When writing up Ben’s wish list I tried to type exactly what he was saying. Some of his wishes I told him right off the bat we could do (the zoo, a bike shop, the Apple store) and others I told him NO WAY am I doing that (Antarctica, the Sahara.) Other wishes I knew weren’t realistic, despite how much I wished we could help make them happen – seeing the northern lights, or getting into the Food Network kitchens. (I actually told him the northern lights may be easier to see than the kitchens!) I tried looking into it and read that they don’t do tours and there’s not any way the public can just come peek into the their studios, which I told Ben. He was sad, and said maybe if we went to NYC someday that we could go by and see the outside of the studios? I wasn’t even sure where they are located (I knew the general area) but I told him maybe someday. Then I tried to redirect him to other wishes that I knew were more feasible.
This was all before Ben’s story began to be shared, and suddenly we were going to see the northern lights (I almost fell down when I got the call from Janet at WFAA telling us about that opportunity.) Dreams that I thought were not possible were happening – it was happening. But through all of these incredible adventures when Ben would comment on how much he loved this cooking show or that chef and wouldn’t it be nice if someday we could visit Food Network I would always remind him – Sweetie, I’m sorry but they don’t do tours.
Ben even began plotting how he could get onto the show Worst Cooks in America so he could visit. It became a family joke.
We flew to Florida in November for Ben’s Disney visit, and when we landed I flipped my phone back on to check in with our driver. An email popped up from someone saying she was with the Rachel Ray show and could we talk? I’m on the airplane still, we’re heading to a crazy, loud theme park in the morning and I write her back to say YES, a million times YES, I hope you’re a real person and NO WAY!!! All while trying to tell Kit what’s going on but playing it cool so the kids don’t notice that their mom is having a happy freak out on the plane.
The next day we get in touch and it was a circus because I am trying to make sure Ben and the other kids don’t hear me which means Kit’s herding our six kids around (he says it’s like herding cats) in this ridiculously loud and crowded place and I’m shushing and making hand gestures and trying to find a quiet corner and it was hysterical. I’m sure the producer thought I was nuts, as she’s asking me for background info and details and I’m trying to see if my children have all escaped.
Over the next week that we were away we talked back and forth to discuss details with the crew, all while trying to keep this quiet from the kids. Because I had just a few weeks earlier left for Los Angeles for a week to take Ben and C on a special trip we decided it would be best for Kit to take this adventure and me to stay home. (Some of the little ones have not taken so well to the wonderful but unexpected changes in their schedule, and they hadn’t quite forgiven their Momma for being gone for so long on that other trip.)
Logistically it worked out that we would fly home Monday afternoon, meet up with the crew Tuesday at 8am, then Kit would fly out with Ben and C (our oldest) that same afternoon. Except our flight was delayed from Florida so we got home LATE and the confused kids didn’t understand why we were throwing suitcases into our bedroom and trying to make sure the house was clean while I’m also trying to pack suitcases for the three travelers in secret. It was a rather chaotic 20 hours, but we did it! We got the back story shot and we got them packed (Kit had to make a last second trip to clothes shop) and we unburied the winter coats and they made it to their flight.
Though the flight itself was quiet the adventure, which I’ll have Kit insert here:
We arrive at the airport without incident, and we’re waiting for our plane to board. And waiting. And waiting. Turns out that the plane needs some maintenance, and they’re trying to figure out if they can fix it or if they’re going to have to take the plane out of service. After about an hour, they start to board the plane. Apparently they fixed it. The pilot comes on while we’re boarding to explain that the front landing strut was out of hydraulic fluid, but they were able to top it off and we’ll be getting under way.
Four hours later, we’re coming into the Newark airport. It’s 1 AM. The landing gear engages, and we’re coming in for a landing, except we don’t land. We overshoot the runway, the pilots throttle up and we start turning around. “You may have noticed we didn’t touch down just then. Our indicator light for the front landing gear didn’t come on, so we flew by the tower for a visual confirmation. They saw the front gear, so we’re just coming around to take another shot at the landing. Control has sent out the rescue brigade as a precaution, but we’re not going to need it,” the pilot said. So pretty much, prepare yourselves for a crash landing, but not really. The boys are both awake for this, and yes, they see the dozen or so fire engines lined up on the side of the runway. Just in case.
