To The Young Mom in Grocery Checkout, You Are Going to be Okay.

To the Young Mom in the Grocery Store Checkout Line,

I see you with your cart and your cute baby sitting in the front who is looking at my 2 year old in my cart behind you.

It’s 8:30pm on a Monday evening in a small town, and for some reason all of the grocery store’s self check-out stands are shut down and there is only one line open with a checker and you are at the front of it.

There is a long line of impatient people behind you waiting to check out.  I can hear the woman behind me let out a loud obvious over-exaggerated sigh to inform you and the checker that she is not happy, and I can hear the people behind her grumble at how long it is taking.

I can also see that you are using food stamps and WIC checks to buy your food, and the checker is meticulously going through each item in your cart in a loud and somewhat condescending way.

“Is this whole grain?  It has to be whole grain. It says here that you are only allowed to get whole grain.” He loudly says to a nearby employee, “I need you to verify a product please.”

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I see you answering questions calmly, but I can tell you feel embarrassed, and I just want to give you a hug and tell you that “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”

In 2008 during America’s economic crisis when many people lost their jobs, my husband was one of those. He had a master’s degree in real estate development, and at the height of the housing bubble crash, he was in a market that could not sustain employees.

At the time we had a 5 month old baby (our first), and I was teaching piano and violin lessons while my husband was searching for a new job.  I had released my first album the year before, but my music career was not really a career then…it was a hobby that I worked on while our baby slept and when I wasn’t teaching.

We didn’t have much debt other than student loans, but we had rent to pay, doctor appointments, and food to put on the table.  We found that we qualified for Washington state food stamps and WIC (Women Infant Children), which is a program to ensure that mothers and babies can be provided with healthy food and care while under financial stress.

Being in the WIC program meant showing up for mandatory appointments with a nutritionist who would weigh both myself and baby, ask health and nutritional questions, and baby would get a checkup to check all signs of healthy growth.  Then we were discharged with “WIC Checks”, which were checks that we could take to any grocery store and get the food items listed without any cost to us.  These checks were only for certain food items such as milk, baby cereal, baby pureed food, cheese, whole grains, peanut butter, and some fruits and vegetables.

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(Example WIC check)

Even though I was so grateful to have help from the government with our grocery bill, I soon learned that going through a checkout line with WIC checks was no small feat.

I quickly learned that as soon as I stepped in a grocery line and the checker saw me pull out WIC checks, most times I was met with eye rolls, sighs, or “You’re going to have to go to a different aisle.”

Not only had I spent twice as long shopping in the store trying to make sure that my allotted jar of baby food was exactly 4 oz and not 6 oz, and that it was pureed vegetables and not pureed meat, and that my bread was whole grain and not whole wheat white, and that every item in my cart was spot-on with what was written on my WIC check WHILE also trying to entertain a 5 month old baby, but I also then had to go through checkout.

I remember one time being particularly humiliating because I had chosen organic kale, instead of non-organic kale.

“You can’t have this.” the cranky checkout lady told me. “You’re not allowed to buy organic.”

No where on the WIC check did it specify organic or non-organic.

“Well, you are actually out of non-organic kale, and so organic is the only kind you have left.” I answered her.

“I’m going to need a manager on aisle 3, please. Manager on aisle 3.” She called out over the speakers.

Apparently buying organic was only a luxury afforded to the rich, or employed.

The line of people behind me were growing restless, my baby was starting to fuss.  I turned to the man behind me and apologized, he just looked unhappy in general.  Many were taking their carts and going to another line.

I remember how embarrassed I felt not only because people were waiting an extra long time in line behind me, but now the entire store was informed that I was on food stamps and WIC, and apparently some people felt like people like me were entitled because we don’t have to pay for a portion of our food.

I left the store with tears in my eyes that day.

There was one time though, toward the end of our year-long unemployment, when I got into a grocery line and was already dreading the experience and ready to start apologizing to everyone in advance – when the checker looked at me very compassionately and said, “Isn’t it great that the government does this WIC program? I think it’s fabulous and I’m so glad that young moms like you are getting healthy food for you and your baby.”

She was so patient, she didn’t make a scene, and I got through checkout relatively fast.  She really made my year and I haven’t forgotten her.

