Things I Learned This Summer

I worked at my retail job yesterday, and the six hours slipped by surprisingly quickly. For the most part, it was a routine day — ringing customers up, bagging their purchases, straightening clothing on the racks, and, best of all, talking to my coworker about life.

As routine and repetitious as the day was, something was subtly different. In part, this was due to the fact that this was our last time working together and my penultimate day at the store.

Maybe.

But I think it was more due to the fact that today, we shared the store with a butterfly.

It’s been a rare low-humidity, low-heat day in central Virginia, and we kept the door wide open all day to welcome in the calm breezes of fresh air. As a customer signed the receipt slip, I saw a dark shape zip past her. I watched it crazily zig-zag around the ring of jewelry cases where the cash register is, past the dizzying mirrors lining the fitting room area, and around a table displaying overpriced t-shirts, silently praying that it wasn’t a wasp.

But when it settled on the counter for a second, I could see its large, flat wings, orange and brown like an ugly stained glass window. It only stopped for a moment before it zipped off again, and I lost sight of it.

About an hour later, we heard laughter from the back of the store where a woman and her young daughter had been shopping.

 “My daughter looked at your big sunflower and said, ‘Look, it’s a butterfly!'” she said, “And when I touched it to show her it wasn’t real, it flew off!”
A little while later, a customer noticed our little friend perched on a display of bumpy necklaces, and after that we noticed it crashing into the large glass window that serves as the front wall of our store. The butterfly battered itself against the glass, an exercise in utter futility, and finally we had the chance to step in and help it out of the store.
First, we tried to get it to land on the sunflower again.
The large, colorful sunflower must have disappointed the butterfly; completely made of plastic, it's bone-dry of nectar.

The large, colorful sunflower must have disappointed the butterfly; completely made of plastic, it’s bone-dry of nectar.

Next, I tried to get it to walk onto a piece of paper, to no avail. Each time I moved the paper, the butterfly would rocket off in a panic. Finally, I realized that I needed to make a catcher.
Butterflies, in my experience, are incredibly gullible insects, so I drew a flower on my piece of paper. Next, I made a little top for my catcher out of another piece of paper. Remembering Miss Frizzle describing the squiggly lines on plants as road signs for plants in “The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed” (my favorite episode of all time), I added some squiggly lines to the top, just to make the catcher as tantalizing as possible.
This craft project epitomizes everything I made in the third grade.

This craft project epitomizes everything I made in the third grade.

The squiggly lines directed the butterfly right into my catcher.

The squiggly lines directed the butterfly right into my catcher.

It worked perfectly — the butterfly walked right in and bounced harmlessly off the paper until I released it outside.
At U.Va., I rarely find opportunities for practical problem solving. College in general has molded me into a more adaptive person, but this summer I really began to appreciate how many mundane, real-world things I have yet to learn. In addition to how to catch a butterfly, here are a few others:
  • Lighting charcoal for grilling takes a long time. Like, 30 minutes. Start early and don’t panic when it’s smoking and you don’t see any flames. The juicy chicken breasts will be worth it. Also, s’mores.
  • Scented candles do an amazing job of keeping old-house smells at bay.
  • If you find a spider in your bed, just get rid of it and move on. Repeat as needed.
  • Coke Floats are delicious.
  • Ice cream can solve practically any problem. (I already knew this, but it’s never been so true.)
  • Staying up until 3:00 AM to finish a great conversation is worth it, even if you have work the next day. That’s what being 20 is all about.
  • Putting paychecks directly into savings is a great way to learn how to be thrifty. So is taking $20 out at the ATM and making it last all week (a “fun budget,” as Laura says).
  • Trader Joe’s actually isn’t overpriced.
  • Some days are just going to be less productive than others. That’s okay.
  • Not everyone relieves stress the same way. Although exercise works for most people, it’s okay if your stress relief is reading a good book or magazine. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will become fat.
  • Subscribing to a newspaper actually does improve quality of life. Also, it gives you way more to talk about.
  • When I’m at home, my parents do way more for me than I ever realized.
  • There’s a huge difference between working full time and taking classes, even if the hours are the same.
  • Always appreciate sleeping in a bed. You never know when you might not have one.
  • If the oven makes your un-air conditioned kitchen too hot, there’s really nothing you can’t cook on the stove top anyway.
  • Coffee actually isn’t a necessity. To anyone who knew me in high school or first year at U.Va., this might come as a shock.
  • Always lock your doors. People WILL try to break into your house, car, yard, etc.
  • Pepperspray is actually a great thing to have, especially when men yell things at you when you’re walking home at night. (Luckily, the yells and catcalls never escalated, and I never had to use mine.)
  • Going out to eat is a total luxury.
  • Don’t be stingy. The more generous you are — with time, money, energy, patience, etc. — the more generous people will be with you.
  • Talk to everyone about what you want to do with your life. Chances are they can help you get there or know someone who can.
  • Everything is temporary.
  • You probably have more in common with people than you’d think.
  • Just when you think you’re out of energy, you’ll probably be able to do one more thing. Or two. Or three. Or four….
  • Napkins and paper towels are nice, but you can get away with not having them for longer than you’d think.

And just in case you’re like me and wanted to rewatch that episode of The Magic School Bus, we’re both in luck — it’s on YouTube.

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