Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Love and Lunchboxes


This post was first published as a column in Practical Parenting Magazine, June 2012

The other week, I was walking my three-year-old son T-Bone into day-care when I realised I had forgotten his lunch-box. His little face was stricken. ‘My lunch, Mama!’ he wailed. ‘No my lunch! ’ I told T-bone I’d bring it later, but he was inconsolable. At first, I thought his reaction was because he really, really loves to eat. This boy is what the Italians would call ‘a good fork.’ But even so, it seemed excessive. I comforted him, fetched his lunch, and all was well.

But it got me thinking. Pre-school, day-care, school – these are long days for small children to be without mum and dad. They are stimulated and cared for, and they are often treated with great affection by their teachers.  They have fun. But they are also following different rules than normal, lumped in with lots of other kids, who are sometimes mean, and away from the frequent kisses and cuddles that are scattered throughout a day at home with the family.

In the middle of this day away from home comes lunchtime. It’s a pause, a time to stop and sit and open a box of food packed by Mum or Dad. Everything in this box says ‘I know you.’  You love ham but not bread with bits.  You like very small, whole apples. As a treat you really love the princess yoghurt, and sometimes you like a box of the fruit-and-nut mix that you helped Mummy make up on the weekend.

For T-bone, at three, this lunchbox is more than just food. It’s a tangible reminder of home, where he belongs, and where he’ll be going in just a few hours. It’s a hug and a kiss from Mummy in the middle of a long day without her.

I debated the politics of lunchboxes with my husband Keith. We decided that if he packed the school lunches, the children would have the same menu every day for thirteen years: a vegemite sandwich, an apple and a muesli bar. His aim would be to refine and simplify the packing routine over the years until it was streamlined to absolute efficiency. There would never be any drama, but there would never be any excitement. 

On the other hand, if Mum took on the role, lunches would change according to her whims of diet and interest. They would be delicious and intricate and every once in a while, Mum would have a massive meltdown over the pressure of packing lunchboxes every day for thirteen years. Dad would try and be sympathetic. He appreciates the good food too. But also, he thinks she should just pack a vegemite sandwich, an apple and a muesli bar.

I like to put a note in T-Bone’s lunch every once in a while to tell him I love him. He can't read it yet, but it's a reminder:: You’re in the world, my little one.  It’s tough and wonderful and you’re in it on your own. But home is waiting and Mummy is there. In the meantime, eat this.

20 comments:

  1. What a beautiful article. So true - and now I want someone to pack me a lunch boy everyday, too, please...

    Fine

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    1. Oops! That was, of course, meant to say lunch box...

      Fine

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    2. I really am sorry you didn't mean lunch boy Fine.

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  2. we call them princess yoghurts too! I know the ones you mean. Busy has pretty much the same thing everyday and we often joke she will still be eating this in high school. but yes it does include a vegemite sandwich. I sometimes I put a note in there too.

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    1. Vege and cheese on a fancy day. Now have some raspberry tea Cath.

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  3. Such a beautiful way to think of it. I pack a bit of love into every slice of homemade bread, but they still prefer Dad's sliced (soft!) shop bread and vegemite.

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    1. Bloody fun Dads and their fun sandwiches.

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  4. Lunch box philosophy. I love this. We had a mean bartering system worked out by primary school. Five of my peppermint wrap bars (one each day), swapped with a canny bully for one small pack of Ruffles at the end of the week. Never been able to develop a proper taste for salt and vinegar chips since.

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    1. What about a reconstructed salt crisp with vinegar foam and potato soil Tor?

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  5. oh we have a similiar debate - mind you we have only just entered lunch box world really. it is a battle field.
    i made little felt stars that I sewed to rubber bands and i loop one on to each lunch box and i told my boy that is to help him remember me and my love for him.
    i must admit if they get left off he REALLLY notices!

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  6. Now I feel guilty about making the boys make their own lunches for the last 10 years or so.
    Still... I work at the same school they go to, so every now and then we bump into each other in the hallways and have a hug, so i guess it all evens out.

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    1. I like that too. I will miss all those hugs when everyone is at school.

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  7. I once put a note in my son's lunchbox saying "I love you' and he was mortified.
    So much for that idea with my kids!
    Little buggers- just when you think you are doing soemthing gorgeous ...

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    1. I hear that. There's definitely an age limit on this shit...

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  8. You're onto something.

    I've been at work four days a week since they were two. I've been known to tell them to just skip a shower (repeatedly, till the weekend). We were the family of the infamous Infants Homework Boycott. And I've been known to have nothing but dinner leftovers in the house come breakfast time.

    But judging entirely by their lunchboxes,I've swindled teachers and other kids into thinking me a real Women's Weekly, Ought-to-Be-Congratulated, LovingKindness Mum.

    But it backfired. The kids themselves are no longer impressed by home made risotto cakes, vege frittata, vietnamese rolls or sushi.

    And instead of causing them to contrast the wonder of those now-forsaken lunches with dad's vegemite sanger, he trumped them with tuckshop money; $5 each.

    Love in your lunchbox it seems, is a whole lot less important (at eight) than cash.
    Sush xoxo

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    1. Hi Sush! Hmm..So I may in fact be creating what is called 'a rod for ones own bottom.'Food for thought.

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  9. Hi
    Love and Lunchboxes
    I see what you’ve done here, and I love it! One of the finest posts online, keep it up!

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Thanks for talking to me. I don't got cooties. Oh, except for when I got cooties.