The Butter Monster

000_0008

When my children were little, I tried to make boring chores relatively entertaining for them. I felt that if I could bring a little fun to the mundane, it would help my children to develop a sense of adventure as they approached every day situations. I don’t believe I always succeeded, but we certainly had some fun along the way.

Years ago, as school was starting, the stores were pushing autumn baking, I was in the grocery store with two little ones taking care of our weekly shopping. Because I knew it was not their favorite time, we began to play a game. As we walked through the store, out of the blue, I told them that we had to be careful not to be seen by The Butter Monster.

Truth be told, I have no idea where that came from. Nor did I have any idea what we were running from. However, we made our way through the store, ducking behind displays and dodging other shoppers. We moved quickly up and down the aisles, grabbing the items we needed as we passed.

My two little children (I think they were maybe 4 and 6 at the time) were giggling and squealing like they were outside playing a game of tag. And then it happened….

We turned into the baking aisle and nearly bumped into a display of baking mixes, that was topped by a huge cardboard cut-out of the Pillsbury Dough Boy. “Ah!” I practically screamed, trying to maintain some composure while I still entertained my children. “It’s the Butter Monster!!” I whipped the grocery cart around and high-tailed it out of that aisle. We hid one aisle over while we caught our breath and tried to stifle our giggles. Somehow, we managed to finish our shopping.

On my next trip to the store, I asked the manager if it would be possible for us to have the cut out of Dough Boy when the store was done with the display. While they thought I was completely insane, they saved it for me. We brought the Butter Monster with us to Thanksgiving dinner that year and sat him at the table, spreading our fun to extended family.

Maybe grocery shopping isn’t such a “boring chore” after all. I realize that I might have made a hasty judgment. Just because I find a chore “boring” doesn’t mean my kids need to, as well. Perhaps, with memories such as these, my children can reframe the “boring chores” and look on tasks such as food shopping as an adventure!

{Image is a photo of the Butter Monster being placed at the Thanksgiving table years ago}

Summer Jobs

img_1998

Since there has been some talk of teenage jobs in my house of late, I got to thinking about some of the jobs I held in my early working life, jobs that were increasingly interesting and varied. I had some not so good jobs and some really great jobs. Being open to the experiences that come along is always a good way to approach life.

My very first job was stocking shelves in my father’s hardware store. But beyond my family circle, the early jobs I held were fairly typical high school jobs. I worked in fast food and motel housekeeping. The fast food job hung on for two years while I simultaneously worked other jobs. The motel where I worked (only for one summer) was owned by a man who felt the tips left by guests were his to fuel the bets he made on the horse races. When we arrived for our day’s work, he could often be seen making the rounds of all of the rooms before the maids went in to clean them. The only time we ever got tips was when the guests would hand them to us directly, which wasn’t very often.

My first summer home from college, I took a job in a gift shop. I worked long days, and the work was not the most interesting. However, it was better than flipping burgers. I didn’t go home smelling like food and feeling greasy, and the people I worked with were ridiculously mischievous. There was always a prank… or ten… in the works, and one never knew what would happen on a given work day. I fit in quite nicely. You said prank? I’m in!

That same summer, I created newspaper advertisements for my father’s business. I caught the attention of the ad salesman who also happened to be the salesman for the gift shop. He would often stop by to chat, and at his recommendation, I took an internship working in the art department of the newspaper during the January term of my sophomore year. That internship grew into a summer job that filled the summers before my junior and senior years of college.

The second summer at the newspaper, they allowed me to take three weeks off so I could go back to my college campus to work as a teaching assistant in a program for gifted upper elementary and middle school students. One of my professors was the site coordinator for the program, and he had offered me that position. The funny thing about that TA job is that one of my present jobs is for the same organization in their online program.

My all time favorite summer job—and one that was truly one of those opportunities that most people never have—was working in the photo lab of an art museum. I spent six to eight hours of every day during the summer in a darkroom. I cataloged the art work that was in the vaults, and I made prints from stacks of negatives. To this day, I am not sure why I did that….

