"Bird by Bird" is a book by Anne Lamott all about writing. In it, she shares that in the courses she has taught, she often prompts her students to write about their school lunches when they are feeling a bit of writer's block/blehness.
Below is a bit of what came from my initial clocked writing about school lunches and a bit of what came after as a reflection.
I was a judgmental little lunch eater, but maybe we all were . . . at least on some level - from where we sat, what we chose to pack or buy, how we traded our food and what we threw away. It felt like there was so much weight in our choices (and even the choices that were made for us).
My loving and underappreciated mother made most of my school lunches. She would occasionally sit my siblings and I down and tell us that it was time for us to start packing our own lunches. I am sure my brother, sister and I had good intentions, but I don't remember that lasting longer than a week or two. We'd forget and ask for lunch money as we walked out the door to catch the bus, or she would have mercy on us due to late-night studying for a history exam. Regardless, most of my lunches were packed in a thin purple lunchbox with black trim by my mom.
I'll be honest that I wasn't a very grateful lunch eater. I wished for Pringles and Lunchables. I didn't want my turkey to come from last night's dinner but to be sliced from the deli. I cringed in frustration when my sandwich had a layer of Miracle Whip instead of mayo, and I felt betrayed when I didn't see a pudding cup or cookie. I often pushed raw broccoli into my mouth and washed it down with white milk as I coveted my friend's sandwich-sized bag of Combos and soda.
On the days that I did buy, more often than not, I had pizza - the rectangular kind with little squares of pepperoni/sausage/ "something" on it. If not pizza, I was buying some sort of chicken - tenders, fingers, patties. If I had spare change, I would buy a pretzel rod, two if I was feeling extravagant. Later, pretzels turned into Twix bars, my craving for sweets trumping my salty slant.
My Combo friend would often share her stash, which I would readily take while silently judging the rest of her meal that she dropped into the trash. My food rules and values started young. I want to say that I had empathy for my friend's mother that made that lunch and who had no idea it was getting dumped in the trash, uneaten, but there was more to it than that. I felt superior in how I navigated the food that ended up in my lunchbox. I somehow felt better because I forced down my cauliflower before I ate my potato chips.
If I could have lunch with my elementary-aged self, I would bring along homemade chocolate chip cookies, a bag of Doritos and a sub from Subway to satisfy her wandering eye and get her attention. As she was munching on her sub, I'd tell her that it's okay if she wants to eat a cookie first. I would tell her that although she shouldn't necessarily throw away what doesn't sound good, she also doesn't have to eat all of what's packed for her. I would suggest she tell our mom thank you for packing all those lunches and brainstorm with her how to talk to Mom about the food in her lunch and the options she has (that don't involve more work for our mama). I wish I could tell younger Brooke that food is not a religion. What we eat doesn't make us better or worse than anyone else.
But since I can't, I will just stick to kindly reminding my current self that.
Did reading about my school lunches remind you of yours? If so, comment below with your favorite or least favorite school lunch.
Interested in writing a little more? Set a timer for ten minutes and write about your experience with lunchtime growing up. If you'd like to share, I'd love to read it! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.