I used to have childlike wonder. I used to love playing with my dolls and imagining fantastical worlds, but then I turned 10 and my interest in it fell off a cliff. Almost my whole life, I could dance for hours. Now, I'd rather sit on a couch and stare blankly at the wall. With each passing year, I've grown more stodgy and colorless. I'm prone to bitching and hate doing anything that requires energy, which I'm certain makes me a blast for my kids to be around.
One thing that hasn't changed over the years is my relationship to ice cream. Although I think it's delicious, I've always had complicated feelings about it. As a child, I would enthusiastically demand ice cream as a special treat. My mom would narrow her eyes at me, but she, against her better judgment, would always take my sister Sarah and I to Baskin Robbins. I would order a chocolate ice cream on a sugar cone. (I always considered the sugar cone to be a sophisticated touch, not like the cake cones, which are cartoonish). I would take two licks of the ice cream and immediately begin talking with the speed and chaos of a derailed train. Meanwhile, I'd forget to continue to lick the ice cream cone, which would slowly start rolling its way down the cone. My mom would anxiously watch it melt and, at the last second, would lick the ice cream moments before it touched my hand.
A mother of twelve can only be so diligent. Eventually, the tiniest bit of ice cream would make its way to my hand. The tears would be instant. I'd howl with pain, feeling personally injured by the negative impact the passage of time has on frozen desserts. I would march over to the trash can, throw out the ice cream, and immediately sound the alarms. I had a dirty hand and someone needed to take care of it.
Part of my anxiety around the experience was the fact that Baskin Robbins has napkins thinner than tissue paper, which they dole out sparingly. Don't look for them anywhere on the customer side of the counter; you have to ask the employees for them and they only give you two at a time. I knew that, once that stickiness reached my fingers, my day or night was ruined. There was no telling how long I'd have to walk around with my hand in this state. I'd leave the ice cream place in an absolute panic, licking my hands to try and bring some semblance of comfort back in my life. I eventually gave up on ice cream cones and came to accept that the only way I'd really get to enjoy it was in cake or milkshake form.
For 25 years, this worked well for me until I walked through the doors of motherhood, which is when my safe consumption became irrelevant. Kids don't want milkshakes. They don't even acknowledge that there's ice cream in there. To them, that's just sweet milk. They want to see that what they are eating is ice cream in either a cup or on a cone. As if I needed another reason to feel like a total buzzkill parent, I'm the mom who dreads taking her kids to ice cream. In all fairness, it's an issue I've had since I was little, so it really shouldn't count as a strike against me.
I'm unable to see their excitement through my anxious anticipation of the hellscape that is my kids at an ice cream shop. First, there's the counter. As someone who spent years working in food service, I know how horrible it is to patiently standby and watch customers hem and haw over their choices. And the customers who want to try 30 samples are the worst. But, aside from Jude who always orders vanilla in a cup with sprinkles, my family is the one that can't decide what they want, which isn't helped by the fact that the menu boards at ice cream shops are always hung in the least visible places. I sweat as I watch the line grow longer behind us.
Then, there's the standard mess. It happens almost immediately. Darla gets ice cream all over her face and hands. Jude tries to put his entire scoop on his spoon and bring it to his lips rather than bend forward to eat it over the bowl, which leads him to drop half the ice cream on his lap. The end result is a table and two kids smeared in a rainbow of stickiness. And, worst of all, my hands are covered in ice cream despite me not even having ice cream (i'm not gonna waste my dessert on such a panic-inducing scenario for me). I'm then forced to do the thing I hate the most. I go to the counter, ask for napkins, and return to wash my kids off with the tissue paper, leaving bits of paper on my hands and their faces. At the end of the cleanup, my hands are still sticky and I didn't even get the benefit of it coming from my own ice cream cone.