Thursday, April 18, 2013

Pushing Buttons

We are at Stew Leonard's, the Disney World of Grocery Stores, while Anna is upstairs taking a cooking class. Popcorn is popping, donuts are frying, bread is baking. There is octopus in the seafood section, the live "cow cam" near the milk showing the dairy cows up in Ellington, free ice cream, and the best looking vegetables I've seen in a long time. This place makes brussel sprouts look good.

Here we are, and Ethan is all about the buttons.

Ethan is all about the buttons, because Stew Leonards is also sprinkled with various animatronic characters throughout (think singing sticks of butter, or roosters, or milk cartons). Brightly colored buttons to make them come alive are everywhere; kids are invited to touch. Ethan takes this responsibility to heart. In other words -- he doesn't care about much else.

I am there with another mom and two of her kids. They love the buttons and characters too of course, just not with such laser-like focus.

"Look!" the other mom might say, calling the kiddos' attention to a video playing on a nearby screen. "They're making cheese!" Or, "See all the different kinds of peppers?" In the seafood section, the other mom explains the countless types of really tasty looking fresh fish spread out. "What's this one?" her daughter asks again and again. "What this one?"

I try half-heartedly to engage Ethan in his surroundings. "Look at all of this fish, Ethe! Look! There's octopus!"

Ethan in counting on his fingers. "I've done six buttons! I need to find some more. I want to fill up my buttons!" I think he means press 10 buttons, representing all the fingers on both hands. "Where is the man with the tractor?" he asks.

We visit this store about once a year. The last time was New Year's Eve, four months ago, and Ethan remembers with stunning accuracy each animatronic figure and where all of the buttons to push are.

"Mmmm, see all of those steaming soups!" I point out lamely, a few minutes later. At the bakery section: "Look at all of those cookies they're baking!" and "See that on the TV? The guy's making pizza dough!"

Nada. Not a glimmer of interest, and for a few minutes, I'm annoyed. Maybe annoyed isn't the right word. I can't be annoyed when I see how happy he is, racing to find the next button. He's having fun in his own way. Maybe what I feel is frustrated -- because there's so much to see here, and I want to show him.

Then I wonder if this is how my family felt.

I don't know if I was one of those toddlers always asking "why," but I can tell you this -- I was a school-aged child who, curiously enough, wasn't very curious.

I rarely asked how things worked. I didn't particularly like new experiences. I wasn't a child bubbling with questions that needed to be answered.

I remember my grandfather, who always liked to get educational gifts. I remember him buying me a coloring book about wildflowers, and my disappointment when I saw the book was actually trying to teach me something, that they wanted me to color the flowers so they looked like the examples of the real flowers in the back.

I never touched it. The only educational gift I ever enjoyed from my grandfather was the "Look It Up Book of Presidents." I mostly looked at the back, the place where they listed each president and how he'd been rated by historians (Warren G. Harding: Failure. Abraham Lincoln: Outstanding). Oh, how I loved looking at that list.

When I was a kid, I adored reading the same beloved books over and over. I loved building Lego houses and then having them destroyed by some calamity. I played the same familiar games outside with the neighborhood kids again and again. I loved my lists in notebooks (Top 5 Songs of 1988! My Favorite Sitcoms of All Time!).

This is sad to admit, but once I reached the age of, I don't know, 20, I realized I hadn't been paying attention to a lot of the world around me. I didn't really know how to do much or know much about how the world worked. This is mortifying to admit, but I'll never forget the day we were riding down the Mass Pike and I admired the rock formations on either side of the road.

"Well, that's because they blasted the road to make the highway. You do realize that, right?" someone said to me. And of course I realized I must have known that. Although maybe I didn't. And this wasn't a blonde thing. I'd always been a good student. I had book knowledge. I just wasn't focused on anything outside my realm of interest. And so, I knew a lot about the Red Sox opening line-up or  the number one song of the year in 1987, but not so much about how to make a good pancake. Or iron. Or plant flowers. To this day I get nervous helping someone else in their kitchen, because of my lack of skill with a paring knife or my fear that I'll load the dishwasher wrong.

Back to Ethan. I look at him, his eyes shining at the prospect of the next character singing, his eyes seeing nothing else. I look at him, and I can't be as frustrated, because I see myself. Not only that, but I know that there's time.

It took me years and a lot of "...For Dummies" books, but I know a lot more than I used to. Better than that, I'm a lot more curious than I used to be. I know the difference between a daffodil and a crocus now. My pancakes are getting better and better.

And his seeds of curiosity are there. Just the other day the grandparents were telling us how Ethan had been talking their ears off with "why" questions.

Someday, I think, he will want to know more. Especially if there are no buttons around.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

This is my first time hearing about Stew Leonard's. Now I want to go to one.