A few weeks ago, my four-year-old son, Mickey, saw a scene depicting a vending machine on some random cartoon show. He had somehow never seen a vending machine before, so I did my best to explain how they work. Mickey was intrigued by the idea of a machine filled with snacks that could only be accessed by entering their special codes.
Over the next few days, Mickey continued to bring up the vending machine. I tried to think of any place locally where I could recall seeing a vending machine, preferably in a public location. (I really didn’t want to traipse into some local business and have to explain to the employees that my son and I are weirdos who just came to use the vending machine.)
I was drawing a blank. So, I turned to my local Facebook moms’ group.
“WEIRD QUESTION:” I posted, “My 4yo son saw a snack vending machine on some animated TV show a few days ago and he keeps bringing it up. Does anyone know any place where there’s a snack vending machine (the kind you press like B-14 and you see your snack fall to the bottom) in a place where he and I can just walk in and use the machine? I know it’s goofy but he seriously keeps talking about it, haha.”
The Moms of Cordova and Bartlett did not disappoint; within a few hours, I had a veritable directory of East Memphis vending machines.
I’ll admit, I didn’t get to any of the vending machines right away. I was swamped with deadlines at the time and had been working overtime nearly every night for more than a week. My “mom guilt” for working so much was piling up. So, not surprisingly, when I finally got a day off and Mickey asked if we could have a picnic together in our favorite spot, I obliged.
“What should we pack to eat on this picnic?” I asked. As soon as the words left my mouth, though, I had an idea.
“Mickey!” I exclaimed, “What if we went to a vending machine and picked out some snacks and then took those snacks for our picnic?”
Mickey’s eyes lit up. “That’s a great idea!”
We decided to try the vending machine in the basement of the i-Bank Tower (a suggestion from the moms’ group) since it was on our way to our picnic destination.
Mickey was visibly excited as we made our way across the i-Bank parking lot. He held my hand and craned his neck to look up at the top of the building, his other hand tightly clutching a plastic bag in which I had collected roughly $8 in quarters. He was enthralled with the revolving door and enthusiastic about pressing the elevator buttons.
I was worried that the vending machine might be a bit of a disappointment after such a build-up, but Mickey was instantly delighted. “There it is!” he squealed, as though this were a major celebrity sighting. “Mom!! And there’s a drink machine, too!”
He took for-ev-er to make his choices. I had to lift him up so he could press the buttons, and I had to hold the slot open so his hand wouldn’t get stuck. None of that detracted from his experience.
The drink machine came next. It was much newer and, in Mickey’s opinion, completely eclipsed the snack machine. A robotic arm zipped over and grabbed the drink and sent it down a tube on the side of the machine, and then a little door swiveled open like something from the Adam-West-era BatCave. Mickey wanted to buy more drinks, but we were out of money.
Mickey beamed at everyone we passed as he strode back through the lobby with his arms full of snacks. We loaded into the car and proceeded to our favorite picnic spot: a mostly hidden, grassy area under an enormous magnolia tree near the bank of the Mississippi River. We shared our vending machine spoils and giggled and looked for four-leaf clovers and talked about cloud shapes. We went home with grass in our hair and crumbs on our clothes and smiles on our faces.
Along with sharing their best vending machine intel, some members of the moms’ group had also shared positive comments. One mom commented an empathetic, “The things we do for our kids .” Another mom commented, “[G]ood job Momma, good job looking to fill up his heart with sweet memories. Good job not just pushing it away as a silly thought, good job listening to his little desires!!”
I’m grateful for the kindness and reassurance in these comments. For me, even in some of the most joyful moments of motherhood, there’s always this nagging sense of self-doubt lurking behind the scenes: Am I doing ok? Is it enough? Have I ruined his childhood by working so much overtime this week? Should I be working more so maybe we’d have more money?
The kind comments also reinforced one of my deeply held parenting beliefs. So, when one of the moms’ group admins reached out to me about writing this post, it seemed like the right place to share my thoughts.
Here’s the thing: There will come a time, in the not-so-distant future, when Mickey’s life will become more complex. I won’t always know all the answers to all his questions. I won’t always have the means, or the ability, to solve his problems or grant his wishes. I won’t always be able to save the day. I won’t always be able to give him the Best Day Ever, and I for sure won’t be able to do it with a few hours of my time and $8 in quarters.
So, for now, I’m going to try my best to do as many of those things as I possibly can while they’re still mine to do.
Because I know a day will come when stopping for ice cream won’t have the same effect. A day when he’ll say, “No thanks” to blowing bubbles together in the backyard. A day when pillow forts and breakfast for dinner won’t be enough to make it the Best Day Ever, or even enough to turn a bad day around.
A day will come, I realize, when I won’t have enough, won’t be enough, to make everything wonderful. He’ll have questions I can’t answer, problems I can’t solve, broken things I can’t fix. It’s just a part of growing up.
So, for now, you’d better believe I’m going to round up some change for the vending machine, have Cheetos and Powerade for dinner, and lay hand-in-hand on a blanket under a massive magnolia tree, counting the trucks that cross the bridge and spotting dragons and snails in the shapes of the clouds. This is still part of my Mom Power, and I’m going to flex it for as long as I can.
Because, when that power fades and Mickey grows up, with any luck, these are the memories he’ll keep. Not all the hours I had to work or all the expensive toys I couldn’t afford. I hope he’ll remember the fun stuff we did. Like the time we had a vending machine picnic under The Big Tree, and how that afternoon made him feel. Hopefully, he’ll remember that, when he was little, his mom was his best friend, his adventure partner, who always had the answers and always saved the day.
Which is a pretty good deal for $8 in quarters.
Paige moved to Bartlett with her son, Mickey (December 2016), in March, 2021; before that, she lived in Memphis for a little over 10 years. She is actively licensed to practice law in Tennessee and Mississippi, though she hasn’t been practicing much in the past few years. Instead, she’s been doing a lot of freelance writing and trying to spend as much time with Mickey as possible before he starts kindergarten.
Paige is originally from Farmington, Missouri, and has two dogs. You can read more on her personal blog, plentyoftowels.com.