Lunch to Go

Most work days, I carry my lunch to work.  It’s less expensive than eating out, and I am more apt to limit my meal to something more healthful and less calorie laden.  More often than not, I pack a salad and fruit into re-useable plastic containers and carry them to work in a fabric tote bag.  The bag was a gift from a coworker- a little calico sack that is just the right size, and can be washed when something leaks.

This morning while slicing cucumbers into my salad, I thought about how I used to pack lunches when my children were in school.  Much the same as when I was a child, my kids were not fond of the food from the school cafeteria, and it did not make sense to pay for lunches they would not eat.  Besides, one of the thrills of beginning each new school year was the rite of choosing a lunch box.

I recently read an article that lunchboxes are becoming a thing of the past.  This made me sad, since some of my fondest memories of school were examining my classmates’ lunchboxes. My best friend had one that was decorated to look like a barn. I coveted that lunchbox, with its matching thermos that looked like a silo and fit inside the domed lid.  Other children had boxes with Woody Woodpecker, Superman, and Mickey Mouse. One even had a box that looked (be still my heart) like a real T.V. set.  We who had “cold lunches” could begin eating immediately, instead of standing in line for our trays to be filled with the cafeteria fare that smelled the same every day, no matter what it was.

I carried a red plaid lunchbox made of aluminum that had been my older sister’s.  In those days, thermoses were made of glass, housed in aluminum.  The unlucky child who clumsily dropped his lunch box was sure when opening a thermos at lunch time, to find its contents riddled with shards of glass.  The matching thermos for my  lunchbox had broken long before it was handed down to me, but for less than a nickel, I would buy a glass bottle of milk, shake it to make sure the cream and milk were mixed and carefully pull the cardboard stopper.  Older boys in the cafeteria drank from the bottle, but I would insert a straw and sip, watching through the glass as the level of creamy white slowly declined.  I rarely finished before I was full.

My lunch usually consisted of a sandwich, cookie and fruit.  My mother made our bread and cookies from scratch and wrapped them in waxed paper.  I envied those kids who had sandwiches of Wonder Bread, that “built strong bodies 12 ways” and Hostess Twinkies with their lovely cream centers and came in packages of twos.  Now, when I think of how my mother baked every day to keep her growing brood in oatmeal raisin cookies, I wonder how I could have been so keen to trade for something from a store. 

My mother would make a grocery list on the back of a used envelope.  I would watch, hoping to see something like Drakes Cakes or Funny Bones on the list.  They never were.  “Couldn’t you at least buy those little wax paper bags instead of flat sheets of Cut-Rite?” I begged.  It would be years before I understood the economics of feeing a family of ten.  A generation later, my children begged me to buy sandwich size zip-lock bags instead of the less expensive bags that folded to close.  Some things never really change.

When my own children started school, I enthusiastically took them shopping for lunch boxes.  Aluminum had been replaced by plastic, but the decorations were still enticing.  They lingered before the display, carefully choosing what would carry their lunches- sandwiches on wheat bread, fruit, and homemade oatmeal cookies.  One year, her father naively let Abby choose a “90210” lunchbox- practically scandalous, since she was not allowed to watch the program on television.  I let her keep it, sure that she gained several popularity points in the fourth grade because of the coolness of that lunchbox.

At our house, old lunch boxes were used to house small toys, like crayons, doll shoes, and little green army men.  They lined the bottom shelf of the bookcase where we kept toys and the kids identified the contents by the character on the front; Barbie held crayons, Spider Man held Matchbox cars, and so on.  They made the perfect container-easy to identify and easy to carry. 

In my attic is a trunk filled with well-loved dolls, stuffed animals and small toys, and in it there are two old lunchboxes.  One contains a small brush, comb and assorted empty makeup containers, and the other, an empty travel sized shave cream, disposable razor (blade removed) and an empty bottle of after shave. I made these kits for the kids for Christmas gifts when they were little and our wallets were thin. They provided years of entertainment, and I saved them in hopes that someday I will have grandchildren who will enjoy them as well.

Look! They have red plaid!

By the time my kids reached junior high, they had transitioned from lunchboxes to  brown paper bags, and my days of shopping for lunchboxes ended.  If the article I read is correct, my yet-unheard-of grandchildren might never know the joy of walking store aisles the week before school starts in search of that perfect lunchbox.  Of  course, I could start a vintage collection…  

What was your favorite way to carry your lunch to school?


When You Say No Do You Mean Yes?

Have you ever met someone who cannot take no for an answer?  Recently this happened to me at work.  A gentleman made a request that I was unable to meet.  He had made this request a year ago and was given a polite “no.”  Last week, he called with the same request, and was again told no.  A day later, he called again, spoke to a different staff person, and was given the same answer.  Three days later, he spoke to yet another person, who inquired on his behalf.   My patience was wearing thin.  I wanted to ask him the proverbial, “What part of ‘no’ do you not understand?” 

