Yeah. I’ve done a little modeling…

When Ezra, our African-born son, was struggling with his new language last year, we signed him up for speech lessons. At first it was difficult to determine if his issues were basic language acquisition (getting his words) or physically articulating them (saying his words) or both or something else entirely. We needed help!

 

His speech lessons were a worthwhile way to spend all those mornings last spring. Not only did he get hours of focused attention for his speech issues, but I also got a sounding board for many of my questions. For instance, I solicited their professional opinions as to how often I should correct Ezra’s verbal mistakes.

 

By the time we started the lessons Ezra had been in America for about a year, so it wasn’t that he was having a hard time speaking English. He was naturally replacing Lingala words (his native language) with English words. The last holdouts were words like lipa (bread), bongo (others), minga (thinking? We were never 100% sure about that one but he said it often).

 

His most consistent errors were things like leaving out words or ungrammatical subject/verb agreement or incorrectly using pronouns. In other words, he sounded like a caveman. So I asked the director of the speech clinic if I should correct him when he used “me” instead of “I” as the subject (Me sad. Me sleepy. Me lovee bacon.) because he did it constantly and I didn’t have the heart (or the stamina) to tell him he was wrong all day long. She said that I should model the appropriate pronoun and he would catch on eventually.

 

That day when we got home from speech, as if on cue, Ezra said, “Mom, me hungry.” Remembering what the director told me, I said, “Ezra, I am hungry.” He paused for half a second and said, “Well, eat something.”

 

Modeling the behavior we would like to see in our kids is often easier said than done. It takes consistency and thoughtful introspection and time. I feel confident that Ezra will eventually use the correct pronoun when he’s referring to himself, though it hasn’t happened yet.

 

But it isn’t just parents who are role models and it isn’t just kids who need them. Moms of Newborns need the advice of Empty Nesters. Pre-teens need Responsible High School Seniors to look up to. Newly Hired Employees need Seasoned Veterans to guide them through the first months of a new job.

 

To put it plainly, most everyone can be a role model to someone else. Look around and see if anyone is looking up to you. You might be surprised (or even a little scared) to know that others are watching and taking mental notes. Be the leader they deserve.

Volunteering at the Book Fair

Earlier this month, I volunteered at my son’s elementary school Book Fair. Since I haven’t worked retail in 20 years, this felt like I was playing store. But working the cash register (while narrating my every move: “press taxable sale, scan item, hit okay…”) wasn’t my only volunteer requirement.

 

When a class came in, we would help them fill out their wish lists. Some kids—namely kindergarteners and first graders—had a hard time differentiating between making a wish list and making a purchase. Sometimes they thought they should be able take the book home once I wrote it down for them even though there had been no cash transaction.

 

This was just one instance of a series I should call “Kids Don’t Understand Commerce.” For example, one boy brought three books to the cash register and handed me a $20 bill. I scanned his books and gave him his change: $1.64. He was thrilled that he received what looked like more than what he gave me—one piece of paper exchanged for a piece of paper and 7 coins. Before heading back to class, he looked behind me at a display of bookmarks and asked if he could get one of those, too. With tax, the bookmark was 55 cents. I scanned it and asked him to hand me two quarters and one dime. “Why?” he asked as he protectively clutched his handful of change. “Because you have to pay for the bookmark,” I answered. “But I won’t have as much money,” he protested. “That’s what paying for things is, buddy. Hey, I’ll give you a nickel back.” He reluctantly agreed and probably went on to sign up for a credit card with an astronomically high interest rate.

 

And don’t get me started on sales tax. It’s bad enough that the kids can barely find the tiny price of the books on the back corner, but when it comes to adding sales tax, they look at me like I’m a total scam artist. This was a normal scenario from Book Fair Week:

ME: Here’s the price…$4.99

KID: Good. I have $4.

ME: Well, $4.99 is really $5.

KID: So, I need another dollar?

ME: Actually you need like $1.50 more because of the tax.

KID: Tax?

ME: Yeah, it’s about a 10 cents for every dollar.

KID: Why?

ME: Tax is for…well, we use money collected from taxes for… (reaching in my pocket) here’s some money. Go get your book.

 

There were some money savvy kids coming through the Book Fair. A couple of sisters came in to shop together. Their mom sent $22, instructing them each to spend $10 with the rest to go for that crazy sales tax. The younger sister brought two books to the counter, totaling $9.98 (before tax) and the older sister brought one book which cost $9.99 (also before tax). Older Sister said, “Go put one of your books back. You can’t have two.” Younger Sister didn’t like that idea. I asked Older Sister what her plans were for the leftover money. “I want to get two books,” she whispered confidentially. Unbeknownst to her I am aware of the wily ways of an older sister, so I instructed Younger Sister to bring her two books to me. I checked her out and she went back to class (grinning triumphantly), leaving Older Sister with her $11 to spend. Older Sister learned not to mess with a Book Fair Volunteer. We don’t play.

 

I enjoy working at the Book Fair. It’s not because I get to play store and it’s definitely not because I get to do math in my head. I like it because it involves two of my favorite things—kids and books. I like seeing their excitement when they get to buy the book they picked out. I like hearing them tell me about their favorite characters and series and the kinds of books they like the best. Kids and books make for a pretty magical combination.

My vegetable peeler

I feel like I lost a good friend this week. My vegetable peeler broke. To the untrained eye, this kitchen tool looks like any other, but I know there was more to it behind its commonplace, functional façade.

I wish I could remember who gave us our kitchen peeler, but I am pretty certain it was a wedding present. I can recall adding it to our registry as we scanned with abandon various items in the “Home” section of Target.

 

For just shy of 20 years, I have used that vegetable peeler to prepare food for my family. I peeled potatoes to make mashed potatoes, quartering the naked spuds and boiling them until fork tender. Then mashing and buttering and creaming and salting until they tasted just right.

 

I peeled apples for many apple pies, attempting to keep the spiraled apple peel intact before slicing them, adding heaps of brown sugar and cinnamon and dumping all of that sticky apple goodness in a pie shell not quite as good as my mom’s. Is there any smell in this world as gratifying as the smell of an apple pie baking?

 

My dearly departed vegetable peeler wasn’t flashy but it was dependable. It helped me make comfort food that filled the souls of my people. It symbolized a labor of love for those I cherish and serve most every day. It also was my companion through my early cooking trials, the pies and side dishes that didn’t turn out so great and the occasional, accidental whittling of some knuckle skin while trying to peel a fruit or vegetable.

 

As we approach Thanksgiving and all the preparations for the big meal, I think about what it means to feed my family, particularly a special dinner with all the trimmings. I’m much more chill when it comes to timing the dishes and the turkey and the desserts and doing as much ahead of time as possible, but those first years I hosted Thanksgiving I was a wreck. It’s hard to live up to the hype.

 

But as long as I can be the human equivalent of that trusty little vegetable peeler, I can get it done: One swift movement at a time, pay attention to what you’re doing, make it special because you take the time, relax and breathe.