But the most exciting part of the job was dealing with actual works of art. If my boss was working on a particular project in the studio, he would talk to me about it and explain what he was doing. He would tell me about painting and light and the best angle to capture damage or decay in a painting. He would explain how infrared reflectography would create an image that could  “see” the various layers of paint used by an artist. For example, this technique would show the various leg placements Degas used for his ballerinas before he got it right.

One day, as my boss was photographing some paintings from the vault, he called me out of the darkroom. He told me what he was doing, explaining his chosen angle and what it would show about the pieces in question. And then he handed me a seldom seen Monet painting that spent much of its time in the vault–for lack of wall space. Upstairs in the museum, these paintings were connected to alarm systems in rooms with guards. If a visitor accidentally leaned on a painting or touched it, an alarm would sound and the guards would come running. And here I was holding it in my hands!!

Yes, I held (in my hands) the very same canvas that was painted and held by Monet, himself. It was one of the amazing perks of that summer job. Because summer jobs are like that. You never know what might come up. The job might lead to a position that you will hold for many years, or it might just lead to an opportunity of a lifetime!

Art supplies

img_2360

This evening, I had to stop by one of our local craft superstores because I had a question for one of the more experienced individuals in the framing department. I waited for a while before the sales associate walked right by me as I stood at the counter. Before she walked by me the second time, I stopped her. “Is there anyone in the framing department to answer a question?”

“I’m sorry!” she exclaimed. “I thought you were being helped. And here I am walking right by you…. Hold on. I’ll find someone for you.” And off she went.

Meanwhile, my daughter perused the aisles, captivated by the appealing art supplies. Pens. Markers. Sketch pads. Ink. Paint and brushes. Canvas. I watched as she picked up various items, studied them, then put them back in their places.

The woman returned, apologizing that there didn’t seem to be anyone available to help me. In the end, she was able to offer a passable answer to my question.

As my daughter and I exited the store, she was clearly thinking about all the items she had just seen.

“Why do art supplies have to be so expensive?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You could get a job to help you buy some.”

“Yeah, but where am I going to get a job?”

“Hmm…” I thought for a minute. “You could work here. Then you would get an employee discount!”

There was a brief pause while this piece of information registered in her mind. “That is a great idea!” she finally said. “Why haven’t I thought of that before?”

Indeed, I thought it was pretty brilliant, myself. Maybe I could get a job there….

Chocolate chips or…

img_2631

Yesterday, I baked some cookies. Baking cookies at this time of year serves two purposes. First, it provides us with dessert for school lunches. But second, using the oven takes the chill off the house when the sun goes down in the evenings. And so far, I really haven’t had to use my heat much this fall.

I asked W what he wanted in his cookies: chocolate chips or M&Ms. He opted for chocolate chips. I asked J the same question.

“How about nothing?” she suggested. She is one of those kids who has never really cared for sweets. Regardless of what I add to the cookies, she’ll pick them out.

However, I had just stocked up on baking supplies for my holiday baking. “I have toffee pieces,” I told her. “I can use those instead of chocolate chips?”

She shook her head. “No thanks.”

“Cinnamon chips? I have some of those….”

Again, she shook her head.

I opened the pantry cabinet. “Ooo, I know! How about Skittles?” I ventured hopefully. “I could put Skittles in the cookies.”

“Mom, that’s gross.”

I suppose that would be. Or, maybe not….

Leaves

img_2628

Friday was a windy day. As we say in New England, it was wicked windy! All afternoon, I watched from the window of my basement office as the leaves swirled in the sky above me. Then again, being in the basement, pretty much everything was above me.

But with all the wind and the drop in temperature, things had taken an interesting turn back at home. The leaves in the area had been cleaned up just about a week ago, but they always do the “fall clean up” just a little too early. As happens every year, when the wind starts blowing, all the leaves that remain on the ground, on the trees, and pretty much in the entire neighborhood, collect right in front of my house. Every year. It has something to do with the way the townhouses are staggered and the fact that mine is set back from the ones on either side, I suppose. The alcove by my front door is the perfect repository for the residual leaves.

By the time I got home–with the recent time change–it was dark out. And seeing as I am a creative person, I have an over active imagination in the daylight. So when I arrived home (in the dark) and approached my front door, I was well aware that the leaves that were mounded in front of my steps were the perfect size and shape to be hiding a body. Or a live person who might jump out at me. Granted, said person would have to be lying flat, and would have to stay very still, but it was possible. Anything is possible.

