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?

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Why Momma G Loves the TV

“I’ve been craving old shows of Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet.”  This was in an email from my daughter Abby.  She is in Nashville now, navigating life in a new city with a new husband, looking for a new job.

The mention of Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet brought me back to a simpler time of watching television with my kids- the days when we all crowded on the couch in front of the lone 19 inch portable that sat behind closed cupboard doors in our living room.

When we were theoretical parents, we were not going to let our children watch TV.  We felt their time would be better spent reading books and engaging in intelligent conversation.  But then life happened.  I was a stay-at-home mother with a one-year-old.  Stuck in a rural home without a car, I felt isolated and alone.  We could not afford cable, so our TV only got one channel.  I had a strong disdain for daytime television dramas, but at eleven o’clock each morning I turned on “The Price Is Right” and watched it with my daughter.   Abby stood transfixed in front of the screen.  When the contestants jumped up and down, she bobbed up and down, clapped her chubby hands and yelled “Come on down!”  We were hooked.

Shortly after that, we moved to a new apartment, which was “cable ready,” and although we still could not afford the cable services, by plugging into the outlet we could get the major networks and PBS.  Public television opened a whole new world of entertainment for the kids- and for me.  We became friends with the gang from Sesame Street.  We listened to stories on Reading Rainbow.  We visited the Neighborhood with Mr. Rogers and we learned to cook with Julia Child, The Frugal Gourmet and Jacques Pepin.

For my kids, watching television was a participatory sport.  When Gabe was three, he was given a cardigan sweater that opened and closed with a zipper.  He took a hanger from his closet and every time Mr. Rogers changed sweaters, Gabriel did the same, zipping and unzipping, taking off the sweater and carefully hanging it on the doorknob to the hall closet.

One winter PBS aired “Sleeping Beauty on Ice,” and Abby decided she should become a professional ice skater.  She didn’t have skates, but she announced that the large frozen puddle outside our apartment would work perfectly as a rink.  She convinced her little brother to be her skating partner, and the two of them spent the afternoon sliding their boots across its surface in a complicated dance choreographed by my five-year-old daughter.  They fell so often that the next morning Abby’s knees were black and blue, and Gabe’s right ankle collapsed every time he tried to run.

As the children grew their television horizons expanded, but only under careful scrutiny by their father and me.  I thought we were doing fairly well at keeping to innocent and educational programs, until one day I watched as Elizabeth and a boy from the neighborhood played outside with a Perfection game.  They would carefully place the pieces into the frame, set the timer, wait several seconds, and run away. When the clock ran out of time and spewed the game pieces onto the sidewalk, my six-year-old and her friend would throw themselves to the ground, rolling over and over.  Puzzled at their antics, I finally asked what they were doing.

My little girl looked up from the grass, pulled a leaf from her unraveling braid, looked at me with that “Mom-don’t-you-know-anything?” expression and said, “We’re playing MacGyver.  It’s a bomb.”  So much for violence-free TV.

When the children were in elementary school we spent the better part of a year with no TV at all.  Gabe and Abby were squabbling over what show to watch and their father, who was not raised with a TV in the house and rarely chose to watch it, got fed up.  He silently walked to the shelf where the “boob tube” rested, picked it up and yanked the plug out of the wall.  It sat in a storage shed until the end of the summer when a hurricane threatened the east coast and I convinced him that for our safety we needed to reconnect it.

As the children grew, I found that watching television with them was more important than arbitrarily deciding what shows were acceptable and what were not.  Cuddling together on the couch in front of their favorite program gave us the opportunity to talk about the values and decisions of the characters.  I suffered through hours of teenage angst while watching Dawson’s Creek with Abby, but it opened the door to talk about many of the topics she had been reluctant to discuss- teenage sex, drinking, drugs.  By talking about the characters’ choices, we could share opinions and values.  Once she knew I would not condemn Dawson and Joey, she could trust that I would not condemn her or her friends.

By watching TV with my kids, I learned what sports heroes my children admired and why.  I found out what kind of music they listened to, what clothing they liked, what politicians they believed in and what kind of adults they aspired to be.  But most importantly, it gave us the opportunity to have fun together. Together we laughed at Seinfeld.  Together we cried during “E.R.”  Together we sang with the cast of “Les Miserables” and together we waited for next week’s episode of “X-Files.”

Now that my kids are grown, I usually watch television alone.  Once in a while, we watch something together, but mostly they are too busy with work or friends to sit on the couch with their mother.  But someday, I’ll have grandchildren. We will cuddle together in front of Grammie’s TV and turn on PBS.  I can’t wait to see what Bert and Ernie have been up to.

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