With Batavia’s high school graduation but a few days away, several of my friends realized this week that, whoa, they’d just made their children’s last school lunches. They’d been bracing for the cap and gown thing, but then this little, much quieter milestone snuck up on them – you know, without any “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Sure, there will be other lunches, and this is hardly a crisis (um, can I get an “Amen?” I know a few moms who kicked up their heels after drying their eyes.), but wow, the last school lunch? This is a couple of years off, for me, but the prospect did make my heart skip a beat.
Let’s be honest. For the average parent, making those lunches can be the bane of one’s existence. There’s the, “Ugh, I forgot to buy bread for sandwiches,” realization that finds you at Jewel late at night, or the discovery made 20 minutes before the school bus arrives that somehow you managed to buy bread but ran out of lunch bags. So, you make a mad dash to Walgreens, send one of the kids next door to beg from the neighbor, or paw through your purse (or, you know, borrow from the kid’s piggy bank – not that I would ever do such a thing, of course) so he can buy a hot lunch at school.
Even when you think you have your act together, you must field the occasional, “No more peanut butter and jelly. Susie said that only babies eat that.” Sure, OK, and thanks a lot, Susie, whoever you are. This revelation, made when Holly was in first grade, spawned some serious trial-and-error where lunch prep was concerned, because “no way” would she eat ham or turkey (or hummus, etc.) in those days. I’ll never forget the comical conundrum of waking early to cook soup, mac and cheese or chicken nuggets – so I could then stuff them into a pre-heated (with boiling water) thermos so they’d remain a safe and palatable temperature until lunchtime.
I know, first-world problem. Grateful heart, here, but still. It made for some pretty crazy mornings. (And yes, you betcha, I ended up having lunch for breakfast, on those days. Hard to resist a good chicken nugget, no matter the hour. But I digress.)
I won’t lie. In spite of the silly challenges involved, there are times when I’ve really enjoyed making my kids’ school lunches. You know, like when I’m on a roll and think I’ve got everyone’s preferences down pat, and am even stocked up on their favorites, making lunch prep (for them or me) a breeze. When my heart sings from the sheer joy of being on top of things I may even break into song (“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” is my personal favorite, much to my kids’ consternation) or tuck a love note or two into their lunches. For my own amusement, of course. (Kids of a certain age aren’t supposed to express joy at these discoveries, you know. Breaks the lunchtime kid code, I think.)
With all of this end-of-the-school-year, end-of-the-lunch-making stuff swirling about me, it’s no wonder I had a crazy “grief” dream. A few nights ago, I dreamt that I’d been feeling too tired, one morning, to reach out and kiss my firstborn goodbye as he left for a routine day at school. (I never miss the opportunity – I feel weird all day, if I do.) Then, suddenly, he was gone. He’d apparently died, and I desperately missed him. The pain was unbearable. I could see Noah’s face, saw him walking out the door that last time, and regretted not kissing his cheek while I still had the chance.
“Wow, you’re still doing that, huh?” he said, laughing, as he watched me cut into Holly’s PB & J sandwich Thursday night (yes, she recovered from Susie’s comment). Indeed, when I cut into a PB & J I always carve out the tiniest sliver of yummy goodness, right from the very middle. And eat it. I call it “my commission.” Holly still has no idea. Yeah, I know, it’s the best part of the sandwich and I will probably burn in mommy-purgatory for doing it. Whatever.
Ugh. My kids will grow up and leave, someday, and, yeah, I’ll miss them. Them, and those darned lunches.
• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.