Okay, so we don’t crash, but we do have to call our car to pick us up. They’re about 30 minutes out. On the bright side, I have an episode of Doctor Who on the laptop the boys haven’t seen yet, so we spend some quality time waiting for the car. Driver arrives, we have another 30 minutes to the hotel. Now it’s 2 AM.
We get to the hotel, and they have been expecting us, but they won’t let us into our room. There was a carbon monoxide leak in the room. They have no other rooms available, but there’s another place up the street and around the corner, and would it be okay to sleep there for the night, and by the way, is a bunk bed okay? I don’t really see that we have any other options, so the assistant manager walks us through the NYC streets at 2 AM, in 20° weather, to this new hotel.
Happily the new place is expecting us, and they do have the one room for us. But when we get checked in and make it up to our room, the place is a closet. Literally, I can reach across the room with my armspan. And they managed to stick a single-size bunk bed at the end of this room, but the thermostat is stuck on “heat”. It’s 20° outside, but 90° inside this closet with a bunk bed. Those little $5 bars of chocolate they leave in your room? Puddles.
I get the thermostat turned off, open up a window, put C on the top bunk, shoehorn myself in with Ben on the bottom bunk, and try to get to sleep. It’s now 2:30 AM.
I get a call at 8 from the producers asking me if everything is okay. “Have I got a story for you!” I tell them.
They allow us sleep for a few more hours, sort us out, get us in a room that’s not quite a closet, and we continue our adventure in the city.
By the way, the room adventure was absolutely not a problem. The boys didn’t think anything of it, nobody was hurt, and I have another story now. Everybody wins.
Back to Heidi.
So the story that Ben got was that he was being taken to NYC to ice skating. And he’s nine years old so that didn’t seem odd to him that he would be flying that far to ice skate when there are options closer. 🙂 Such a trusting kid. The driver came to pick them up for their “skating” adventure and instead where did they head?
The FOOD NETWORK KITCHEN!!
The text message I received from producer was that Ben screamed when he realized where he was, which does not surprise me in the least because I really had convinced him that getting into those kitchens was virtually impossible.
Kit again. The folks at the Food Network were so kind and delightful. They gave us the full tour, and had lunch waiting for us in the test kitchen. Chef Rich made an amazing three course meal (best seafood I’ve ever had hands-down), and Chef Miriam (you may have seen her on Throwdown with Bobby Flay) made some incredible cookies for us. Our lunch was crashed by Rachel Ray, Katie Lee, and Anne Burrell. I thought Ben was going to pass out. Hugs all around. So much fun. An absolutely unforgettable experience for this impossible wish.
Back to Heidi for another addition – when we were in NYC in the spring we didn’t have a chance to visit the American Museum of Natural History. When the crew was here for the back story we were highly encouraged to get Ben to see the blue whale if at all possible. The schedule was tight, and it didn’t look like it was going to work out. Kit said there was a very disappointed big brother (C) but he hadn’t mentioned it to Ben because he knew it was going to be stretching things to get over there. They finished filming for the episode, Kit saw what time it was and since they were looking okay for their trip back to the airport Kit asked if the driver could stop by the museum so they could run in? They said sure, so off they went only to discover that the hall with the blue whale was closed for a private event. Kit is texting me throughout and I’m so sad they’re going to miss it when Kit says he’s going to ask anyway.
And they said yes! He talked with the security guard and they let Ben come see the blue whale! He even took a selfie with it, of course. Then off to the airport and back to Texas after a trip Ben will never, ever forget.
You can watch the show clips here.
And thank you to those capturing these pictures for us in the kitchens! It helped me feel like I was enjoying the experience with them to get the updates and Ben loves, loves, loves having these photos to help him remember.