It Wasn’t My Finest Moment

“It wasn’t my finest moment,” I told the kids. Juan and Crystel were eating at our kitchen island.

Juan looked up briefly. “I was thinking about that,” he said.

Crystel just smiled. She likes a faulty mother.

Jody was gone for the weekend.

Our family volunteers at Loaves and Fishes at Wood Lake Lutheran church once month. Loaves and Fishes is a free meal program that has served those in need across Minnesota since 1981. We’ve been volunteering once a month for three years. “It’s our church,” I tell the kids. For various reasons, we haven’t found a traditional home church. “Church is about giving and receiving, and this is what our family does,” I further explained.

The evening before was our ‘church’ night. When we arrived to volunteer, I was disheartened to see that the cook had changed. I don’t know why that would surprise me. It’s less turnover then I have at work. This would have only been the third cook in three years. That’s not so bad. I just wasn’t ready for it. The cook is a non-profit hired chef. The chef plans menus, orders food and manages the volunteers, who sign up online as I did.

Juan, Crystel, and I put on our aprons and hairnets. I asked the twenty-something cook what he’d like us to do.

Juan turned to me and said, “What did he say?”

“We are going to serve coffee.”

His eyes lit up. “All three of us?” His voice was full of hope.

The last time we were at ‘church’, I let Juan skip out and go home to finish a homework assignment. Wood Lake Lutheran Church is only three blocks from our home. There was plenty of volunteers and he wasn’t being particularly helpful that evening. Tonight, I had told them before we arrived that if anyone left early, this time it would be Crystel. It was her turn. That was my mistake. Allowing Juan and Crystel to leave early. After all, this was church. We were here for the sermon.

Most times there is a shortage of volunteers and there isn’t even a question of leaving early. Everyone has a job. Everyone is needed. I often had pointed this out to Juan and Crystel, “What if we wouldn’t have come tonight? Who would have helped with dishes? Or served? Or cleaned up?”

Juan knew what it meant if three of us were going to serve coffee.

“You know,” he started. “I know it’s Crystel’s turn to leave early and I’m okay with that. But maybe, just maybe, you could serve coffee by yourself?”

“We’ll see,” I said.

A finer moment.

There were five servers on the line and one person in back to wash dishes. I left Juan and Crystel to serve coffee while I went in back to dry dishes. After a flood of people went through the line to be served, I came back to check on Juan and Crystel.

Crystel raised her eyebrows. “Just wait,” I said. “I’m going to have something to eat and we’ll see.”

I regarded the five volunteers on the serving line standing with a utensil in hand or using the counter as support. I got my tray and sat down.

“Okay, Crystel,” I said. “You can leave.”

She jumped up and was gone.

“What about me?” Juan asked. “Look, they’re not doing anything.” He nodded to the servers.

I had already noticed them and it was starting to irritate me. The young people on the line were probably fulfilling a service learning requirement for college. They weren’t real volunteers … like us. They needed to be here. They were getting something out of it.

“Go ahead.”

From where I sat, I watched the clean dishes pile up because there wasn’t anyone drying and putting away. I served the occasional person who wanted coffee, milk, or water. The pile of dishes continued to grow. It occurred to me that if I wouldn’t have let Juan and Crystel leave that I could have been back there helping. Now I was bound to my station.

When I got home, I startled the children. They looked at the time.

“You’re done early?” They both said at once.

“No. I left.”


“I left.” Even as I said it, I was wondering, who does that? Who leaves a job they volunteered for just because they got mad that people weren’t helping? If you’re a volunteer, aren’t you a volunteer because you love giving back? Because you love to be of service?

“Volunteers were just standing there, and dishes were piling up in back and I decided that I wasn’t going to dry them. I just left.”

Juan and Crystel didn’t say anything.

It took me twenty-four hours, but I realized that we had gotten away from the message, the spirit of volunteering, of giving back.

