In March, I put a cup of Safeway Select Mandarin Oranges in Buddy’s lunchbox. Ever since, that same little cup of Safeway Select Mandarin Oranges comes back home in his lunchbox, uneaten. I keep sending it. He keeps bringing it back home.
By now, the orange segments have taken roughly sixty round trips on the school bus. They have attended a field trip to explore the tide pools at Lincoln Park. They have gone over to Buddy’s friends’ houses. Spent hours and hours in his dark (and likely stinky) locker. Been jiggled as Buddy jogs to the bus stop. It’s now more like Safeway Select Mandarin Orange Puree with Some Kind of Frothy Top Layer. The frothiness might suggest fermentation.
Each day after school, I say, “Buddy, you have got to eat the fruit in your lunch!”
Each day he replies, “Mom, I don’t really like those oranges.”
“I know! Eat ’em anyway!”
“OK,” he says, racing outside, carrying the homemade ninja accessories he makes when I’m not looking. “I’ll try!”
“YOU NEED TO TRY HARDER!” I yell at no one.
That’s when I catch a glimpse of a big housefly ramming its stalwart body against the plate glass picture window. It always irritates me when a fly does that over and over and over, as if somehow, if it just keeps trying, it will be able to bust through the glass. I want to redirect it. Gently tell it to knock it off because it is so depressing to see an insect or a mother doing the same stupid thing over and over, always getting the same, frustrating results. Plus, it sounds like it hurts. Thunk–buzz–thunk!–buzzzz–THUNK!–buzz.
So it got me thinking about school lunches and how we can’t control what our kids eat when they are elsewhere. We can only make accessible the ingredients for a semi-healthy lunch (and understand that when Sweetie packs a container of pickles, she’s just giving them to her friend, Madeline), then hope they actually eat the semi-healthy things.
I realized that what we pack in our kids’ lunches is a metaphor for what we (i.e. earnest yet deeply flawed parent-people) try to do each day: fill up our kids’ internal lunch boxes with all sorts of good stuff–love, compassion, gratitude, humility, the ability to laugh at oneself, a decent work ethic, the peace that passes understanding–with the hope that when our kids are out in the world, flying solo, they will use that fuel to thrive and love and do good.
But sometimes our kids are going to ignore the good stuff we’ve placed in and around them. They are going to make dumb choices. They are going to do unkind and impatient things. I know this because I make dumb choices and do unkind and impatient things, even though I am a grownup, even though my parents lovingly stuffed me with all sorts of good things.
But I am the hopeful sort. I am the housefly, body-butting the window over and over. Each day, I have hope that if I keep sending my kid off to school with Good Stuff, then that Good Stuff will be at his fingertips . . . should he decide he’s in the mood to consume it. I just wish he would EAT THOSE PULVERIZED ORANGES SO I WOULD FEEL BETTER.
This seems like a good time to point out that sometimes, when I pack a thermos of hot Chicken and Stars soup in the kids’ lunches, the thermos explodes and Buddy or Sweetie comes home with a backpack that reeks of salty broth, with rubbery pasta stars glued to the homework folder. The lunchbox needs to be soaked and washed, and the kid is limp with hunger.
That’s a bummer. It’s also a metaphor. Sometimes we (earnest yet deeply flawed parent-people) present our kids with things that are, in the end, messy and unhelpful. We hardly ever mean to; we just pass on what we think is a good idea, or we pass on things without thinking much at all. And then, because of steam and pressure and maybe the lid wasn’t on quite right, ka-BOOM!!!! Chicken and Stars everywhere.
This also seems like a good time to mention that sometimes you come across a parent who packs this in her kids’ school lunches.
(These were from Parenting magazine’s 20 Easy Bento Box Lunches. They don’t look Easy to me, but maybe I just don’t have the proper tools or carrots or patience).
Looking at these photos, you might think, I have never once made a roaring lion out of my kid’s mac n’ cheese. I’m a failure! Or you might say, “Show me a mom-made lunch with farm animals made out of rice mounds, cheese, and raisins, and I’ll show you a mom with too much time on her hands.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Cool. This mom’s Love Language is Bento Box Lunches!
J.D. Salinger once said, “All mothers are slightly insane.” I believe that’s true. Insanity just looks different in different mom-people. Sometimes it looks like a mom shouting about mandarin oranges. Other times it looks like a bento box stuffed with carrot tulips and PB&J florettes. We really are all slightly insane.
I think part of the insanity might result from this answerless question: What’s the best way to love my kid (surround him with good and healthy things, both fruit and life skills) and, at the same time, start shoving him out of the nest? How do we parent within that tension?
Remember that scene in James and the Giant Peach, where the massive peach (that had been successfully floating on the sea) was getting munched by hungry sharks? And how Spider spun hundreds of ropey threads, and James and the other creatures lassoed seagulls, and the seagulls lifted the peach and its passengers up into the air?
I love the idea of that scene, the idea of a huge, dripping orb of peach being lifted from the salty water. Saved. Rescued. Protected. I like the idea of staying near my kids, in case they need to be saved, rescued, protected.
But it’s good to start snipping a few of those silky threads. To start relieving a few gulls of their peach burden. The Cloud Men are up there, remember? We don’t want to get too high.
I should stop shouting about mandarin oranges and trust the process of parenting. I should snip a few ropey threads, maybe five or six each year, so that Buddy and Sweetie will figure out how to soar safely, with hardly any help from me.
But gosh, isn’t hard not to want to throw our kids into a vat of kale-blueberry-pomegranate-quinoa-Compassion-Humility-Peace-Generosity-Kindness-God and yell, “EAT! Eat it ALL! Clean your plate, kids! Lick your plates clean!”?
I think it is. Nearly impossible, really.
Photos compliments of Parenting magazine and Flickr’s benimnetz.