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Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

“Have you ever fallen asleep with a 5-year-old in your arms before?” Ryan asked just before we went to sleep the other night.

“I don’t know,” I said, unsure where this line of questioning was going. “Maybe not.”

We had already survived what Ryan was calling “Meet the Fockers In-Law Weekend” in Steamboat, where our parents met for the first time. It all went remarkably well. We ate some steaks, drank some wine, had some laughs, enjoyed the view, and, as far as I could tell, everyone seemed to like each other just fine.

They have this saying, “Minnesota Nice,” and I am here to tell you it’s true. These Minnesota people are, like, insanely nice. They don’t ask you what you do or where you went to prep school or college or where you earned your graduate degree. They don’t give you the once-over or the up-and-down like they do in the East or the coolly detached what’s-up-head-nod like you get on the West Coast.

“Wow. The people where we’re from are total a–holes,” I said to my mom during a private moment in the kitchen. “I mean, these people are just so damned nice, it makes me realize what jerks people from Connecticut are.”

So, there really isn’t much not to like when everyone’s just down to earth and cool and easy to be around. The conversation flowed nicely, and there weren’t any awkward moments I could detect. Somehow my Dad managed to withhold any embarrassing stories about what he likes to refer to as my “ad-DO-les-scence,” those teenage years when I was prone to things like car-stealing and vodka-chugging and pot smoking and lying. Oh, wait. Now that I think about it he did say, “Lying came very naturally to Alison,” but I’m not sure if anyone was actually listening. He also didn’t mention any ex-boyfriends, which is his favorite-ever thing to do when I bring current boyfriends around. Don’t get me wrong, my Dad is sweet as pie but he has a sadistic sense of humor sometimes.

I’m getting a taste of life with children when, on stop number one of my three-stop tour of Steamboat, Ryan’s niece throws up in the car. It’s an amazing sequence of events because her mother knows at least two minutes before everyone else what’s going to happen.

“Are you sure you’re OK?” she asks, looking at her daughter with that intense eye contact that conveys a level of seriousness that’s not to be tampered with. Daughter nods. “Are you sure you’re OK?” And then, “You are so not OK.”

Two seconds later brakes are screeching and car is swerving and everyone is yelling, “Pull over! Pull over!” and the child is throwing up into a brown bag that Mother magically produces. It’s at that point that I decide the alpine slide and the bouncy house and tubing down the Yampa might not be the best idea.

MacKenzie wears glasses that make her big brown eyes look even bigger, like an owl. She’s only 5 years old but has confirmed my philosophy that everyone is one true age their whole lives in terms of their personality. Like, I’m 15. I absolutely haven’t changed at all since that age. I still think the same thoughts and use the same words and have the same facial expressions, and to some degree the same priorities.

“Kenzie,” as everyone calls her, is 25. She might look 5, and she might sound 5, but in terms of her wardrobe choices and her hair (long, with that perfect just-came-off-the-beach tousled look and blonde on the ends) and her attitude and her abilities as a conversationalist (absolutely brilliant, we could talk about nail polish and shoes for hours) she’s totally someone I can hang out with.

So the little puke session altered our plans a little bit, but it ended up being a pleasant day. The whole thing is kind of a blur, an almost out-of-body experience. All of a sudden, I find myself surrounded by family and love and people I can trust and we’re in restaurants and at Costco and bee-bopping around town and doing things that normal families do.

I’m no longer the dejected single chick on the fast track to 40, searching out ways to maintain a very high level of drama so I always have something to focus my energy on so I don’t have to think about the fact that I’m single and almost 40. Of course it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it’s also addicting, a fact of which I was painfully aware. I love the thrill before the fall, that adrenaline rush that’s released in your body when you’re about to hit the wall really hard. I mean, think about it: Just seven months ago I was at a strip club in Miami trying to impress a guy (who as it turns out, runs with the Mob) by dirty dancing with a female stripper who I then decided was my best friend. During a bonding trip to the bathroom to powder our noses, I gave her my favorite necklace, which definitely makes the “Top Ten Stupidest Things I’ve Ever Done In My Life” list.

Now I’m at Costco, and the only thing I really care about is that case of Pellegrino and getting a new dog bed for George. There are more family meals and games and coloring books and crayons and kid’s movies, which it turns out are funnier and more enjoyable than any adult movies I’ve seen in long time. (Have you seen “Bedtime Stories” yet? Hello!). At night, we all cuddle up on the couch and Kenzie just sort of curls up in my arms like she’s been doing it every night of her life. Her skin is soft and her breath is sweet and as she falls asleep I can hear her breathing change. The moment is so full of tenderness I’m afraid to move because I don’t want it to end.

Ryan, of course, is talking loudly. “She’s out!” he says from the other couch. “If you’re uncomfortable, you can get up.”

The truth is my head is at a weird angle and my neck is a little cramped and I’m tired in an explicable way. Not physically tired like I usually am from too many yoga classes and/or one too many beers. I’m just drained, the emotions of the weekend having depleted my energy like my Jeep uses unleaded gasoline. It’s a sweet feeling, but I’m ready for bed.

Once we’re curled up under the covers, the next thing Ryan says is, “You thought this was just some family vacation but it’s not. This was a test.”

“What are you talking about now?” I say, my eyes already closed.

“Kenzie really took a liking to you,” he says, pulling me close. “So, you passed.”

Even though I’m a lot more comfortable than I was on the couch with Kenzie, I’m afraid to fall asleep, afraid the moment will pass. After just a few moments I close my eyes because for the first time in my life, I know it won’t.


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