Wednesday, June 13, 2012
My Last School Lunch
Today I'm packing my last school lunch for Kate's last day of school. That doesn't sound like such a big deal until you realize that I have been packing school lunches for my kids for 17 years straight. That is almost half my life. It should have been 18 years, but I was released a year early because Kate is going to be an exchange student in Sarajevo next year. I don't know whether to be supremely happy or somewhat sad. I'm a little bit in between.
Seventeen years ago Justin had his first day of school and I packed his lunch in his Batman lunchbox (the Bat Cave rotated to reveal the thermos!). Then two years later came Anna, then Tyler and finally Kate...4 lunches for 7 years, and then they began to graduate...4, 3, 2 and now I'm back to 1 again.
When I was a kid, my mom made my lunch until I was in junior high. I remember my lunch boxes fondly...my Barbie lunchbox made of vinyl with a matching thermos...a glass thermos that I remember on more than one occasion opening and pouring out juice mixed with glass shards because I had unknowingly broken it. Then I got a Holly Hobbie lunchbox. I still vividly remember the smell of my lunchbox...banana-scented vinyl. In third grade I got my first metal lunchbox. It was painted to look like blue denim and had a puppy coming out of the painted pocket. My fondest memory of that lunchbox was whacking Craig Brockhall with it as hard as I could when he wanted to fight me after school one day. Then in fourth grade I graduated to generic...no more cute characters, just plain blue and white gingham. That was also the year they invented plastic-lined thermoses. And then fifth grade...when being cool was so important. No more lunchboxes...it was brown bags all the way. For two more years my mom packed my lunch...always white bread spread with margarine and then filled with a rotation of peanut butter and jelly (before peanut allergies were discovered), bologna and processed cheese, tuna and soggy iceberg lettuce, and (the one I hated) plain processed cheese and mayo. Then there was the starch (almost always potato chips), a piece of fruit (usually a banana---hence, the smell), and dessert (classic `70s Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, Ho-Ho's, or Hostess fruit pies). Yep, I was definitely a kid from the wonder years of processed food fanaticism! And it didn't get better in junior high. Now I was on my own. My favorite lunch was an orange from home and a bag of peanut M&Ms from the school vending machine.
It was that memory that drove me to make my kids' lunches for so many years.
People told me regularly that I was spoiling them or making work for myself or not teaching them responsibility or I was being a martyr, etc., etc., etc.
But I had my own list of reasons:
1. Streamlined mornings - Assembly-line lunches put together in a quick and organized fashion and always aware of what was in the cupboard and what needed to go on the grocery list.
2. Easy clean-up - Only had to clean up after myself rather than four messy kids who didn't have time to clean up after themselves.
3. Balanced meals - Remember the oranges and M&M's?
4. Love - The real reason I made my kids' lunches for 17 years was simply because I loved them. I wanted them to have good food, made by me, every day.
Is that so wrong?
I have always been in the kitchen every morning of my kids' lives. It's stability and security for them. Once when Justin was little he woke up very early in the morning, but not being able to tell time he got up. When he saw that no one else was up, he came looking for me in my bedroom and woke me up. "Mommy!" he said, "Why aren't you in the kitchen?"
And I have always liked thinking up lunches that were different...good variety and good nutrition. Kate tells me that to this day her lunch is the envy of all her friends. We do yummy salads with fresh berries, feta cheese and shredded chicken, or wraps with pesto and sundried tomato. There are bottled frappuccinos and Odwalla smoothies. Yogurt parfaits with homemade granola. Hummus, veggies and pita. Good left-overs, like chili or gourmet sandwiches made of last night's marinated steak sliced thin and served with horseradish. Occasionally homemade cookies or a sweet treat. And for field trips or holidays, always something special. For a few years in a row our summer vacation was at the end of August and we always returned home just in time for school the next morning. I always had the kids' backpacks packed before we left---along with their lunches---so we would have a stress-free morning after the long trip home. How do you pack a lunch two weeks ahead of time? Instant noodles and a fruit cup and a granola bar. Reminscent of my lunches from the `70's but worked like a charm!
Oh, sure, I confess there were days that I wished I didn't have to think up another lunch...and I sure enjoyed spring break and Christmas vacation! And of course there were mornings where I was rushed and quickly slapped together a PBJ sandwich and threw an apple into a bag and called it lunch, and there were even those times where I shoved loose change into their hands as they ran out the door so they could buy hot lunch at school. But most mornings it was by method and menu. And one day, I hope they do the same for their own children!
So I'm about to make the last school lunch. I asked Kate what she would like for her very last meal. She couldn't decide if she wanted a classic peanut butter sandwich or something special. We had barbequed chicken for dinner, so we settled on a BBQ chicken wrap with ranch dressing, lettuce and tomato, her favorite mandarin oranges, string cheese, and a bottle of HonesTea fresh-brewed organic tea and lemonade.
I'll put everything inside the brown bag, neatly fold down the top three times, and set it next to her backpack. And for the last time, I'll put away the rest of the food, wipe the counter, wash my hands and hang up the towel...and experience the end of an era, just like that.