I do love writing. When I have spare time I almost always spend it writing something for this blog, and when I do get something posted I always hope that somebody will read it and like it. However, I’m very skittish about thinking of myself as A Writer because to me it sounds pretentious and also a little bit pathetic, like the high school lineman talking seriously to the career counselor about a pathway to the NFL.
Other than the fact that I occasionally neglect my responsibilities in order to write here, I don’t do much to indulge my writerly identity and ambitions. Except for this one other thing: I recently bought Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and now I’m reading it.
Lamott tells her writing students that when they don’t know what to write, they should write about school lunches. I found this advice intriguing, because in the seven years I’ve been writing here, this isn’t a topic I’ve thought to touch even once. So in case I’m missing out on something really profound, I’m going to give it a shot.
I went to private school through the eighth grade, so I always brought a packed lunch from home. (At least until some genius began a hot lunch program on Fridays, where they brought in Chick Fil A sandwiches and Little Caesar’s Bigfoot pizzas on alternating weeks. If I were to trace my sense of entitlement for weekly chicken sandwiches, it probably began here.)
Hot lunch days aside, my favorite treat was when we got to eat lunch outside on nice days, and three friends and I would each sit in a section of one of the four-square boxes painted onto the parking lot. Abbey and Dawn were definitely in quadrants 1 and 3, but I can’t remember who sat diagonal from me: Heather, perhaps, or maybe Jennifer. Knowing us, it’s quite possible that we actually made a calendar bestowing the honor of sitting in the fourth square on some lucky girls in an orderly rotation.
We’d lay out all the pieces of our lunches and I would be overcome with envy for the friend whose mom made sandwiches out of peanut butter and marshmallow cream, or the one who got Nacho Cheese Doritos in the snack-sized bag. (On the rare occasions that I did get chips, my mom would have bought the big bag and given me a portion in a plastic baggie: Lame.) The list of food items I remember coveting is actually quite long: Capri Suns. Lunchables. A whole can of soda, wrapped in foil. A Star Crunch or both halves of a Swiss Cake Roll or Nutty Bar. Pik-Nik potato strings. Fruit Roll-ups. Those little individual serving cups of tuna with the mix-ins and the wooden paddle for stirring.
I have this strong impression that my friends always got the delicious, unhealthy lunches while I always opened my lunch box to find a pita pocket stuffed with lean meat and veggies, with maybe a bunch of grapes on the side. In retrospect, I have a hunch that this probably only happened once, and my ungrateful response convinced my mom that it wasn’t worth the effort to be creative with my lunch ever again. But the fact still remains that the most vivid details in my memory are the contents of everyone else’s lunch box. (Sorry Mom. I love you!)
Now, of course, the tables have turned, and I’m the Lunch Packer. Twice a week I send Abby to school with some uncreative combination of lunch meat, cheese, apples, carrots (unpeeled), and maybe a fruit leather for dessert. In other words, the sort of lunch that would have made ten-year-old me cry toxin-free tears of disappointment.
Preparing my own lunch is my least favorite part of the day, and almost every day I wish that a simple, balanced, guilt-free lunch would magically appear in my refrigerator WITHOUT me having to do the work of grocery shopping and ingredient assembly. A pita pocket, perhaps, stuffed with lean meats and veggies, with a bunch of grapes on the side– it would be a dream come true!
Clearly, youth is not the only thing wasted on the young.