42: Along Came a Spider

42: Along Came a Spider

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

Along Came a Spider

It’s not easy being a mother. If it were easy, fathers would do it.

~From the television show The Golden Girls

When my daughter Meredith (now twenty-one) started pre-K, it was exciting, frightening, and challenging. Allen and I were busy parents. I had a demanding public relations position that I loved. And now, we had a daughter in Ms. Mimi’s Playschool. No problems occurred until the note came home with Meredith.

“The teacher said it’s important,” Meredith said.

My heart pounded as I read the one sentence note: “It’s Meredith’s turn to bring nutritious snacks and a beverage for Halloween.”

I’d heard that moms rotated providing the snacks. But we’d received a big day, a holiday. Terror struck my heart. In our hectic lives, I had a hard time getting a decent meal on the table. “Mommy, help!” I wanted to scream.

But I was a big girl. I could handle pre-K snacks. So I attacked it like a work project. I scoured my recipe books for ideas. Cookie, candy and cupcake recipes tempted my taste buds.

But would a mother shout at me, “How dare you give my child candy?” Would the parents hunt me down and haunt our house? Worse yet, would our snack leave the students allergic... diabetic... or comatose?

“What about Little Debbie Cakes?” I asked her.

Meredith wrinkled her nose. “Ethan’s mom made his snacks.” She described the horse-shaped Rice Krispies Treats with licorice reins and bushy tails.

Great. We don’t just send a snack. We have to make them, and they have to pass the creativity test. I could feel the Ghosts of Halloween Past looking over my shoulder to make sure that we passed muster on our first major assignment: pre-K snacks.

And then it hit me. We had to make NUTRITIOUS snacks for Halloween. Wasn’t that an oxymoron? Halloween was one day of the year that you could have treats. Would anyone eat greens or grains on Halloween?

“How difficult can it be?” Allen said. “It’s just a snack.”

By now my blood pressure was elevated. My rational brain whispered with an angelic voice: You can hold a press conference, write a grant, and design a brochure without thinking. You can do this. The red-tailed, forked tongue monster on my shoulder reminded me with a snicker: That doesn’t matter here. You have trouble getting Meredith to eat healthy. How are you going to get fifteen students to eat anything nutritious, creative or not?

A new fear sneaked in. What if no one ate them? Would Meredith be ridiculed on the playground? We couldn’t afford to slip into a nutritional nightmare.

I explained the dilemma to my mom on the phone.

“Ask Meredith what she likes,” Mom advised. “That will tell you what her friends will eat.”

So I sat down with Meredith for a serious discussion. After eliminating ice cream, chocolate treats, and anything from McDonald’s, we settled on peanut butter, raisins and pretzels. Nothing exotic or creative, but it was a start.

By accident, I found the perfect treat with Meredith’s ingredients when I flipped through a magazine. A bewitching eight-legged pretzel spider screamed creative, nutritious, and tasty from the glossy page. Peanut butter between two Ritz crackers held the eight pretzel legs. A dab of PB held the raisin eyes. I couldn’t wait to get Meredith’s reaction.

She gave it two thumbs up.

On the night before snack day, I planned to fix the pretzel spiders. So I grabbed the raisins, a box of Ritz crackers, and a jar of peanut butter.

Finally, I felt in control until I heard, “Can I make them?”

“No,” I wanted to say to Meredith because I still had to make dinner... get her into the bath... and organize her Cinderella princess costume. But then I looked at her expectant face full of excitement and hope.

“Sure,” I said. “Wash your hands.”

During the preparation of the pretzel spiders, we talked, giggled, and made a memory that future Halloween experiences wouldn’t diminish... and still managed to get everything done before bedtime.

The next morning, we arrived early. Meredith straightened her silver crown and smoothed the poufy blue skirt of her Cinderella dress. I took the tray and the bag of juice boxes from the car. The citrusy scent she’d deemed fit for a princess lingered. Her glittery shoes sparkled.

Immediately, costumed classmates leaned over the cellophane-covered tray. A cowboy said, “I want that one!” And then the all-important question surfaced. “Did you make them?”

Meredith beamed and nodded yes.

Ms. Mimi smiled.

Meredith said, “Mom let me put the peanut butter on the crackers... and I stuck on the legs and eyes.” The crowd studied the snack. “Wow,” a pirate said. “Your mom is so cool to let you make spiders.”

“I know,” she said, and her dark eyes sparkled.

In that moment, I realized that I’d passed a major test, and it had nothing to do with the nutritious snacks that had dominated my thoughts for weeks. Even then I realized that pretzel spiders would always occupy a special place in my heart. And a nutritious snack could hold its own with bags of candy, chocolate treats, and anything from McDonald’s.

~Debra Ayers Brown

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