birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

A Brown Bag

It was just a small thing.

Between the two of them, we made a bagged lunch nearly every school day for 17 years.

When they started kindergarten, they both wanted to try the joys of dining in the school cafeteria. It was exciting, like going out to lunch every day.

They did not, as it turned out, find much joy in it.

At the start, they wanted to eat there five days a week. Hamburger Day. Spaghetti Day. Pizza Day. Filet-O-Fish Day. Chicken Tenders! Mexican Straw Hat! I think that was some kind of taco bowl with ground mystery meat in it, but I’m not sure. The enchantment soon wore off. First, the Spaghetti and Fish Days dropped off the list. Then Hamburger Day. By the end of the third week, only Friday’s Pizza Day remained on their schedule for lunchtime fun. After helping cut fall foliage construction paper leaves in the kindergarten classroom one day, I sat with my son at lunch on Pizza Day. The food looked revolting and smelled worse. The only thing on the tray he ingested was the carton of chocolate milk.

That was the end of cafeteria fest.

I liked making the lunches. My husband did too. They were a little repetitive. They usually consisted of a sandwich, fruit (mostly tiny apples), chips or cut up vegetables, and two cookies. We still let them buy the drink in the cafeteria for that dining hall thrill. The sandwiches varied a little. The top two winners in the rotation were peanut butter and jelly, or smoked turkey and lettuce. Somewhere around 5th grade, the turkey sandwich became a coveted trade-worthy prize and I often wondered how many times my older son enjoyed a lunch made solely of cupcakes instead.

My mother made my school lunches when I was growing up too. I wasn’t sure whether she was a poor planner or if we were just poor because I often opened my lunch bag to find two pieces of bread with four slices of cucumber and a leaf of iceberg lettuce between them. It didn’t go a long way to keep me focused throughout afternoon class time. She would sometimes include an apple. I didn’t like apples. That didn’t seem to bother her. I think it all encouraged me to provide a little more nutrition when it came to be my turn at the school lunch and to inquire what they actually wanted to eat.

My favorite part of the early days school lunch making was the inclusion of a Post-It each day with a little message for them to find. A little drawing. A joke. An interesting quote. Sometimes, just an I LOVE YOU!. I wanted them to know I was thinking about them and to be cheered if they were having a hard day. Some small thing, a connection to home and us, letting them know we would be there on their return.


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