Brown-bagging it

Rowan is home from school today with a hacking, spewing cough that would have rendered him the Typhoid Mary of the Junior Kindergarten set — assuming, of course, that he didn’t pick up the cough from one of his classmates in the first place. He’s asleep on the couch right now. And the silver lining to the cloud of having a sick child (two sick children, actually), to having to rearrange our work schedules and to forfeiting sleep and downtime, is that at least we didn’t have to make him lunch.

I don’t know what it is about the lunch thing, but I’m always relieved when it’s my turn to put the kids to bed rather than clean up the kitchen and make lunches for the morning. Anne Lamott writes about the emotional baggage attached to school lunches, how they can stand in for everything, edible microcosms of the social order:

If code lunches were about that intense desire for one thing in your life to be Okay, or even just to appear to be Okay, when all around you and at home and inside you things were so chaotic and painful, then it mattered that it not look like not look like Jughead had wrapped your sandwich. A code lunch suggested that someone in your family was paying attention, even if in your heart you knew that your parents were screwing up left and right.

Okay, so that’s a little over the top for JK. But she’s on to something. It’s not that I’m worried about what other kids will think of his lunches (Lord knows, if I wanted to worry about things that other kids could potentially tease my queerspawn, half-Jewish, television-less kids about, I don’t have to stoop to lunches.). It’s just that it’s just one more bloody thing to do at the end of every day. You can’t skip it. And you have to get it right, more or less: something nutritious yet appealing, easily opened by fingers that can’t yet reliably hold a pencil or fasten a zipper, and simple to eat. There are twenty-two kids in his class — we can’t assume he’ll get any help with the meal. It’s a tall order for a child who will not eat bread and can’t yet open a Ziploc bag (yes, we use them — but we wash them and then reuse them, so we’re not entirely evil). Oh, and no peanut better and no fish.

I have cut myself a great deal of slack by deciding at the outset of the school year is that it is a perfectly acceptable thing to send Rowan to school with the exact same lunch every single day. I mean, how many winning combinations can a parent reasonably be expected to come up with? We’re still honing the mix, but the current standard lunch plus snack includes a zucchini-carrot muffin (made with whole-wheat flour), a banana, a container of plain yogurt (this one’s hit or miss), some chunks of cheddar cheese, egg salad on a pita, cucumber (generally ignored, but one has to keep up some appearances), and the milk (white) provided by the school. Sometimes almost all of it comes back, sometimes the bag is empty. We don’t know why.

Rowan just walked into my office, pantless, refreshed from his nap and looking healthier than he has all day. Fingers crossed he’ll be over this cough by Thursday. And on Wednesday evening, I will gather together the ingredients and, in some small way, hope that they will add up to everything being Okay.