Monday 23 September 2013

I Was Lunch Shamed By My Son's Teacher

So I have officially started working and boy are my hours shitty!  I'm on a waiting list to get better, normal people hours but for now it is what it is.  Last night I got home after midnight and didn't fall asleep until 2 am.  This was irresponsible of me knowing I had to be up at 7 am to get the kids ready for school.  I was having fun playing book quote games with Yvonne at Attracted to Shiny Things.  Yes, we're nerdy like that.  Shut up.

Anyway that was maybe a mistake because I was a mess this morning.  I fell asleep with Frack trying to wake him up.  Frick woke us both up and then I went and fell asleep on the couch where Frick had to wake me up again.  I'm actually kind of proud of him right now.  He was the only one in this house who had his shit together this morning.

I barely managed to scrape their lunches together.  It's Monday and I get paid tomorrow so there weren't a hell of a lot of options in the fridge.  Let's see, I had some lettuce and cheese but no bread.  We used up all the baby carrots and cucumbers over the weekend.  There was half an onion, some yogurt, and a box of crackers.  I also had a small stockpile of applesauce and granola bars.  I could work with this.

Frick got cheese and crackers, a granola bar and some applesauce.  He disdains any yogurt that isn't in tube form.  He only drinks water at school, even though I practically begged him to take a drinking box.  I guess drinking boxes are passe for middle-schoolers.  But of course he forgot his water bottle today.

I agree with all of you who are no doubt thinking, "That's not enough food for a growing 12 year old boy!"  Try telling that to Frick.  He comes home every day with most of his lunch intact.  What can I say?  He has ADHD, he's on medication that affects his appetite.  The school gives him only 20 minutes to eat his lunch and they put him in a room full of his friends and almost no adult supervision to do it.

Frack's lunch was another story.  I put a granola bar in the front pocket of his lunch bag and showed that to him, telling him it 's for "snack time" so he understands.  This is a ritual we go through every day because I have yet to buy the required, special, separate lunch bag clearly labelled "Frack's Snacks" so the school can help him ration out his food for the day.

Then I packed crackers with no cheese because he hates cheese unless it is in the powdered, neon-orange form typical of Kraft Dinner and Cheetos.  Then I packed a juice box and some yogurt because it's his favourite.  I didn't want to give him applesauce with the yogurt because he's in Kindergarten, not a home for the elderly.  It looked like a pretty bland lunch so I tried to make up for it in quantity.  I must have put half the tub of yogurt in his container.  I had to break some of the crackers just to close the lid on the other container.  And I was happy to see that at least his lunch bag felt nice and heavy.

Now at this moment I would just like to walk down memory lane, for perspective's sake...

When I was a kid, a packed lunch consisted of a sandwich, a piece of fruit and some juice/milk.  Every once in a while there would be some kind of dessert like cookies or pudding, but not every day.  This was considered perfectly adequate.  From what I remember this was true for all of my peers as well.  This is now the standard by which I judge my sons' lunches.

But it's not the only one because holy shitballs!  There is just so much more anxiety over school lunches anymore!  Seriously.  Between over-achieving Moms competing to win the Most Adorable Bento-Boxed Lunch Award, peanut butter bans, healthy snacks programs and the many, many households that suffer from this nicey-nice sounding thing called "food insecurity" there has never been so much pressure to packing lunches in the history of lunch-packing.  For me, packing a school lunch is just another daily opportunity to feel like I'm being judged as a parent.

(Just a little note about "food insecurity".  Insecurity?  "Insecurity" is what I felt about facing high school with a big zit on my chin.  When I have nothing to feed my children I'm going to be feeling some feelings that are a great deal more severe and complicated than "insecurity".  Fuck you, people who make up words!  Children are going without food, stop trying to white-wash it.)

After I packed up this admittedly less than ideal lunch, I took Frack to school and went home to take a nap.  About an hour later the phone rang jolting me out of my sleep.  I didn't get to the phone on time but I could see it was Frack's school.  I'm not the over-protective, hover-mom type but I always get a little freaked out when the school calls.  You would be too if most of the calls you got from your kid's school were to inform you that he had been in a fight and needed to be taken home.

I called the school back wondering what was wrong.  Is he sick?  Did he get hurt?  Maybe he wet his pants and for some reason his spare clothes aren't in his backpack.  Sometimes the demands on his language skills cause him to just shut down and cry.  I had to take him home last year for that reason a couple of times.  The answer, of course, was none of the above.

His teacher wasn't sure if Frack was staying for lunch today because, get this, "there isn't enough food for him in his lunch bag."  She said both she and Frack didn't know how they were going to portion out his food for the day.

So in that moment I am feeling embarrassed and ashamed.  But then I noticed something.  She never mentioned the granola bar.

"Did you find the granola bar in the front pocket?"  I asked her.

"Oh no, is it in there?  I'll have to check."

Okay, so nevermind that I pack a granola bar in that pocket for Frack every day.  Nevermind that I made sure that Frack knew where his snack was supposed to be today, like I do every day.  Nevermind that all she had to do was look in a pocket on his lunch bag before deciding to call me at home.

 Did she notice that I packed 3 pounds of yogurt in there?  Did she notice that I generally pack good lunches with a variety of choices each day and that today's lunch was an anomaly?  Did it occur to her that maybe we are "food insecure" in our house and that by calling home this way she was potentially rubbing my poverty in my face and calling attention to a fact I would already be anxious about and powerless to remedy?

I have to say I'm kind of surprised here.  I really like Frack's teacher and his school but right now I'm pretty annoyed, mostly because it's the only emotion capable of distracting me from a deep anxiety about Frack and whether or not he is going hungry at school because of the shitty lunch I packed him.  Which was in no way alleviated by the fact that the rest of our conversation seemed to emphasize that, granola bar or no granola bar, this still was not a satisfactory amount of food to pack.

My rational brain says, "There is totally an adequate amount of calories to meet your sons nutritional needs over a 6 hour period.  Get a grip."  But the asshole region of my brain is saying, "There is probably a small group of educators standing around your son's lunch right now shaking their heads.  Maybe they are asking around to see if anyone has a spare apple or something for the poor kid.  You are a terrible mother."

Fortunately for me this shitty lunch situation is a temporary one.  I am very lucky in that I know this anxiety will be gone tomorrow because, come hell or high water that kid is getting enough food in his lunch to see him through the apocalypse.

But since I'm feeling my asshole-brain feelings right now I would like to know, just what the hell do you do if you suspect that a child in your class is going hungry?  Surely that's the real reason she called.   Because what I choose to pack in my son's lunch is none of her business provided he has enough to eat.  It's got to be super tough to find a tactful way to broach the subject, but there has to be a better way than calling up Mom and telling her something she must already be keenly aware of.  And certainly you don't jump to these conclusions because on one day you notice that the child's lunch is a little sub par.

Unless....maybe she thinks all the lunches I've been packing are shitty?  Maybe today's lunch was the final straw after a couple of weeks of watching my child slowly waste away.  Maybe she is just one shitty lunch away from calling Children's Aid.  Maybe they are planning an intervention as we speak....(curls up into the fetal position, rocking back and forth).

Food insecurity is a very real problem y'all, both in Canada and in the United States.  Click the links to find out what you can do to help.

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