My husband eventually found a job after the housing crash as a manager with Microsoft in their real estate division. He worked there for over 4 years, but eventually quit his job to help me at home with our children so we could concentrate fully on my music career. Because, well, my “music hobby” had grown into what is  now a career that pays for our mortgage and puts food on  our table.

But I see you, young mom.  I see you trying to remain unscathed by the obnoxious checkout man, and I see you aware of all of us in line behind you.

I want you to know that you are going to be okay.  This won’t last forever.  It is just a temporary place to get you on your feet, and you are going to be okay.

But until then, I’m going to entertain my baby in my cart to distract the ones behind me, and put on the happiest attitude to show everyone in line that we aren’t affected by how long it’s taking, we aren’t staring at your WIC checks or thinking about your food stamps. I will shield you for a bit until you are done checking out. And you know what….the woman behind me, despite her resistance, finally let out a chuckle at my little redhead and his giggles…

May we all shield each other a bit from the rains of the world, and remember a little kindness goes a long way.  A little kindness might be just what someone needs, you never know.

 

A Quick Q&A with Jennifer Thomas

Just a quick Q&A with some questions I have been asked before and/or recently.

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Tell us about your newest album:

WS - v3 Square“Winter Symphony” is my most recent album – it was released November 20th, 2015 – so just a few short months ago.  Typically with a new album, I’d be busy promoting it constantly after it’s release – but since this was a Christmas album I can’t really talk about it much until it gets nearer into the holidays again this year.

It’s a bit weird actually – to have worked so hard on a new album and then not get to talk or promote it except for the 6 weeks of Christmas music season between the U.S.’s Thanksgiving and New Years. It’s like you had a baby but can’t show anyone for a while.

At any rate though – it’s a wonderful album that I’m extremely proud of.  With every new project – I try to make it better than the last.  So a lot of hard work went into this album. 🙂 It is my signature cinematic/symphonic piano music, this time featuring The Ensign Chorus (recorded at St. Edwards Cathedral at Bastyr University), with orchestra and soloists.

What’s your favorite work at this point in time?

B008KW9V1OsmallI’m very proud of my 3rd album “Illumination” still.  It was a 4 year labor of love. In particular from that album, I really love “Etude For the Dreamer” because it’s very fast and fun to play, but I also love “Eventide” which is slow and dream-like.  I often play Eventide at night after my children have gone to bed and I am just wanting to wind down at the piano.

What, or who, inspires you?  

I am inspired by success stories – whether it be empowered women, weightloss transformations, healing, or anything positive.  I always feel very motivated about life in general when I see people accomplishing big feats like that; it makes me feel like anything is possible if you try hard enough.

When it comes to music though – to be honest I’m very inspired by the music that I love the most.  When I listen to my favorite composers, it fills me with such drive and passion towards music and creativity that I just want to go to my piano and write new work.  I’m also very inspired by the beautiful outdoors, especially the ocean and the beach.  I’m sure you can hear that a lot in my work given certain song titles.

Which song do you wish you wrote?

hqdefaultThat’s easy.  “Time” by Hans Zimmer from the Inception movie score.  It’s perfect in every way – from the chord progressions, the way it starts softly but builds and builds until it reaches epic proportions.  Yes I wish I wrote it.  It’s genius. It is so simple, yet so larger-than-life at the same time.

How would you describe your sound in movie genre form?

Probably either Historic Drama or Epic, if that is even a film genre.  At least those are the images in my mind a lot when I write music.  Everything I write tends to build up to a big swell or epic emotional climax in the song – even on the ones where I try to tone it down a bit.  I can’t not have that in it.

f3f7cf5399f02e7808658a92b1732d9cExcuse me while I nerd out for a second, but it’s sort of like the movie “Sense and Sensibility” where a lot of it is really pretty, but there is that scene when you think it’s Willoughby carrying Marianne home through the rain, but then you realize it’s actually Colonel Brandon and he is this amazing hero figure now and you can’t help but swell with romantic notions and feelings and pride.  THAT swell of emotions you experience is how I think of music when I write.

How do you compose music?  Do you write it out, memorize, use software, or…?

I’m really old-school when it comes to composing. I hand-write everything out on composition paper. I have dozens of composition books that I leave laying around – some containing various albums all in one, others just random works.  I leave them near the piano with a pencil and a sharpener and I write in them when I feel inspired with something.  Or even just sketches of ideas.

