By Guest Blogger Lauren Warren 

I woke up this past Saturday morning unprepared for the day. My daughter, who is three years old, had another awful night of sleep. (I feel like we will never get this sleep thing under control, but that is for another blog.) I am not someone that functions well on very little sleep. As I listened, I heard my husband preparing breakfast downstairs and my ordinarily delightful children squabble over something trivial. I felt the dread of a very long day coming on.

My husband was taking my 5-year-old son to his first UNC-CH football game. My son was brimming with excitement and anticipation. I promised my daughter earlier that week that we would do something fun while they were gone. I had mentioned a pumpkin patch without much thought. She had no idea what a pumpkin patch was. We did not do any fall-type events the year before due to the uncertainties of Covid, and she would not have remembered anything from the year that she was one. But, she did indeed remember me telling her we were going to a pumpkin patch, and although she had no idea what this was, she was determined that pumpkins were on the agenda for the day.

We waved goodbye to my husband and son, and I dragged myself back inside. Hair a mess, at least one coffee short, and not at all prepared to spend the day with my very vibrant and opinionated threenager. My daughter asked when we were leaving. I gave her a list of things we needed to do before going, hoping this would convince her just to stay home: Mommy needed a coffee, breakfast, and a shower; she needed to get dressed and pick out some snacks. (Yes, we make snacks accessible for my kids. Yes, another questionable parenting decision.)

To my surprise (and mild dismay), there was no tantrum. My daughter readily agreed. I took a shower while she played and watched tv, mostly leaving me alone while I got ready. Several times she asked me why I was taking so long (I was dragging my feet). She dutifully put on a pumpkin shirt and did not protest it was not pink. While I put my clothes on, she said she was going downstairs to pack her snacks. I could hear her rummaging around in the pantry, and when I got downstairs, she had laid out some goldfish, a granola bar, and pretzels. My girl does love her carbs. I threw in a fruit strip, so at least it would be well-rounded (sarcasm here, clearly).

My daughter then dragged out the crackers to make us breakfast. I just watched her with amusement as I heated my keto-friendly egg sandwich. Finally, she took the crackers outside to the patio. When I came out, she proudly announced that she had prepared us both “sandwiches.” The sandwiches were two crackers, with a piece of “ham” in the middle (the ham was a different colored cracker for those curious people out there).

I had already picked out Smith Hollow Farm for our first solo pumpkin patch experience. I knew that they opened at 11 am on Saturdays, and my anxiety over crowds (considerably worsened by the recent pandemic) made it utterly vital that we get there early. My daughter gave me no qualms about putting on her shoes (and although one was a sandal and one was a tennis shoe, I opted not to argue), and she climbed right into the car seat.

I drove to Smith Hollow Farm with no expectations. I had never been but seen several posts over the years on various mommy boards about how much people enjoyed the experience. But, as we turned onto the road leading to the farm, my crowd-induced anxiety heightened. It was 10:55am. Would there be a line of one hundred people to get in? Would there be parking? Would we have to wait in the heat to see and do anything? So many questions.

When we pulled in, I was pleasantly surprised. There were not many cars, and we parked in the front row. We were still a few minutes early, so we waited to go in. That was no problem, and we paid the $10 per person (they accept cash or card). I could not see much from the front entrance, so I still did not know what to expect. I could see a few animals but gathered in speaking with the staff that there were several activities behind the main buildings.

My daughter was not old enough to ride the horses, but she was interested in seeing them. When they allowed visitors in, we walked into a large grassy area. There were a few rabbits, goats, and a giant Myrtle Beach-style chair for photos. Next, we walked towards the horses lined up for rides. I explained to the people that my daughter was too young to ride but asked if we could pet one. They recommended the horse named Copper. He was a beautiful 14-year-old horse (they were all labeled with ages and names). As we got closer, my daughter was rethinking the horse thing. I am sure, to her, they must have seemed so huge. I picked her up while I rubbed Copper’s nose, and he nudged her belly and my pocket to make sure we had not hidden treats. After leaving the horses, we tripped over some chickens and got to see a very impressive cow (my daughter was less than impressed). The farm labeled the animals with some basic facts and information, which was nice. At this point, ten minutes in, my daughter was over the animals.

And that is when I stepped behind the main farmhouse. Now, the main farmhouse is beautiful, but stepping behind it, I felt transported and at peace. I am not sure if anyone else has experienced the same, but it was incredible. There was a fire crackling, quaint but tasteful tables set up, lights strung, a fishing pond, and some wonderful old farm buildings. The shade from the old trees and the smells of food and the fire were magical. I immediately felt relaxed and grateful to be there.

My daughter and I stepped into the first building and into a bakery. Treats were lined up at the counter, and my daughter’s eyes lit up. She has a giant sweet tooth and immediately eyed a cake pop that looked like an ice cream cone. And, it was pink. A win-win for her. We got her (first) cake pop of the day and sat by the fire, taking it all in and discussing what to do next.

At this point, I did not have a good feel for where all the activities were, but I knew there was a fire engine somewhere. I watched several people walk up the hill behind the pond and decided to give that a try. We walked up the hill, and that is when my daughter found the corn—literally, huge troughs filled with dried corn for feeding deer or other animals. There were two of them. My daughter popped her mismatched shoes off and climbed right in. She thought this was the best thing ever. And so did all the other kids around us. There were swings, games like throwing a hula hoop on the cow, things to climb on, sand to dig in, and my daughter was in total bliss. The tractor and hayride rolled up while we were still playing, and I convinced my daughter to leave her treasured spot in the corn. We climbed onto the tractor and trailer and made a loop around the farm.

And it was then that I realized what was so magical about that day. My mood had been completely transformed from the moment we got there. Yes, it was a little hot. Yes, I had sand in my shoes. Yes, I may or may not have had hay poking my bottom as we bumped over rocks. But here I was, sitting outside with other families that were enjoying the same things I was, all of us laughing at the kids around us, and I was snuggled up to my sweet daughter. It just felt so right and so like “before.” My anxiety, for a few minutes at least, melted away.

By the time we got back from the hayride, the corn troughs were a little too crowded for my comfort level. But there were plenty of other activities with little to no children, and we tried pretty much all of them. My daughter convinced me to buy her some cotton candy to eat after lunch, and we went off in search of food. I brought some snacks but decided to give their grill a try. It overlooks the small pond and has a very rustic mountain feel, which I loved. My daughter opted to eat Pirate Booty for lunch (yes, I know), and I got a hotdog. We enjoyed our lunch, and my daughter decided, after finishing her Pirate Booty, that cotton candy was not her thing. So we went back for yet another cake pop.

Sugared up, happy, and tired, we finally decided to head home. By this time, it was a little past one o’clock. It was more crowded than when we had arrived, but still not uncomfortable.

So often, I do not feel like these events are worth the overall cost. By the time you pay admission, food costs, and then deal with grumpy and tired children, I begin to question the rationale of it all (and, by that, I mean my Instagram perfect vision of the day just went up in flames). But this, this was the opposite. The food was reasonably priced, and for the number of available activities, the cost of admission was well worth it. In addition, the setting was picturesque, the staff was friendly, and the place was clean.

When we were leaving, I thanked my daughter for insisting that we do the pumpkin patch that day. I made sure she heard me say how much I appreciated her and the time we had spent together. And that I had a wonderful day with her. I hope that is what she remembers when it is pumpkin patch season next year.


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