I pushed the thought out of my mind and walked quickly to the front door, carefully stepping over the leaves rather than in them, as I do in the daylight.

The next morning, I told this story to my daughter. “I thought the same thing!” she exclaimed. We creative minds think alike. Then again, in this neighborhood (and with my neighbors), there is no telling what might be hiding under a pile of leaves in the dark.

On a positive note, because the wind brought all of the remaining leaves in the neighborhood to my front door, my back deck is now leaf-free!

The Choice

dsc_0029

As I was driving home from dance tonight (yes, I take a dance class—tap, if you must know. Perhaps I will make that “interesting fact #2…”), the NPR commentator was talking about “the surprise election of Donald Trump.” This was not the first time I had heard these words today. It seems that the outcome of yesterday’s election was a surprise to many people.

It should not have been a surprise. There were, essentially, two candidates running, and one of them was going to win. I suppose too many people had already decided the election results weeks in advance, and they put stock in their choice as the only possible option. They didn’t consider that the other candidate might win. And in that way, it was a surprise.

My own ballot was lacking a candidate who represented my values as a single mother working two jobs, as a person of faith, as someone who values kindness and respect. There was no one who seemed to represent the honesty and integrity I want in the person who is running my country. Perhaps the difficulty I had making any choice at all made it easier for me to accept the outcome.

My son voted for the first time in this election. And all day, I have been dealing with my students, individuals who also voted for the first time. These young voters, they are passionate and full of youthful energy and inexperience. The last time we had a new president, they were ten or eleven and so entrenched in their own childhoods that they barely noticed the passing of the torch, no matter how upset or anxious or elated their parents might have been.

Right now, these young voters are upset and fearful. They are reeling from what is their first major setback, and they are looking to us to set the tone for how we move on from “the surprise election of Donald Trump.” On social media, many people have said, “What am I going to tell my children?”

Well, here’s a thought. Tell them our country has a new President. Tell them that this president may be a good president or he may be a bad president, but he is our president. Therefore, it is our job, as Americans, to come together to support him, to guide him, to pray for him, and to help him to make this country the best it can be.

We can help him by being kind to each other. We can strengthen our country by joining together and loving and respecting one another, by being role models for our children, by healing the divisiveness that has characterized this election. After all, when you say you hate your neighbor, friend, family member, etc. because he/she voted for a different candidate than you did, what does that say about you?

No, we may not agree. But it is our job to support our president—whether we agree with the choice or not—because we are all in this together. We the People will set the tone for the next four years. Together. We will either all go down together, or we will all rise up together.

My daughter, in her youthful wisdom, said to me, “We haven’t even given him a chance yet. Maybe he will surprise us.” Because when we approach new situations with an open mind, we might just be pleasantly surprised. I, for one, am holding out hope that this is one of those times.

Holding back

Frame on eye chart

We were at the eye doctor this morning. As my daughter was reading the eye chart, she missed the final letter. In fact, it wasn’t a letter at all, but a number, which she wasn’t expecting.

It brought me back to the very first time one of my children mis-read the eye chart. It was my son, and he was almost three. At that age, he was reading the pictorial eye chart. I love that chart, by the way.

Here was my tiny little boy—still a toddler—sitting in the doctor’s chair, expected to read an eye chart, something he had never seen before. When he missed the first image, I wanted to jump in and say, “You know what that is. Look closely.” I had to hold my tongue. And hold it again when he missed another, and another.

As parents, we develop a need to teach our children when they mess up and jump in when they need our help. But there are times when we need to step back and hold our tongue. In this situation, I had to work hard, pressing my lips tightly together to prevent myself from speaking up. This was something he had to do on his own. Clearly, I did not know how his eyes were or were not working.

Since that day so many years ago, there have been many mis-readings of the eye chart. And each time, I am reminded of the things my children need to do on their own, the times when I should not jump in to help.

While holding back goes against every thread of my motherhood, each time, it gets just a little easier.

[Image credit: FreeImages.com/Brybs]