied — presumably that the shoes are cute regardless — I couldn’t read my phone no matter how far away I held it from my face. Is that what people with bad vision live with all the time?
It was like visiting a secret world for a little while, but it seems I’m out of vacation days so my next trip to can’t-see-crap land will have to wait.

Caitlin Herrington is slowly becoming an adult against her will. You can reach her at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.

Pioneer training

[This originally appeared in The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

Don’t wear your favorite dress to pluck a chicken.
That’s not advice I expected to be able to give, but I can now 100 percent assure you that your second-favorite dress is a better choice.
I experienced a first on Tuesday afternoon — slaughtering a chicken. In my dream life, I have three backyard chickens named Ella, Nellie and May. They lay eggs for my gourmet weekend omelets, get along swimmingly with my future dog and cackle like hens at my egg-celent jokes.
But part of that dream life must acknowledge that hens don’t lay eggs forever, and my current life acknowledges that chicken is delicious in chili this time of year.
Knowing this and discussing it with my preacher, he generously offered to let me assist in harvesting one of his girls as his four laying ladies had stopped producing eggs in the last few months.
I, for some reason, eagerly agreed. Maybe I just wanted to prove I’m capable of doing it and maybe I wanted to see what it took.
Two quick disclaimers here, dear readers:
First, this is not some weird church ritual, as I jokingly yelled when I exited to the newsroom announcing I had to go kill a chicken with my preacher.
Second: I am about to walk through killing a chicken. This likely won’t go well with your breakfast and morning coffee.
Step one, for me, was picking a chicken. After a brief chat with the girls, I picked the one who didn’t run away when I said the word “knife.” Simple enough.
The first thing we tried was a homemade harvest cone, which involves placing the chicken upside-down in a funnel. This disorients them and prevents any disagreements they may have with becoming dinner.
As it turns out, this chicken’s head was bigger than the opening of the funnel, so we ditched the idea we saw on YouTube and went old-school.
We held her down, I hummed her a little song and her throat met the knife. She put up a little fight and we contemplated letting go to see if she’d run around, but I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to catch her — or if I wanted to.
This is where the dress lesson kicked in. We soaked the bird in hot water and began plucking.
Feathers. Went. Everywhere.
More soaking and more plucking for the two amateurs took about 20 minutes, and then it was time for the part I most dreaded — butchering.
Since I have smaller hands, my preacher suggested I do the gutting portion, which was his way of avoiding it, I think. Rupturing the gallbladder can be dangerous if you plan to eat the chicken, and it should be noted I never found said gallbladder so there’s no way to know whether or not I punctured it with my delicate, organ-slaying skills.
Well, that’s not true.
If I show up to church on Sunday and we’re short a preacher … I’ll blame it on the flu.

In memoriam

[This originally appeared in The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

The week after Christmas was a little bit traumatic in the Herrington household.
I came home from my holiday visits with my family — broken up, of course, by a quick return to The Journal since the news doesn’t take vacation — only to realize I was missing a fish.
Jay-Z, my beta fish, was nowhere to be found.
Before I left, I was careful to treat the water and leave the school a week-long food supply, despite the fact I was only going to be gone for three days.
After a frantic search of the one-gallon aquarium, I quickly accused my cat of poaching poor Jay-Z from the trap door intended for feeding. Betas are air-breathers and Jay was known to hang out at the top, susceptible to the curious grasp of his slightly overweight feline brother.
Fear quickly settled in. Claws is about as domesticated as it gets. He is more scared of stink bugs than I am and there is no way he would have tolerated a flopping fish. I just knew the carcass was sitting somewhere in my apartment, most likely in a shoe. Claws has a thing for leaving toys in my shoes — this wouldn’t be a far stretch.
A survey of the floor and available footwear yielded no results, so I returned to my tank search and eventually located a dead Jay-Z hiding in my banana plant.
Poor Ivy, Sir and Rumi had been swimming around their dead father figure for who knows how long.
The cat still wasn’t in the clear, but I set up an immediate funeral and flushed the body before cleaning the tank.
Cause of death is unknown, but I suspect it is related to a broken heart. Beyoncé, my first desk fish, passed away shortly before Christmas. Her cause of death may have been the result of her former roommate, Destiny. They didn’t’ get along too well.
The jury is still out, but the fish were separated at the time of death.
The third casualty occurred shortly after I cleaned the tank on New Year’s Day.
Petsmart was closed and I was out of “stress coat” that I normally apply during water changes. I could tell it was taking a toll on my blue tetra, Ivy, so I rushed to the office to grab the beta fix from Beyoncé’s fight with Destiny. It has a bit of stress coat in it and I hoped it would do the trick.
Ivy was looking pretty wimpy prior to the water change, likely due to shock of living with her dead father for a day or two. The chemical seemed to perk her up and I proceeded with the cleaning.
She died shortly after being transferred back into the tank and was promptly laid to rest with her father.
For those of you keeping up and likely making fun of my naming conventions, that’s three fish in roughly one week that bit the dust. Just when I had gotten comfortable with being a fish mom and no longer needed a daily reminder to feed them, they all proved me wrong.
This column is dedicated to the three fish I named and the one I didn’t. May the rest in peace.
No name: Unknown-2 days after I got it
Beyoncé: Unknown – Christmastime
Jay-Z: Unknown – also unknown
Ivy: Unknown – Jan. 1, 2018

I’m a regular

[This originally appeared in The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