I remembered an incident when my kids were young.  Their elementary school held an annual book fair, where the children displayed books they had written and illustrated.  For weeks Abby, who was in third grade, toiled over her book.  Her storyline was clear, her characters, all teenagers, drawn in colored pencil with intricate details like earrings and hair bows.

Pages 2 and 3 of Abby’s book. Yes. I still have it.

Gabriel was a first grader.  He had painstakingly scrawled the words and haphazardly colored everything in red, his favorite color.  Gabe hated to color- he thought it a waste of precious time that could be spent reading or doing arithmetic, or running around the playground.   The fact that his book was colored at all represented the importance of his work.

The book fair was to begin at seven o’clock in the evening.  I rushed home from work, changed from scrubs to a pair of jeans, and prepared a quick stir fry for dinner.  Stuffing rice and vegetables into his mouth, Gabe excitedly jabbered about his book and the surprise I would find when I read it.  Abby was equally cheery, finishing the food on her plate at record speed.  But Elizabeth ate little, pushing her food around her plate. 

At four years old, Elizabeth was chronically ill with a yet undiagnosed endocrine disorder.  Her cheeks, which had once been chubby and pink, were pale and drawn, and her clothes flapped around her skinny arms and legs like a little scarecrow.  Every day she was plagued with what she referred to as “a yucky belly,” and today was no exception.

Living with chronic illness takes its toll on all family members.  Parents weary of waiting on edge for another hospital visit, for more tests, for more medicine.  Siblings get tired of cancelling plans for a sister or brother who never seems to be better.   And for the sick child- for Elizabeth- it was the worst.  She tired easily.  She felt sick day after endless day.  She, whose nature cried out to be in constant motion and daredevil acts, was listless and fearful.

But part of living with chronic illness is trying to push forward and live life as usual as much as possible, and so we did.  Deciding that Elizabeth had eaten as much as her yucky belly could hold, I shoved her plate into the dishwasher and herded the kids into the car. 

We arrived at the school a little after seven.  My plan was to quickly visit Gabe’s and Abby’s classrooms, read their books, say hello to their teachers and rush home so I could get Elizabeth into bed.  We began in Gabe’s classroom and I searched for his book among the others.  Gabe and Abby asked if they could wander the halls with their friends.  I looked at Elizabeth, who was sitting on the floor by my feet, and knew we may have to make a quick exit.

“Sorry, you guys.  You need to stay with me tonight.  Lizza’s not feeling well.”

Abby and Gabe looked at their little sister, and solemnly nodded.

“You can walk around the room and look at the other books,” I offered.  “Just stay in here and don’t go into the hall.”

The pair grinned at me and amiably wandered from desk to desk, but the room was quickly filling with parents and children.  I hurriedly fanned through Gabe’s book and took Elizabeth by the hand to search for her siblings.  I found them standing with a girl from Abby’s class.  Her red curls bounced as she said to them,“ C’mon!  Let’s go see the sixth graders!”

Abby and Gabe turned to me, their big eyes silently begging for my consent.

“No- I need you to stay with me now.  The school’s getting crowded and I’m not sure how much longer Lizza’s going to last.  Gabriel, your book is wonderful!”  I added.

The red-headed girl interjected, “Please!  Can’t they come with me?”

“Sorry.”  I shook my head and we made our way to the second floor to find Abby’s classroom.

I quickly found Abby’s desk and thumbed through her book, complimenting her on how exciting her story was, and how wonderfully she illustrated it.

“Ask your mother if you can come now!”  It was the red-headed girl, hissing in Abby’s ear.

“No.”  I said firmly.  “They have to stay with me.”

By now I was practically dragging Elizabeth, who was getting paler by the minute, and was slumped against a nearby desk.  Sweat had gathered on my upper lip and I wondered if the older children would notice if I didn’t stop to chat to their teachers.

“Why not?  Can’t they come, pull-eeze?”  The red-headed girl begged again.  There were children running up and down the stairs, through the halls, and through the classrooms.  Teachers were helplessly watching their classrooms become shambles, and parents chatted among themselves, oblivious to the antics of their wild offspring.

Abby sighed and rolled her eyes.  She knew this would not go well.  I was hot.  I was worried about Elizabeth.  I was annoyed and I was..well, ready to blow my top.

I opened my mouth to answer, when Gabriel calmly piped up, “What you don’t know about my mother, is no means no.” 

It was as simple as that.  I smiled at my son, and he grinned back.  Gathering Elizabeth in my arms, I kissed her cheek, winked at Abby and said, “You’re right Gabe.  Thank you. And now, it’s time to go.”

Later that evening.

I have often remembered that night, how when we teach our kids that “no” means “maybe-if-you-tease-and-whine-enough-then-I’ll-change-my-mind” we do them a disservice. They need to understand that the world does not always revolve around them. They need to accept that not everything in life is meant to go their way.  They need to understand, that many times, no means no.

Now, if there was some way to teach this to the man from work, I’d be a happy woman.

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