July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Cool Girls Get Cool Lunches

I stayed up extra late tonight because I was making a duct tape bow for my daughter’s lunch. Duct tape bows are not in any food group; they are, in fact, as the name suggests, a bow made out of duct tape. The more colorful and intricately patterned tape, the better. But the bow was made with the intention of adorning my daughter’s lunch. I needed to make it because the only stickers we had were of seahorses, and I didn’t think those would suffice.

I decided that I needed to make my daughter’s lunch an object to be admired by her friends, because in the past she has been very upset when we sent her something that is not “approved” by the crowd. She didn’t actually tell us this, but rather the teacher let me know the first week of school that my daughter refused to open her lunchbox at lunch one day, and was wondering if she hated eating? While she is definitely not a fan of eating, unless it is marshmallows or Laffy Taffys (not purchased by me, of course, but maybe left over from her secret stash from Simchat Torah, or even more ancient, Mishloach Manot), she usually attempts to nibble at her lunch before giving up in favor of her snack. But to not even try seemed weird to me.

I cornered her in the morning. Her stubborn side surfaced and she refused to discuss it. “Did you not like fish sticks?” I asked, desperate for some reasoning. “You ate them last week at home… why are they different in school?” She gave no response. I decided to try again with the fish sticks a week later; and she happened to have caught me in the morning when she casually asked what I packed her for lunch.

“Fish sticks,” I said, and her face crumpled. Now, it was the final five-minute hurdle that we all race around gathering up our things before running to the bus. I was filling up water bottles from the cooler, and doling them out. The kids were rushing to get their jackets and their bags, and to try to NOT forget their lunch boxes. And she suddenly ceased moving.

“I don’t want fish sticks!!” she screamed. It was so loud that her face flushed deep purple, the color of beets. I leaned down on my elbows and leveled with her, eye to eye.

“Well, what’s wrong with fish sticks?” I asked. But she just grunted and crossed her arms over her chest. “If you don’t tell me, I guess I could just send you fish sticks every day this week, because there’s nothing wrong with them.” She didn’t accept this, couldn’t really calm down, and I ran to get my toddler’s jacket on him. She followed me, crying. “You just have to give me a reason; like they smell bad. Or they crumble. Or they’re bad cold, so that I’ll know why you don’t want them and can help you find something you like.”

“Fine,” she said, as we neared the final minute of our race to get to the door. “I don’t like the way they taste in school. Can I please have a waffle?” It was a start. Not the real answer I had been hoping for. I could tell it was a compromise on her part; her unwillingness to tell me the truth about the horror of fish sticks, but a way to just quickly get something else in her lunch box. I grabbed a homemade waffle from the freezer and threw it in, saving the fish sticks for the one child who would still eat them for lunch (the two-year-old).

As the weeks passed, there were a few other curious complaints about certain food items. “No meat on meat days,” and also a report on what the other kids were eating (the same thing every single day). Finally, my husband sat her down and offered her an American Girl Doll if she would just confess why she wouldn’t eat fish sticks at school. She wouldn’t cave. He asked if he could guess, and she nodded, and what he seemed to deduce was that girls were making fun of lunches that didn’t conform to their own. She just wanted to be like everyone else.

I get this. But I also don’t. I have spent my whole life TRYING to be different. I enjoy standing apart from the crowd and sparkling in my own glittery way. Maybe a fishy way wouldn’t feel so special. I stopped sending them with her, and periodically, she monitored what I put in her lunch box in the mornings, and I’d always try to announce it in a cheery way, hoping that it would meet her approval. A yummy yogurt! Cottage cheese pancakes! Pasta!

But tonight I grew tired of having to put her on her own menu, and so I prepared the same lunch for her as I did for her siblings. I decided I would wrap it so that it would look super cool, and the other girls would have no choice but to admire it, and beg their moms for the same lunch. I wanted to decorate the foil with stickers, but we only had an old package of seahorse stickers (why we have seahorse stickers in the first place is an unsolved mystery). As I rummaged through the arts and crafts drawers, cursing to myself as to why we did not own any Frozen stickers, I found the drawer of duct tape, and decided to make a bow. I then affixed it to her lunch and added a strip of pink duct tape that read, “Cool girls get cool lunches.” And I attached a tattoo.

By now you are probably wondering what is this horrible lunch that I sent that needed some convincing? Was it a kale salad with anchovies? Or chopped liver with a side of cold chulent? No, it was actually fake processed chicken nugget rings that most children would be super excited about. I hope she will be, too.

By Sarah Abenaim

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