As much as I’d like to write about Christmas and all the goodies and cute reactions from my nieces and nephew, I wanted to take a moment to tell y’all that one of my largest life goals has been achieved: I’m a regular.
In case you misread that, it has nothing to do with fiber intake and everything to do with how often I grace Monterrey’s of Clemson with my presence.
Nearly every Thursday for the last three or so years, I’ve delivered for Meals on Wheels of Clemson with my preacher, Danny. Here and there, I’ll miss a week due to impending deadlines or holiday travels, but it’s been a consistent part of my life for a while.
Also quite consistent are the times Danny and I head on over to Monterrey’s to grab lunch for ourselves.
A month ago, we walked in the door and the lady standing at the podium didn’t ask how many in our party — she asked if we wanted menus today.
“You come in here so much I didn’t know if you’d need them,” she told us.
I didn’t, to be honest. My Thursday lunches rotate between the burrito deluxe with chicken, taco salad with beef and the occasional quesadilla with rice and beans. Nine times out of 10, I know what I want before I walk in the door.
As soon as we are seated, they bring us water with lemon — extra lemons when the algae on Hartwell is blooming — and remind us of which salsa is mild and which is spicy. By now I should be able to remember that the blue bowl is mild, but sometimes I forget. Or maybe it’s the black bowl. See why they have to remind me? They know I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy food.
They also apparently know my deep love of Americanized Mexican food.
You could take just about anything, wrap it in a flour tortilla, throw some cheese on top and I would be good to go. The contents may change up a little, but the essential three components are always there: meat, tortilla, cheese.
My taco salad? Deep-fried tortilla filled with meat, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole and topped with cheese.
That deluxe burrito? Chicken wrapped in a tortilla and covered with cheese.
My splurge on the quesadilla? Chicken and cheese squished between — I’m sure you can guess by now — a tortilla.
There’s not a lot of variety in my Thursday lunch menu, and that’s just the way I like it. Calling a deep-fried tortilla a salad makes me feel good about myself, and I think you’d be lying to yourself if you said you didn’t occasionally do the same. Potato salad? Jell-O salad? Not at all a salad.
But back to the point: It’s been a long-time adult dream of mine to be recognized when I walk into a restaurant, and I would like to thank Monterrey’s of Clemson in Central for finally making that dream come true. I will go into 2018 with my head held a little higher.

Caitlin Herrington is an aspiring adult who will talk non-stop about her nephew and three nieces given the opportunity. You can reach her at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.

Sweet, Southern Christmas memories

[This originally appeared in “Home for the Holidays,” a special section of The Journal, a print publication in Seneca, S.C.]

 

Looking back at the Christmases of my youth, I’m starting to realize my family may be a little bit redneck.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to come to this conclusion, but in writing this column I’ve all of a sudden become vastly aware that bleeding out a deer and sledding downhill in the top of a wheelbarrow may not be normal Christmastime practices for everyone. Did anyone else have to dodge barbed-wire fencing while sliding in the snow?

column_Cat CAH pic 1

I’m much better at remembering Christmastime in the last decade or so, but memories from 1990-2003 are probably my favorite, as foggy as they may be.

My mom’s family rotated who hosted Christmas so every third year we went to Mississippi. Those were the years we’d cram 40 people — all of whom I’m allegedly related to — into a tiny cabin and eat and try not to be intimidated by the number of dead animals hanging on the wall. To be fair, the Santa hats and bows made them much less threatening to a young girl who didn’t grow up hunting. What was still fairly disconcerting was the deer that was being gutted outside.

In a typical Hallmark movie, everyone would stay inside because there was snow falling and it was chilly outside so we’d huddle around a fire. Y’all this was Mississippi and it was hot with 40 people in a tiny cabin so we were known to walk around outside in our short-sleeve shirts. You never forget your first deer gutting. At least the colors were appropriate for the holiday as the red splashed down onto the still-green grass.

That has to earn us at least 10 redneck points.

My mom’s sister lived on a farm in Western Kentucky. We shucked corn in the summer and went sledding behind four-wheelers in the winter. I feel certain child welfare would be called if we did the same thing today — yet I secretly hope my second cousins enjoy the same privileges this winter.

Do you need a license to drive a four-wheeler? How fast do those things go? 10-year-old me was positive it was 60 miles per hour and had the frostbite on my nose to prove it. Current me knows that’s not possible, especially when it was hardly freezing outside, but I refuse to let it taint the memories with my cousins. We were flying on those inner tubes and you can never convince me differently.

As fun and mentally scarring as those memories are, I don’t think anything will ever top wintertime sledding at the Hayes’ farm.

Their humble abode sits atop the steepest, longest, most daunting hill in all of middle Tennessee. I know you think I’m exaggerating but I would never in a million years use hyperbole to describe my childhood.

I think it was an unwritten rule: If it snowed, the entire congregation was invited to Mr. Mark and Mrs. Cindy’s house on the hill to enjoy some good, clean family fun of sledding to our potential deaths.

column_Cat CAH pic 2

To this day I’m not sure if any of the families who attended owned real sleds. It doesn’t snow much in southern Tennessee, so why would we? But what we did have were pool floats, trashcan lids and wheelbarrows. And buddy, we would fly down those hills dodging hidden cow patties, each other, small boulders, the creekbed at the bottom and bits of barbed wire as we went. I have a very vivid memory of my sister and the preacher’s daughter throwing themselves off a “sled” to avoid such fencing. I wasn’t sure if they’d make it, but I reckon the parents standing at the top were saying some special prayers because they are alive and well today.

These memories seem even sweeter now that I have nieces and a nephew whom I’ll get to watch experience the same things. The youngest will be 8-months-old at Christmas, which is probably the perfect time for a redneck family like mine to take her sledding.

Anybody have any ideas on how to fit a wheelbarrow in a sedan?

Caitlin Herrington was born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky. She would, in fact, use hyperbole to describe her childhood. You can reach her at cherrington@upstatetoday.com.