My children have never bought lunch at school. For Baby #1, who has a strong history of selectiveness when it comes to food, this is for the simplest of reasons: to make sure she eats. This is a girl that, during toddlerhood, would only eat a vegetable if it was steamed sweet potatoes, doused in cinnamon, and mashed until smooth. To this day, we call this side dish “Sweet Potato Icing,” because we had lied to her and said it was supposed to be spread on cake.
In another way, she set a related precedence. She is, what I like to call, “Naturally Chaotic.” That translates to “Innate Slob.” Maintaining a clean lunchbox is beyond her skill set. To combat the waste of an all-disposable lunch but to prevent her from carrying around something that looks like I dumpster-dove to find it, I ordered her a Planetbox.
I saw Planetbox products in a magazine years ago and was impressed by the concept. It has a sturdy, easy-to-wipe-down outer bag with plenty of storage space, and a kitchen-industrial, stainless steel, compartmentalized tray on the inside. It is tough enough to withstand her abuse and neglect, and it also has room for snacks. The entire tray comes out of the case and goes into the dishwasher after school. After disposing of the health-hazard of a lunchbox she carried around in first grade, I bought her the green case you see above. I’m happy to report that she is now in fifth grade and is still using the same lunchbox, while Babies #2 and #3 each have their own as well.
For practical reasons, I began packing a note in Baby #1’s lunch (which, after she reads it, gets recycled through the school’s Paper Retriever program.) She isn’t a morning person, and I can never tell through her grunted replies if she is comprehending what I’m telling her before school. The idea was to include a short message to say hello and remind her of what our schedule would be like after school. On the other side of the card, I would add a joke. At first I utilized a few websites advertised as funny and containing appropriate humor for kids, but eventually I bought a book at Five Below so I could prevent repeats. No one likes a tired joke, and my memory isn’t what it used to be.
When Baby #2’s school day included lunch, I started this practice for him, too. One morning I was checking in at the school’s main office to volunteer in the library.
“Thanks for the jokes,” the woman at the desk told me.
“Excuse me?” I asked. Crap, do my clothes not match today? I wondered mentally.
“At lunchtime. We read the joke of the day to the students at the beginning of lunch every day.”
My face flushed red. Talk about pressure to perform. After that, I became much more selective about what I put on the card. If it doesn’t seem like it will elicit a laugh, it gets skipped over. Not only do I need to entertain the student body, but my kids’ schoolyard reputations may be on the line!
When I had the mastectomies and underwent treatment, my husband continued writing the notes and jokes on days I wasn’t well enough to do it. I like to think this simple act, that takes up only a few minutes of time, supplied some consistency for them during an erratic (even more so than usual!) phase of our lives. A small, tangible link to home in the middle of the day to say “we’re still here, and we’re still laughing.” It has practical applications, sure—to remind her of the dance class after dinner, or him of his hockey schedule. But my hope is that a bad morning can be softened or a smile can be inspired by a simple gesture of thoughtfulness. No matter what we experience out in the world during our days, shouldn’t we be confident in the knowledge that we are valued and loved just for being ourselves? Can the meaning of life be boiled down to something so simple? I hope so, because confidence and empowerment are helpful constants, and so many people—children and adults alike—suffer without them.
Baby #4 has a ways to go yet, but Baby #3 will be at school for a full day next year. His first visit at the school five years ago involved him removing his clothing and diaper and streaking down the main hall. He has never looked back. Now a student there himself, he has been reprimanded in art class for rubbing chalk pastels all over his face. He has hauled the college dictionary to the kitchen table to look up “Q” words like “quadrille” and “quatrain” for his “What starts with Q?” Kindergarten homework. And those two things are just a small sampling from this week alone. I’m not sure what I can put in his lunchbox to make him laugh. I might have to step up my game, but I may not have to worry about the confidence-building. Whatever he needs, he’ll get it from us.