Burnt Popcorn—The Smell of Incompetence

When I was about twelve, I babysat my friend’s little brother and sister while the older children went out somewhere with their parents.

I remember being nervous, because I was never the kid-loving sort of girl, doubly nervous because my friend’s family was “cool” and I was the homely but well-meaning kid that “cool” families always find to be their reliable and unremarkable friends.

The evening was more fun than I expected, despite the fact that I was babysitting. Toward evening, a storm rolled in. It would be impressive if I could remember the looming purple clouds that forebode evil, but by the time the storm began, darkness had already covered the countryside.

We celebrated our evening together with a miniature bag of microwave popcorn, which I had been told was free for our snacking purposes.


Did you know that the “popcorn” function on microwaves doesn’t accommodate miniature bags of popcorn?

Before you could say “fire extinguisher,” the smell of burning popcorn filled the kitchen, living room, entryway, and, well, the entire house.

Next question: have you ever tried to get rid of a burnt popcorn smell from an entire house?

We opened windows and doors (thankfully the storm hadn’t produced rain yet, just distant lighning and faint, grumbling thunder).

It. Would. Not. Dissipate. The popcorn smell clung to the insides of our nostrils like glitter—only less fabulous.

Time was running out. The rest of the family would be home in an hour or so and I had to put both kids to bed besides figure out just how to remove the smell.

I tucked them both in bed, wondering faintly if I should pray with them.

Turns out I should’ve. In less than ten minutes, the little girl was up again, worried about the storm that was slowly moving in. I tucked her back in, assuring her that the storm wasn’t likely to be a big one, that once she fell asleep she wouldn’t even hear it.

Still, I did not pray with her.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t right away, other than that I felt very awkward in open expressions of faith.

Ten minutes later, she was up again, worried, this time with tears.

I reassured her, tucked her back in bed.

Ten minutes later—you guessed it.

I was beginning to feel like Samuel. “Speak, Lord, for your servant heareth.”

This time, I tucked her in bed and prayed uncomfortably for Jesus to protect us from the storm, for this sweet little girl to sleep and relax.

And then she finally fell asleep.

And still the smell of burnt popcorn lingered in the air. I didn’t know what else to do, so I sat down on the sofa in the living room, pondering the rush of maternal feelings that had come from calming a five-year old’s feelings.

And that’s when the family came home.

I was embarrassed about the popcorn smell, but I was prepared to believe that it wasn’t that bad.

Then my friend’s older brother came and plunked onto the sofa opposite me. He said nothing, just looked at me like I was the idiot who couldn’t even be trusted to make microwave popcorn and how on earth did his parents entrust his little siblings to my care?

And that’s when I felt truly, truly inept.

To this day, the smell of burnt popcorn takes me back to that evening, the delicious smell of the storm completely overshadowed by my incompetence.

I bear no hard feelings toward anyone in the family. This is not a bitter rant against the brother than made me feel stupid. Looking back, I realize that he was probably just tired and hence, grumpy. But he had the ability to crush my fragile confidence with a look.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s