When Life is Like Processed Cheese

The summer between college and grad school, I worked as the Snack Shack manager at a summer camp. In so many ways, it was not a good fit, but one of the biggest was that I had Very Strong Opinions about snack foods for kids. Even today, we lean more toward the carrots & hummus end of the spectrum rather than sweets. I had also just returned from working in Nepal for three months, where my students didn’t have access to or disposable income for lots of junk food.

During orientation week, as I was familiarizing myself with the system of selling candy to unsupervised tweens, my boss came in with great news: He had just purchased a nacho machine for the snack shack!! Wasn’t that great?!


While I enjoy homemade nachos, I’ve never been a huge fan of stadium-style ones with the mounds of melted cheese. Since I never ordered them, I had never really thought about the difference between processed cheese sauce and homemade cheese sauce. Over the course of the next ten weeks, I became all too familiar with the ins and outs of the “cheese” mix used in processed nachos.

There are two key elements that made nacho cheese my nemesis that summer. The first is that it came in 6 pound bags that sat in the back room – no refrigeration necessary! The second is that the “cheese” is (somehow) water resistant.

My job quickly unraveled as the weeks went by. I just didn’t care enough about selling candy to kids and I’m sure sales were at a record low for the camp’s history. One particularly hot day, the line seemed unending and the orders for nachos seemed particularly demanding. I usually tried to keep the machine filled before the free time rush, but on this day, we ran out in the middle of the orders.

As kids impatiently waited, I hoisted the 6 pound bag up and aimed the nozzle toward the bottom of the cheese dispenser. As I did, the bag folded in the middle and cheese started pouring out everywhere – all over the machine, the floor, and me.

The tactile mess of plasticy, warm, faux-cheese still makes my skin crawl a little. As I got a bucket to wipe up the mess, I was reminded of the water resistant nature of this cheese. I tried to wipe down the machine but the water beaded away, unable to connect with the inorganic ingredients of this cheese.

I made the executive decision to shut down the Snack Shack for the rest of free time so that I could focus all of my energies on this mutant cheese. I wish I could say it was the only time the Snack Shack closed early that summer, but it wasn’t and I’m sure there was a sigh of relief when we parted ways in August.

Busy Bea!

This experience came to mind last week. I don’t know if it was the excitement of her first Valentine’s Party or the subsequent sugar rush, but Bea was on an 18 on the energy scale. I wasn’t feeling well and our personalities collided. It felt as though water resistant nacho cheese was all over our house and no matter what I did to clean it up, things just got worse.

Frank was working late, and after a horrible bedtime, I went to bed with Elle at 8:45 feeling discouraged and messy.

Thankfully, we woke up refreshed and I was reminded the positive side of a preschooler’s short-term memory. Bea greeted me as though the day before had never happened. We had a fresh page and a day with no mistakes. That, even though our mess felt water-resistant the night before, forgiveness and grace are able to mop up our emotions and we started new.

We’re still in the early days of tax season and I know that we’ll have these moments again. (Probably a reason some friends have a “therapy fund” for their kids started already…) For now, I’m enjoying our good moments and remembering that our bad moments are never really as bad as they seem – that nothing is as bad as a nacho cheese spill at the height of free time.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had? How do you recover from low parenting or relational moments?


Living Out Loud

Part of sharing space with a very vocal two and a half year old is experience the entire spectrum of emotions on a daily basis. Like most toddlers, Bea goes from singing and dancing to quiet play to a temper tantrum to snuggles without missing a beat. Some days this can be exhausting. Fortunately, these feelings happen over the course of our day, not in the matter of minutes. (Usually.)


While I can easily get overwhelmed by a screaming fit for taking off her shoes, I also appreciate this phase in which Bea doesn’t hide her emotions. It makes me wonder when we learn those social skills of masking how we feel. I’m glad we learn those – I can’t imagine how awkward grocery shopping would be if every adult who was hungry was huddled by their shopping carts, crying out for a snack.

But, I think we can also learn from toddlers. Which emotions am I hiding because it’s more socially acceptable to smile and keep peace? Which emotions are worth sharing, worth stirring up, and worth making people uncomfortable with? When I reach a place of vulnerability with others, it usually involves sharing emotions that I’ve learned to mask.

While I don’t anticipate sharing how happy I am through song or stomping my feet in frustration any time soon, I do hope that I can model how to keep my emotions open and share my feelings honestly so that Bea doesn’t feel the need to hide her feelings as long as possible.

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.