“Guys, no one goes home early anymore. No matter how many volunteers come,” I said. “It’s what it is. It’s our church.”

Pinewood Derby: Don’t Touch Mama Beth!

At times, Antonio has every right to place sticky’s with “Don’t Touch Mom!” around the house. He has long known that I can be an impediment to his goals.

The reason THIS sticky ended up on THIS cardboard box is because Antonio found me laying prone on the floor taking a photo of his pinewood derby car. Pack 384 is having their Pinewood Derby race on February 26 at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield.

Antonio was steaming. “I don’t want the WHEELS to touch the floor!” Picking up his car, he said sternly, “Don’t touch it, Mom Beth!”

“Antonio, really, I just gently set it down. I didn’t bump the wheels at all.”

He was not dissuaded. The next time I looked at the car it had a sticky note.

I wasn’t trying to sneak a picture of his car. Heck, I could have just waited until he wasn’t home if I thought it was going to be an ISSUE. I wasn’t thinking of THOSE WHEELS and anyone worth their pinewood moxie knows that you don’t mess with the wheels.

Antonio made his first pinewood derby car when he was seven years old. Even though I was a den leader the most I could do for him was take him to a PWD racing workshop and have him use their tools to make his car. I am totally inept about making things but I am good at asking for help. So that is why his Uncle Marty and Crystel came along: for support and to make a car for themselves.

Artistically, I’m a wash, too. So, it helps that this is supposed to be the Cub Scout’s project because I will not be painting any car. It is out of the question.

Pinewood derby 014When you are seven years old, Chuck E. Cheese is a pretty big deal. Antonio had just been to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese and thought it would be pretty cool to glue extra Chuck E. Cheese tickets onto his car. I was doubtful. I squinted at him. I screwed up my face. But, I didn’t say a word. Then he found a puke green color and painted his car.

I didn’t have any hopes for that car. I tried to tell him that not everyone wins. As winners kept being announced, I told him that it was okay, maybe, next year. He ended up placing fifth which meant that he was able to go to the Metro Lakes District competition with his Chuck E. Cheese car. Uncle Marty, Crystel, and Antonio would have more bonding time.

Pinewood derby trophy 003After the race they came home with Antonio carrying a trophy bigger than I have ever won in my life. He had placed FIRST at the District. “How did that happen?” I asked Marty. “I don’t know,” he said. “It just happened.”

His next race would be the Northern Star Council race held at the Mall of Amercia. It was weeks away and I put the date on the calendar. The Sunday of the meet I looked up where to find the competition at the Mall of America. I couldn’t find it listed. Slowly, scanning websites, I started to comprehend that we had missed the event. The race had been the day before on Saturday.

Antonio has raced a pinewood derby car the last three years and has placed and won a trophy each time.

Cub Scout PineWood derby 025Last year Antonio, Marty, and Crystel all placed with Crystel winning fastest sibling. This has become a family event with Mama Beth continuing to thwart Antonio’s chances at the big win.

In 2012, having placed 2nd at the pack level, Antonio again was competing at Metro Lakes District. Shortly before the match, I told Antonio, that I noticed one of his wheels wasn’t touching the floor and we bent it down until it did.

Four wheels on the ground make a car go faster, right?

Immediately before we were to hand the car in for the race I learned from another den leader that only three wheels were supposed to be touching. Antonio and I hurridly made adjustments. But I was left to wonder, How fast would that car have gone if I hadn’t touched it? It ended up being tenth overall. Oh, Uncle Marty, where were you?

Pinewood derby 015This year I want to tell Antonio that maybe they won’t let him keep Red and King Pig as drivers in his car, and that the drag might slow his car down. But really, what do I know?

I feel fortunate that even though I can’t make things, can’t paint, and don’t understand anything about wheels, and that we missed the biggest race of all at the Mall of America when he was seven, 003I still got top billing on the bottom of his Chuck E. Cheese winning pinewood derby car.