A few years ago, our family started a tradition with our girls that they look forward to every February. I was looking for an inexpensive outdoor activity that required zero skill or athleticism and could be done with small children in tow. Strawberry picking was the winner. I mean, who doesn’t love strawberries, right?
We loaded up the girls and headed to Plant City. Our favorite spot is called Fancy Farms, where one quart is only a dollar, and they encourage you to eat the strawberries right off the plant.
We got there a little late this year because we had to get through our Saturday morning activities: tennis, karate and gymnastics. Adriana was so excited she kept telling everyone in her martial arts class what our plans were for that afternoon.
Fancy Farms has a few different locations, and to our surprise they were only hosting one U Pick day this year. The money collected would go to the local 4H club. As we drove down a dirt road, we noticed that it was lined with cute country homes that led us to the fields. Ella and Adriana were begging us to move there so they could pick strawberries every day.
We arrived at the gate with an hour left to find our treasure. We enthusiastically handed over $10 for ten quarts. The volunteers working the front table encouraged us to go all the way back since the front rows were heavily picked over. We took their advice and literally found the sweet spot. The section we chose had barely been touched; you could see bright red berries for what seemed like miles.
Now that the girls are a little older, they each get their own container and work together as a team to find the best ones. Of course, we all shared the responsibility for quality control as we pick and taste. Ella is pretty focused; she does most of the picking, while Adriana does a lot of the playing and eating.
I told the girls to take off. Go, run, choose any row you want. My heart burst as I watched them run and laugh and cheer with excitement when they found the perfect berry. I loved to see their strawberry-stained smiles from eating all their loot. You could even see my husband off in the distance quietly selecting his stash.
It only took an hour or so, but it was the most glorious hour. Everyone was happy, there was no drama, no fighting. The girls were best friends, and all was well in the world. I fought the urge to break into song and twirl through the strawberry fields like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
Adriana ran through the rows screaming, “Best day ever!” at the top of her lungs. And it was the best day. That is, until it was time to go. As our hour came to an end and our containers were overflowing it was time to say goodbye. Adriana carefully loaded her berries into the back of our car, then took off running.
Once captured, our little one dropped to the floor of the SUV in protest, flapping all over the place. Our peaceful family outing was abruptly over. Picking Adriana up and getting her into the car seat is like wrestling a jellyfish. My husband started sweating and swearing in Italian, so you knew he’d had enough. I came prepared with paper towels, baby wipes and a change of shoes for everyone. Calmly, I grabbed the wipes and start cleaning the dirt off their faces, hands, feet and seats.
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Once on the road, we were met with the familiar sound of the girls fighting all the way home. Just like that, we were launched back into reality. But for an hour, I had the sweet life.