The Parable of the Exploding Ketchup


We pulled out of the zoo and immediately they started asking for more.

Can we go out for Ice cream?!”  “Can we go out for dinner?!”   Oh please Mom! Oh please!”

We’d just spent hours traipsing around the zoo, petting the wallabies, climbing the wooden train and tracking down the tigers.

We weren’t there for me. I mean we were, but you know . . . not really.

As our sticky, crumb-infested mini van pulled out of the parking lot, my husband looked at me . . . “I’m not going to tell them ‘no’ about dinner. What do you think?”

I have a meal plan in place at home, but whatever you want, baby.”

Let’s flip a coin, Mom! Heads is dinner at home and tails is a restaurant!”

It was a very expensive tails.

We decided on a local brewery, because we live in Grand Rapids, beer city USA, and any restaurant that lasts either is a brewery or supports local beer culture.

We walked in and I scanned the trendy dining room, full of local art and hipster beards. I sighed with reassurance when I spotted the stack of high chairs in the corner.

High chairs, okay, we’re allowed to be here . . . I reassured myself. There is nothing like taking kids out to eat to remind you of just where you are in life.

We sat down and ordered drinks and melt-in-your-mouth fried pickles. While our kids wiggled and spilled, I leaned over to my husband and whispered; “It’s like we’re the PSA for why not to have kids . . . or at least not to take them out to fun restaurants . . . everyone must wonder why we dared emerge from our hot dog cave.”

Then my daughter leaned over and said: “Actually . . . I bet they’re all thinking “Wow . . . they have three awesome kids. They are soooo lucky.”

And I was put. In. My. Place.

She was right. Lucky. Blessed. Full of life and love and craziness. That’s my life. She’s wise beyond her six years.

I sighed and stared out the window as the city full of hipster beards walked by on their evening commute, reflecting on much I was going to miss it.

You see, we are moving in 4 weeks to a rural town in Southwest Michigan after only a year here in glorious Grand Rapids.

I love it here, I feel at home among the breweries, and farmer’s markets, and cloth diaper stores.

I’m not a small town girl . . . 

I want to be here. Why, God, why can’t we stay here? Why are we moving for a third spring in a row?

Is here too good for me?

Then suddenly my attention was drawn back to our table and I was trying to figure out why my daughter’s face was splattered in ketchup.

Like I said, I have wiggly kids, so I wouldn’t be surprised if during my daydreaming she squeezed the soft plastic and wound up covered in ketchup.

I looked at my husband, back to my daughter, and then to my waitress to try to figure out how things had gotten this out of hand.

Apparently, according to my waitress, in breweries, the yeast in the air makes the ketchup bottles explode sometimes.

So I did what any parent would do… I took a picture. Our adorable, pink-haired waitress photo-bombed the shot just before helping me wipe her off with a warm towel.

We laughed it all off as a ridiculous fluke and an amazing Christmas card contender and went on to enjoy our meal. As we did my husband leaned over to me and said: “When I was working in a upscale Italian restaurant we would have had to comp a meal if a ketchup bottle exploded on someone’s kid. This is fun, this is better . . .  It’s better to laugh and just go with it . . . take a selfie.”

And he was right. You can’t predict anything. And instead of getting upset and complaining and demanding compensation and apologies. . .  it’s better to laugh, shrug, and take a picture.

To wonder how in the world things got to this point . . . again . . . or for the first time.

How are we moving again? How am I going to make it work in a small town after a year of children’s museums, posh restaurants, and family nearby?

I have no idea . . . I haven’t become that person yet. But I believe in her. I believe that even though things have exploded again that I will come to, look around, and bloom where I am planted.

It’s easy to be afraid of something you don’t understand . . . or even want. This is because you haven’t seen who you will become yet.

I haven’t walked out of the van yet, unloaded the boxes, or settled into a new version of myself.

This season is the end of something and the beginning of something new. It’s a chrysalis, a doorway, an end . . . and a beginning. Again.

I didn’t want this, but I stand at the precipice of it anyway with a choice: embrace or mope. I did the moping and sulking and understandable grieving of the way I thought things were going to go down.

Now there’s nothing left to do but emerge as something new and become whoever it is I will be in this new home and season.

This is life, it will surprise us and explode in our faces. Let’s live deeply anyway.

Leanne Penny
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