Comparing Oranges to Cookies

Why do I shop at Trader Joe’s? It’s small and compact and therefore eliminates my shopping nemesis: overwhelming choices.  Plus, the employees actually seem to enjoy working there unlike some other stores. But most importantly, I love Trader Joe’s because of Joe-Joe.  Joe-Joe is a little stuffed monkey that the employees hide somewhere in the store and if your little one finds it, they get a treat. (Your store may have something different; check with them before starting a fruitless search for a primate.)  Joe-Joe keeps the little ones distracted and on their toes while mommy picks out the veggies that the little ones will refuse to eat.

Once when M (my daughter) was about 3 years old, we walked into TJ’s and she had her eyes searching for Joe-Joe.   We were new to the whole TJ’s thing but like a little Pavlovian puppy M quickly learned “find Joe-Joe” equals “get cookies.” Cookies were the prizes the previous few times we were in there.  Sure enough, M found the monkey and went up to the customer service counter. I watched as the employee brought around the large basket of goodies, lowered it to M’s arm level, but M did not immediately reach her hand into the goodie basket.  I was off to the side and came over to see what her choices were. Oranges. Small, juicy tangerines to be exact. No sugar laden baked goods today. M, with her toddler candor, said, “Where’s the cookies?” The friendly TJ’s employee replied,“No cookies today, sweetie. Just fruit.” I told M, “Just pick one, honey.” (Mom lingo translated: “Hurry up before you embarrass me with what you will do next.”)

“I don’t want an orange.”

“Just take one and say thank you.”

“But mommy…”

“Okay, then it’s nothing.”

M looked into the basket and reached in, comparable to the expression of someone picking a lobster out of a tank for the first time.

“Thank you,” I said to the TJ’s employee before pulling M down an aisle to get out of her view.

It was in this aisle that I had the very pleasant talk full of contemplative insight about the meaning of receiving gifts…Wait. No, no I didn’t. I asked M why she would turn down something that she likes to eat.  I then went on to explain how to handle a gift she does not want: either accept it and thank the person or supply them with a simple “no thank you” and move on.

A few days later, we were back at Trader Joe’s. M’s eyes hunted for the monkey and she was quick to find him.  I followed her to the customer service desk where she informed the person as to Joe-Joe’s whereabouts. It was in slow motion as I watched the employee pull the basket from behind the counter and lower it for my little girl. I saw the orange spheres and took a deep breath. M looked at the employee, grabbed a tangerine, gave a quiet thank you and returned to her brother and me. I was proud she remembered the lesson; she was proud that I was pleased. There should have been a confetti canon going off but I couldn’t find one in time.

This story stuck with me because it happened at a particularly poignant time for my family.  Like many other people, my husband and I were having financial trouble.  Our lives were a metaphor for this: up until that point, we were given cookies, as in our life was sweet but not nourishing. During that financial hardship, our attentions and efforts turned inward to good family times that didn’t require currency. We went on walks together. We found parks in our area we had never visited before. We had picnics in the living room for lunch rather than going out to eat. These were our tangerine times: a bit sweeter and more nourishing.

I am not one inclined to think that God gives you good things as a reward or that He takes things away as a test. But I do believe he shows himself when we least expect it. For instance, when you are grocery shopping and given a free life lesson.


53 thoughts on “Comparing Oranges to Cookies

  1. First, I did NOT know that TJ’s did this! I must go to my TJ’s and find Joe-Joe for myself! Then maybe I’ll let my kid find him.

    Second, thank you for posting this. As a single mother, I find it so challenging to make sure that my son knows the rights and wrongs, and how to be a good and respectful person, when he is bombarded every day by the crud that the real world hands out. Not to toot my own horn though, but aside from the occassional moan because its time to go to bed and brush teeth, I’m doing a pretty good job. And so are you!

    • Thanks Claudia! Another TJ’s near here hides either a horse or cat, which really makes it confusing when we have to visit that store. Feel free to “toot your horn” regarding raising your son- you deserve it!

  2. The true pleasure of life is pleasure itself. It is not the thing that gives you pleasure, it is your inner ability to experience pleasure and gratitude. May we always be blessed with the gift of awe, gratitude, appreciation, and pleasure.

  3. In my local store it’s Sammy the Seal, and the kids get lollipops. (Sometimes the cashiers give them to the adults too.)
    Teaching gratitude and politeness is a noble pursuit, as is being able to handle change and the unexpected.
    Although, I’d rather have a cookie over an orange…

  4. This is a great post. I’m just stumbling upon your blog via Freshly Pressed (congratulations!) and I’m excited to find a writer whose storytelling is so thoughtful.

  5. My family and I are in our “tangerine times” currently. Most days feel like “half eaten apple times”, actually. It is a sweet blessing in disguise though. I loved this read, but particularly your last paragraph. Thank you, and congrats on the Press!

  6. I love this so much. Though I do not have any kids of my own, I do think it’s very important to teach young ones lessons. This made me think about some of “small” things I’m thankful for.

  7. I love how you demonstrate the power we have to influence our kids’ attitudes. When we stay positive, and trust our judgement as their parents, they can learn to be ok with whatever life might unexpectedly present. Beautiful story–thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Amber! There are those moments as parents that you think, “Oh, what I am doing is sinking into their brains.” Of course, I am finding there are also moments of “Where did that come from?”

  8. Pingback: Comparing Oranges to Cookies | eileentom

  9. My husband and I also went through our own “tangerine” times. We are closer now because we looked for the sweetness in life and more grateful for all the blessings we have. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story!

  10. What a lovely post on an unexpected occurrence that shines light on small important things that might be overlooked. Thanks for sharing.
    I wonder if Joe joe is still in effect..

  11. I agree with you that God provides little life lessons. If we’re paying attention they are opportunities to learn, grow, and see Him at work. Thanks for sharing this one with us!

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