Lessons Learned From Being a Pea Pod for a Day

Mrs. Arena 1.jpgI used to be known as “The Popcorn Lady” over 25 years ago. That was when my three children were in elementary school and I had received this authentic giant movie-popcorn making machine as a gift from their dad. It was wonderful! I would bring it to all of the “Fun Fairs” every year and got to know all of the kids. To this day, we still use the machine, although it is a bit worn, a few loose knobs and rust, but when you order the popcorn on line (it comes with a packet of yellow oil and seasoning) it is even better than the movie kind.

Anyway, there is a yearly “Marathon” event at the school I work at part time, a school with over 100 kids with special needs and over 100 staff. The marathon is not only a “run” where staff and children alike take turns running with the baton around a track to eventually make the 26 miles, but also a carnival, fun fair festival kind of day. There are clowns on stilts, a DJ playing music, kids dancing and playing with all types of lawn toys, crafts, sensory booths, healthy snacks, etc. and this year the popcorn booth. Well, besides being the popcorn lady, thanks to a co-worker who is as crazy as I am, I also got to be a pea pod. She got to be a carrot.

It was all fun and good until the popcorn ran out by late morning….luckily it was almost lunch break when the kids all go inside so I had time to run to the grocery store…but not much time. As I ran to my car across the campus, I had a decision to make: take off the pea pod outfit or not? Now mind you, the town where the school is tends to be an upscale kind of town with gorgeous restaurants and fancy shopping, and dressed up kind of people, and I am not talking pea pod clothes. Time was limited. I did what I needed to do. I drove to the store as I was, and as I got out of the car, it started. I realized at that moment how fun this was going to be! I just had no idea how people were going to react. The first reaction was a middle aged woman, nicely dressed in a fancy car next to me. She did not flinch. No smile. Nothing. Not sure I liked that, it felt weird. Maybe I don’t look that funny? But 5 seconds later, as I was walking toward the door, the elderly man who was retrieving the carriages, looked straight at me, smiled and yelled out, “I’m not even going to ask!!” Now that to me felt like a normal response. What would happen inside?

I couldn’t find the popcorn, that is what happened. So I had to walk around the entire store, it was a study in human psychology, and how people react to seeing a giant pea pod walking around the grocery store in the middle of the day. A young mom with a 3 year old in her carriage, looking for a loaf of bread, just looked up and gave a giant smile. Clearly, she didn’t know who the heck I was, but she thought is was funny (because it was!). Her reaction was pretty typical. What was not typical was the reaction from the middle aged woman who worked there, who I asked for help to find the popcorn. Again, she did not flinch. She did not smile. Maybe she was afraid? That was the feeling I got from her, and a few others. I could be crazy. Who knows what I would do? What do crazy giant pea pods do? They could be dangerous. That is how I felt.

By the time I got to the check out, got in line, with two women behind me by now, I felt a need to explain myself (the young cashier and bagger looked a little scared!). “I work at a school! We are having a fair today!” Finally, a few smiles. A sigh of relief from the well dressed women behind me. I got in my car, cranked the air (pea pod outfits are warm) and drove back to the school, thinking “wow”. That was interesting.

The rest of the afternoon was so much fun, I had help at my popcorn booth from a few of the awesome teens that go to the school. We chatted the entire time, they bagged the popcorn, and gave it out to their friends. I got to run one lap, and when the day ended, I felt so happy for so many reasons.

I then had to run to a doctor’s appointment for my dad. It was not good news. To make a long story short, that day made me reflect on so many things, and it took awhile to sort them out (not that I have yet), but I still wanted to share some lessons I learned that day.

  1. It is not always easy to TRULY be yourself. Even when you think you don’t care what people think, you probably do. It kind of bothered me when people were looking at me as if I might be crazy. I felt uncomfortable that someone might actually be afraid of me. I had to explain myself so they wouldn’t be. For me, walking into that store with that outfit on was not hard at all. I love costumes and I really don’t care what people think, but I guess I do care about how people feel.
  2. It feels to me that some people need to portray a certain “image”. Perfectly matched clothes, certain kind of car, whatever. It applies to bodies and body image also. In my life I have seen women especially keep talking about the same body part over and over, that they have been unhappy with for decades. Is this about portraying a certain “image” that we think is acceptable to society, or what? Arms are going to get saggy, necks are going to get wrinkly, tummies are going to protrude a bit, hair will turn gray or fall out, yet, we waste years focusing on these things. When you feel good, can eat and drink, can walk and talk, why do these things matter?
  3. When it comes to letting loose and experiencing joy, and all life has to offer, everyone is different. Not everyone feels comfortable tossing caution to the wind, having fun, getting messy, looking wrinkled, walking barefoot, dancing like a lunatic. Being one who prefers to do all of the above, I feel sad for people who can’t, but then again, we are all different. What brings you joy and contentment is what matters. For some that means sitting in a chair under the shade and watching all those crazy people toss off their shoes, dance to the music, wear funky costumes and be themselves. There is no wrong or right. Pea pod outfits aren’t for everyone.
  4. Working on a team is a gift. Wherever you work, whatever you do, if it is with others, you learn so much. Watching people of all ages get up before school opens to set up tents, water coolers, lawn toys, booths, paint their faces, dress up, cook, start running dozens of laps to be sure the kids complete a marathon, well, it was great. Making sure to capture every moment by running around the entire event with your camera assured that we would have memories forever (Thank you Laurel K!!).Every single person was selfless, it was all about the kids. It was a hot day, people were sweating, hair styles were limp, it was not easy. But you could see the absolute joy on the faces of everyone when that final lap was done. It struck me that what these disheveled sweaty people had given themselves (the gift you get when you give to others) was such a contrast from the people I saw that day in the grocery store…..who may have thought they had it all, but have no idea what they are missing. But maybe they do, they just dress nicer……which brings me to….
  5. You never know what someone is going through just by looking at them. I realized I was kind of judging people by their reaction to me and my pea pod outfit. Maybe they didn’t find it as funny as I did. Maybe they dress like that all the time, and it was nothing new. Maybe matching your shoes to your pocketbook makes you really happy. I admit, I am happy when all my nails are the same length…it doesn’t happen often. Meaningless for sure.The reality is people struggle with all kinds of things, some silly (or that you or I find silly, but they may not), and some serious. More times than you can imagine, I am in the middle of a visit with a parent and child, and eventually find out there are gigantic stressful situations the family is living through. Not one, but two autistic siblings at home, a brother incarcerated, a father with agoraphobia, and on and on. At first, it seems like just another family who needs some nutrition counseling, but then it turns out eating healthy is kind of last on the list. Yes, someone might be going through something and nothing can make them smile. You just never know.

I learned one more thing that day that is pretty funny. After all these years of ordering that popcorn, I apparently never looked at the label(what kind of dietitian am I! you might ask….one that hates reading labels). So when one of the teachers asked if it was healthy, I decided to look. Well, what a surprise! No trans fat, lots of fiber and actually pretty healthy if you ask me : )

Happy Memorial Day, thank you to my father, a former Marine, and all who served us. I hope you get to go barefoot, laugh, dance, or just sit and watch. But please remember to wear whatever makes you happy. If I had green shoes to match the pea pod you know I would have worn them.

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