Three years ago, I met Angie online; a few months later we would become friends in real life, an instant bond that developed at a conference and blossomed thanks to social media and iPhones, a connection only furthered by her impossibly cute daughter, the almost-five-year-old Mayhem. It had been nearly a year since I’d seen Mayhem, Angie and Keith in Ohio, and for the better part of 2014, we’d been trying to plan a time for them to come visit me in Tennessee and give me an excuse to exercise my ability to plan an itinerary for Nashville with kids that appealed to all of us.
Finally, we set a weekend in stone, despite our equally busy schedules filled with work-related travel and all the day-to-day difficulties of being small-business owners, and that day finally came. For the past year, since I first sent Mayhem a couple of my favorite Taylor Swift albums, she’d been telling me over video chats that she “wanted to come to Taylor Swift’s home.” I was happy to play tour guide to the city that made Taylor famous (or was it the other way around?).
Lucky for Mayhem, our condo is right near the pop star’s penthouse, so we passed it few times over the course of the three days. Unlucky for me, I found out the next day that TSwift was actually in town for the weekend for her Nashville #1989SecretSessions and must have forgotten to drop Mayhem’s and my invitations in the mail.
Now, I’m no stranger to putting together the Ultimate Nashville Itinerary for visiting friends, but this was a very different case. 1) I was dealing with a four year old, so I didn’t want to over-schedule her, and 2) I was dealing with a four year with prohibitive food allergies. But we managed to have a heck of a time exploring Nashville with kids regardless, starting with a Friday morning stop at Manuel.
Rachael, a Denver-born, cowboy boot-loving transplant had kindly offered to give Mayhem a tour of the place, including Manuel’s work space, when I called her and told her I had a very special guest who just happened to love fashion.
Manuel was in the back doing his thing, gave Mayhem the lay of the land, and then let Rachael go to town with teaching her how to rhinestone. (In case you’re not familiar with Manuel, he has been designing clothes for 70+ years—since he was just a child not much older than Mayhem!—and created many works of art for Johnny Cash, the Beatles and many, many more. He’s also credited with spearheading the “cowboy couture” movement.)
After Mayhem was thoroughly dazzled with the world of rhinestoning, we hopped in the car and headed down Broadway to DeSano, a new pizzeria that makes its own crust daily and uses all fresh ingredients on its pies (i.e. no soy!) and, lo and behold, turned out to be allergy friendly.
Next, it was off to Cheekwood Botanical Garden, a must-do on any itinerary for any age range but especially for those who need to burn off some energy.
We could barely keep up with Mayhem as she flitted from treehouse to scarecrow, wanting to climb everything in her path.
Perhaps hitting Cheekwood toward the end of the day on a Friday wasn’t terribly wise, as we ran into some dreadful traffic on the way out and it took us nearly an hour to get back to my place. But not before we stopped at Jeni’s Ice Cream, of course! We had been to Jeni’s in Ohio last year together, and I knew Mayhem was a fan but, more importantly, all the ingredients are listed under each flavor making it a slam dunk for those with food allergies.
When we finally got back to the condo, my mom was there to see the child wonder and Mayhem was close to crashing hard, so Angie suggested an early dinner. “Ice cream before dinner!” Mayhem exclaimed, realizing we’d just done things in reverse order. We moseyed on down to Taco Mamacita and were pleased to find they, too, could accommodate us and make her a “taco” (i.e. quesadilla with cheese and black beans) that wouldn’t trigger any allergies.
The next morning, Pancake Pantry was packed so we grabbed a table down the Hillsboro Village row at Fido Café instead. There were no pancakes on the menu that she’d be able to eat, so Mayhem resigned herself to scrambled eggs and sausage and I gobbled down my sweet potato French toast somewhat guiltily.
But I needed my energy, because it was time to brave downtown. On a Saturday afternoon. In September. I know, I know: WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!
The place was packed despite there being no Titans or Vanderbilt game—although the marathon had just finished up, and Wizardcon (i.e. Comic-Con’s more manageable little sister) had taken over the Music City Center—so we did a quick loop around Broadway through the boot shops (Mayhem already came prepared), then down to Demonbreun and the shop at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Mayhem was looking for a Nashville souvenir, and I thought it a good place to find one.
Turns out she was more happy running up and down the stairs of the adjoining Omni Hotel. Gotta love kids; they can make anything into a game!
Oh, I forgot to mention we were in matching frocks? I mean, when you own virtually the same J. Crew dress as your pal 27 years your junior, how can you not don them together?
In Marathon, Mayhem was recognized for the first time (but not the only time; people were approaching us all weekend asking, “aren’t you the little girl who makes the paper dresses? I just love you!”). The best was when, the next day, a college student came up to her and said she saw Mayhem was in town and that she was also visiting, from Atlanta. “Atlanta!” Mayhem perked up. “We’re going home today and then we’re going to Georgia. So maybe we’ll see you there?” So precocious.
I had planned to take them to Centennial Park to run around a bit, but it was overrun with a crafts fair so we went back to my place, wound up at Taco Mamacita for a second night in a row—as they say in these parts, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”—then had a treat at Legato Gelato.
On Sunday morning, we made it our mission to get up early enough to withstand an unreasonable wait at Pancake Pantry. Twenty minutes after arriving, we had a table. There almost was mayhem (pun intended) when our server told us all the pancakes were made with soy—can you seriously imagine anything worse than being four years old and repeatedly told you can’t have anything good due to something you have no control over?
In one rare moment of pouting (and I mean rare), Mayhem puffed her lip, put her hands on her hips and said, “I want to give my allergies back. I don’t want them anymore” (and then I wanted to cry along with her).
But our server was a true gem; she went and talked to the kitchen, and it turned out that they could do a French toast with powdered sugar and whipped cream that had no soy or traces of nuts in it. I think this look of pure glee says it all.
Angie and Keith wanted to get on the road by midday, so we went back to my place to pack up their things … and to walk a few blocks down Music Row to Historic RCA Studio B. Why? Well, to model the dress Mayhem had pieced together out of Nashville Lifestyles covers, of course!
This child is always working, even on vacation.
And she’s also full of one-liners; at one point while we were out at the park, she held up her hand and said, “no photos right now, please.” And later, she asked to take a selfie of the two of us—the kid is all about the selfies, let me tell you—and she said, “you have to ask my mom and dad for permission before you post that.” (I mean, is she four or 24? I love the sense of awareness her parents have instilled in her.)*
We rewarded her entrepreneurial spirit with a trip to Sevier Park to meet my friends Daina and Brian—whose wedding I’m currently in California to attend—but mainly to walk their dog (and ringbearer) Max. If there’s anything Mayhem loves more than making dresses, it’s cuddling canines.
Before they got on the road, we let her have one more treat: a Popsicle fromLas Paletas. Judging by the fact that she ran back inside for a second (don’t worry, her parents vetoed that), I’d say she was digging it.
The weekend I’d been eagerly awaiting on my calendar for so long passed in a flash, with late-night wine sessions and heart-to-hearts with Angie, of course. God bless Keith for putting up with three strong-willed females for three days! For every bit as awesome as you want Angie and Mayhem—and Keith, who doesn’t get a lot of face time on the Instagram feed but is the duo’s biggest cheerleader—they are far more kind-hearted and inspiring in person.