This will be news to most of you, but recently I served time. Albeit, it was a mere 75 minutes, but it was time served nonetheless. Oh goodness, not in jail, for heaven’s sake… but in the dreaded elementary school cafeteria: LUNCHROOM DUTY.
It happens at the beginning of every school year. The sign-up sheets are prominently displayed in each classroom during Open House. As the mom of three children in the same school, it feels like organizing the Olympics trying to figure out which parties to volunteer for (craft? snack? game? paper products? treat bag?) and for which child. There’s the Fall party. Holiday “Winter” Party. Valentine Party. End of Year Party. Groundhog’s Day Party. Appreciate a Dragon Day Party. Fruitcake Toss Day Party. Extraterrestrial Abductions Day Party. You get the picture…
And then there’s the sign-up sheet that everyone avoids: Lunchroom Duty. Well, everyone but me and a few other
not-of-sound-mind brave souls. (There are only a handful of us out there.)
So my personal day of reckoning was last Friday. (Oh, that was my first mistake. Because by FRIIIIIIIIDAAAAAAAY, all the children are just so calm, you know? They are quiet, still, ready to learn, and just want to enjoy their 25 minutes of lunchtime actually eating their food, to get nourishment for their brains, of course.) Well, I reported for duty 15 minutes late (oops), and upon arrival discovered that this was actually God’s divine protection over me. Because a mere 10 minutes before I arrived, a child had done the one thing that we fear most on Lunchroom Duty Day: PUKE. And it gets better: a little unsuspecting boy had (bless his heart) slipped in it. Lovely! Just LOVELY! Thankfully the cat litter-like stuff that custodians always sprinkle on vomit had already been administered… or it could have been a full-on lunchroom slip ‘n slide. (May I just take this moment to pray for our Custodians? ‘Lord, give them strength. Bless them.’)
So going into Friday’s servitude otherwise know as Lunchroom Duty, I knew to expect Messy. That’s a given. But what I didn’t expect to find during that 75 minutes on Friday was this: Beauty.
BEAUTY: The tiny girl with lovingly-plaited and bobbled braids, who raised her hand for my attention. Expecting her to need a pack of ketchup or a spoon, I walked over to her: “Do you need something, sweetie?”
“Oh, yes! A hug!”
“Well, do I have one to give you!” — squeezing her so tightly I fear I may have crushed her little ribs. And as I was squeezing her, I was smiling into the eyes of her friend beside her, who was giggling with joy at the silly sight of
crazy Lunchroom Lady hugging her friend.
BEAUTY: Charlie’s 2nd grade buddy who, as his friends are lining up by the stage to go back to their classroom, starts to sweep with the cafeteria broom–using one of those cool long-handled dustpans to gather the crumbs. “Oh, your job today must be lunchroom sweeper,” I say to him.
“Oh, no, Charlie’s Mom. I just do this because I like to be a helper. I do this every day.”
BEAUTY (maybe a tad bit messy): Moving over to sit with one of Charlie’s friends to chat with him. He starts telling me about how he likes to play the Assassin’s Creed video game. I am familiar with it because of my own boys. He confessed, “It’s a little violent.” Which led us into to a healthy discussion on violence–what is too much, what amount is ok, and how in real life we need to use words instead of violence. And I learned something new about Assassin’s Creed in the process:
“But Assassin’s Creed is not really so bad, because it doesn’t have blood and gore. It only has blood, and when I play it, we turn off the blood so it doesn’t show it.”
Well, okaaaaaay then. I think turning off the blood is a great idea, little buddy.
Then there were other beautifully messy moments when I caught myself smiling or laughing:
- Watching a (meticulous) friend’s child squeeze and bend and squeeze and bend his Cheddar-Jack cheese stick until it looked like warm mashed Velveeta inside a plastic pouch. Then trashing it, uneaten.
- Watching in amazement as Charlie’s friend balanced his pizza on top of his head.
- Seeing the boy who went through the lunchroom line and came out with his lunch plus three baggies of Cheetos, Doritos, and Teddy Grahams.
- Watching a kid squirt gobs of berry colored applesauce onto his banana, gargle with the sauce, and then watching it splat to the floor. (Okay, this was not really that beautiful.)
- The clear plastic gloves, dirty white cotton towels, soapy towel bath, and disinfectant spray bottles.
- The lunchroom chatter at high decibels, and the occasional burp followed by laughter.
- The kid stabbing his applesauce container through the foil with a pencil– and his buddies thinking it was the coolest thing ever.
And after, all, it was PIZZA FRIDAY! But to my dismay, it was not the rectangular-with-translucent-cheese pizza that I recall from my childhood. Bummer. I loved that stuff.Lunchroom Duty, in all its
gore glory, also caused me to reflect on my own lunchroom memories as a child. I mean… the lunch boxes alone! Absolutely FABULOUS!
But of course there are all the memories of childhood friends and what they always brought in their lunches–elementary through high school. And conversations about the cafeteria workers. And jokes. And longing to sit next to the cute boy on whom I had the zillionth crush. The round orange and blue plastic seats. The stage. The American flag. The chocolate milk cartons. The happiness of it finally being lunchtime.
So I have to admit, this time around I am not going to dread the upcoming days in March and June when I am called to ‘serve my time’ again. But I can’t promise I won’t pray for a puke-free lunch. For the Custodian’s sake, of course.