18: Lunch Date

18: Lunch Date

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom's Survival Guide

Lunch Date

The only person you should ever compete with is yourself. You can’t hope for a fairer match.

~Todd Ruthman

Head held high, I strode through the front door of my son’s new school and down the corridor to the lunchroom. His challenge had been new classmates. Mine would be the new School Parents Team. It was tough changing schools halfway through the school year, but after a week he was doing fine. It was my turn, and this Family Lunch Day was my debut as a school mom.

I paused outside the lunchroom doorway and surveyed the buffet table from afar. I noticed the bowls of salad first — a great idea for a school lunch, I thought. There were real plates and salad forks that one of the parents had brought from home. Lettuce, red and green peppers, tomatoes, spinach leaves, gorgeous really. Farther along was a large dish of something grainy and beige, wisps of steam rising from its surface. Was it brown rice? That was odd.

On one side of the table a line of slow cookers shared a power strip, their contents bubbling gently. Little colored cards beside each dish identified the contents in clear capital letters, suitable for elementary students: SOYBEANS AND CELERY, ROOT VEGETABLE STEW, and LENTILS WITH ZUCCHINI. A bright yellow happy face decorated each card. Right at the end of the table, mostly hidden behind pitchers of filtered water, were several small paper plates. On each was a personal-size pizza from a nearby take-out, cut into neat quarters for easy eating and sharing. Pepperoni. Ham and Pineapple. Double Cheese. But there were no cards identifying the pizzas and no happy faces, none at all.

The school notice was still in my handbag. I discreetly pulled it out. “The School Parents Team announces Family Lunch Day this Friday!” it said. “Bring food to the school kitchen by 10:30.” I had done that. “Lunch at noon,” it continued. No other information; not a word about soybeans.

As soon as the noon chimes sounded, children hustled into the lunchroom and surrounded the table. Curiosity and enthusiasm vibrated in the air. I squared my shoulders and walked in, too. A stay-at-home dad handed out the china plates and silverware.

Mothers manned the serving stations, ladles in hand, prepared to dish out what the children chose.

“Try some of these yummy turnips and beets, Melinda.”

“Bean stew, children?”

“Roberto, have some spicy tofu. Here, try a spoonful. Roberto! Take some tofu!”

Like homing pigeons, the children brushed past the garbanzo casseroles and made for the pizza. I spotted my son and headed that way, too. He saw me coming. With a happy smile on his face and pride in his voice, he announced, “My mom brought the pizza!” A few of the children emitted a ragged cheer. One offered a high-five with her left hand, while brandishing a triangle of Meat Lover’s Special with her right.

“Adam’s mom brought the pizza!”

“Yeah, it was Adam’s mom!”

All of the parents turned to stare as I stood there surrounded by children in the rapidly chilling room. I slipped out the back door at the first opportunity. It was going to be a long year on the School Parents Team.

~Eleanor Thomas

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