The Shoe Box

Our youngest daughter is going to the beach with a group she belongs to at school: Future Farmers of America.  The event is a three-day “officer retreat” and I have no doubt she will come home with a new set of skills about leading people and getting stuff done.  FFA is good for that.  Not all student organizations are, but FFA knows what they’re doing.  I know about what I speak, because I do this “leadership development” thing professionally, and I’m a bit of a snoot about it.

Over the years, our kids have attended various leadership development events, and most amounted to field trips with school friends, maybe with a few adult keynote speakers thrown in, who spoke in platitudes as kids secretly thumbed texts to one another from their pockets and laps.  Teenagers are a tough crowd.  But I think FFA has it figured out.  I’m glad she’s into it.  I wish I had been, but I was too much of a town kid.  My loss.

Anyway, as she was getting her stuff together early this morning, I noticed she was walking around with a shoe box.  She appeared to be looking for something.  Turns out, an exercise she was asked to do for FFA was to collect three objects and put them in a box.  The objects the kids select are supposed to reveal something about themselves. It was interesting to watch our daughter wander around, throwing things in, looking at them with a tilt of her head, then pulling them out and wandering further.

Minnie Mouse ears go in.  A small American flag goes in.  Ear buds go in.  Mouse ears come out, and a bottle of henna and a paint brush go in.  The letter she earned through high school athletics goes in and the ear buds come out.   FFA scarf goes in and the henna stuff comes out. She wanted to put one of our new baby chicks in there, but we agreed it would not be good for a chick.  She keeps searching.  A rosary goes in and the flag comes out.  The combination is not quite right yet.

“Look what I found, Mom.”

She holds up the little  terry cloth bunny she had found in the attic bedroom when we first looked at this farmhouse almost two years ago.  It was the only object in the room with its sloped ceilings and trio of cozy dormers looking out in three directions at the treetops and fields of this sweet farm . “This is gonna be my room” she had proclaimed. “This is so my room.” When we left the room that day, I told her to leave the little terry cloth wad behind. “It belongs to the owner of the house, Honey.  You have to leave it here.”

“We’ll be back” she whispered to it and put it back in the little reading nook where she found it.

And we did come back.  And the tiny terry cloth bunny was still there.

And now it was in the box.  It made the cut.  Out came the athletics letter and in went the tiny bunny.

She looked at the box.  Her head tilted to the left, then the right.  She took a photo with her phone and closed the box with a satisfied smile. Done.


“OK, so what does it mean?” I asked.

“It’s obvious, Mom.”  But she indulges me.

Her FFA scarf reveals her hopes of becoming a leader, and learning to work hard if you want to get stuff done on a team.  The bunny reminds her of how her world turns upside down when we moved to a new town.  A new school.  A new lifestyle. She looks back on that change and feels pride that she’s found her way.  And the rosary reminds her that her faith provides her core of strength..

“What would you put in your box, Mom?”

Excellent question.  I’ve thought about this all day. And I’ve  asked a couple of other people, too

Another one of our daughters chose her special Mickey Mouse ears from the semester she participated in the Disney College Program.  Mickey gave her those ears personally, and she’s since decided she wants to build a career with Disney.  She also chose a rosary because her faith is an important part of who she is.and they travel with her wherever she goes.  Then she chose a video camera, which is her artistic outlet. She did mention that the camera needed to have family videos in it.  Probably of our most recent trip to Disneyland.  Disney, Disney, Disney.

My husband, John, started with a crucifix.  To that he added a deck of cards symbolizing games (he is a board game lover) and taking gambles.  He won big brownie points by choosing his wedding ring as the third item.

My other daughter chose a coffee mug because her college job in the campus bistro was her first foray into  the professional world as a leader.  As a bonus, she chose her SFMoMA mug, representing another formative internship. She added her Klimt barrette because he’s her favorite artist and I got it for her on my trip to Paris.  And her last item was a Kindle, since she loves to read, and she couldn’t decide on one book. Some of us thought that was cheating…like asking the genie for three more wishes…but we let her have it.

So my empty shoe box is still staring back at me.  I think I’ll borrow the wisdom of those who’ve gone before me.  I’ll begin with the rosary.  It represents so many things to me.  My faith, of course. Also my desire to stop and reflect and learn and become better as a human being in spite of my many faults.   Next I would put a photo of family and friends.  Something hilarious because I love to laugh.  And the third thing would have to be my wedding band.  My marriage to John really is the wellspring for every other thing: our faith, our children, our friends, our home…and most of all, our future.

I wish I could have put many more things in the box.  But having to choose only three does result in a refreshing clarity about  myself.  Even more than thinking of what I would add, it’s interesting to think if the Big Things that didn’t make the Top Three.  It kind of puts them in their place.  Down the list a bit.

This is my new favorite question.  I think I’ll be asking this of many people I love:  “What would you put in your shoe box?”




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