This past year, my thing has been writing down any descriptive words that come to my mind when I start a new song. This helps me later as I figure out a title.

After a song is finished, I’ll record it and then eventually transcribe it into Finale for sheet music.  Oh, and one big reason I do it this way is because I’m really not great at memorizing new songs I write. I write them down so I won’t forget them, and then when it comes time to perform them publicly I usually have to re-learn and memorize at that point.  I also feel that I can write more technically challenging music with this method because it allows me to really dig into certain passages of the music and tweak things – which I can’t necessarily do live or on impromptu.

How do you find time to do music and be a mom?

12768307_10153603513813425_4509925277828146166_oThis is a great question – if you figure out the answer please let me know. 🙂

I think the key is just trying to not do it ALL at once.  I can either be an awesome mom, or an amazing musician – but not typically simultaneously.  Fortunately I’m lucky to have a husband who is very supportive of my music career and he helps out a LOT.  If I am working on music projects, he is the one taking care of the children and doing the stay-at-home-Dad thing.  But like right now, he is busy working on our 2nd home remodeling, and so I’m currently doing the full-time mom thing while he works, and so composing new music is not really happening much right now.

10358991_10152206405203425_4520012190882494127_oI honestly don’t know how I could be doing what I do with my music if I didn’t have my husband.  There was a time, not too long ago, when he had a great position with Microsoft – but he was also hardly ever home. He would sometimes work 60 or 70 hours a week. I’d wake up at 3am to find him on his laptop stressing out over trying to finish a report that needed to be done by 7am that morning.  And if I had music to work on, I would either have to stay up through the night while everyone was sleeping, or hire babysitters (which got very expensive).

12928191_10153682559418425_1534486033198862920_nFortunately though, my music career has reached a point where it supports our family all on its own. It was a no-brainer that Will would quit his MS job and support me in my music.  The stress and lifestyle we had while he was working a corporate job was not something we enjoyed.  But now we get to be together all day everyday, and the boys get to actually have a Dad around while they are growing up instead of just 2 hours in the evenings every night (like previously).  We’re almost 2 years into this new lifestyle of making my music the “main gig” around here, and we love it.  But seriously, if Will wasn’t around, I definitely wouldn’t be being able to do the mom and musician thing as well as I do. I’m very grateful.

What’s next for you?
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I just finished a very very busy concert season and album release which all came to an abrupt stop January 1st (refer to question #1), and since then I have been laying low and playing the mom role at home while my husband finishes work on our other home soon to be put on the market.  Many have asked me if I’m booking concerts or what my next album is going to be  -but I really needed the break after I finished Winter Symphony – both physically and mentally.

But aside from currently being lazy (actually being a full time mom is anything BUT lazy), by the end of the year if things come together in time, I hope to make a couple more music videos for “Winter Symphony”, travel around for award shows (the nominations are coming in which is great), work on a couple of collaborations, as well as scoring a short film.

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But all of that is just sort of up-in-the-air in terms of when. When it happens it happens and I am putting no pressure on myself with deadlines this year. I’m also working on some health goals (finally losing my pregnancy weight as my “baby” just turned 2 years old, and this is the first time in 2 years I’ve had the time and motivation to dedicate to it), I  also need the downtime to grow and create new music, and part of that is experiencing “life” in between projects so I can be inspired with new material and ideas. I guess that is the advantage of being my own boss – I can continue on with music or just take a break for a while if I choose to. 🙂 I’m grateful to have such loyal fans that keep assuring me that they will still be here when I DO put out the next big project. Until then…

Where can we keep up/follow you?

youtubeI tend to post pretty regularly on my Facebook Fan page, but if you want to see a more personal side to me you can follow me on Instagram (@jenniferthomas623).  It’s a mixture of my music stuff, my kids, outdoor adventures, travelling, and more. I’m also on Twitter but admittedly I’m horribly at it – if I remember to check it once a day that is on a good day.  My teenage fans tell me I need to do Snapchat but I’m not on there quite yet (nor have I figured it out). Oh! And of course Youtube! Please subscribe to me there – I post my music videos there, and also my vlogs. 🙂