Of the millions of opportunities we mothers have to hone our guilt, I would put money on this one as a top 10 candidate: “what your kid brings to school for lunch.” That is, unless you are one of those lucky and annoying (to the rest of us) moms who has a kid who continued to eat the wheat bread and fresh fruit and vegetables we all plied our babies and toddlers with. Know how lucky you are, and consider it may not be a result of your parenting skills—you won the kid lunch lottery with his or her unchanging taste buds. Many of us are faced with kids who would rather not eat green things, or as my teen recently put it, anything grown in dirt. I did all the right things when he was younger—stayed away from junk food, fast food, bright blue drinks, and non-food orange things in a bag, but it didn’t take. When your kid can describe in great detail why the flavor/texture/color is unpleasant, you learn to pick your battles. Plus, I don’t have the fortitude to be a send-your-kid-to-bed-without-supper kind of parent. I’m more a please-dear-god-can’t-we-all-just-go-to-bed-fed kind.
And I thought I had made peace with the fact that I survived the school policing of my kid’s lunch in grammar and middle schools and now send him to high school with crap for lunch. For a number of years I counted Lunchables and Cheez-Its as a healthier option, but once my teen went to high school all bets were off. He dismissed the Lunchables as too childish, and I couldn’t talk him into buying lunch, which would have relieved me of the responsibility and knowledge altogether. So he brings junk food for lunch—Doritos, chips, popcorn, pretzels. And because he doesn’t actually eat it every day (“I didn’t have time”), and he’s never sick and keeps growing, I tell myself he’s a teen and that’s what the teen years are for—flouting the rules of health with few consequences. He has the rest of his life to feel guilty about not going to the gym enough, wear a Fitbit, and avert his eyes from the calorie count while ordering a Big Mac. His health classes have already done a great job starting him on the guilt train.
So there I was at the Stop&Shop, scanning the big bag o’ lunch-sized junk food, Coke, Mountain Dew, and cookies. It was like Oscar the Grouch was stocking up for a hurricane. I pulled my receipt from the checkout and the receipt from the order before me was still in the machine. I gave it a curious, cursory glance, and its contents stopped me cold:
- Darypur 1% mlk (Pur? Mountain Dew is pure too, you know, like from a clean, crisp mountain)
- Bag plum 2 lb (A whole bag? What kind of healthy freak are you?)
- Fresh bananas (“Fresh”? Do you really need to rub that in my face? And do you also sell “stale” bananas?)
- Red grapes (They have a lot of sugar you know!)
Short and sweet and devastatingly healthy. And to add insult to injury the receipt boasted in 30 pt font size that this person had $703.22 in CARD SAVINGS in 2015. I had scanned my savings card, but it hadn’t registered. I’m not sure how much I’ve saved this year, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have even half that. And who knew you could save that much buying rabbit food? Then to finish me off, the gas rewards points were 475, meaning, health food nut was going to get 40 cents per gallon off his or her next gas purchase. I’m excited if I can get to 20 cents.
I stood there clutching my highly processed imitation food and wondered how a small slip of paper could make me feel like such a bad mother, an inadequate person who doesn’t know how to work the store savings program, and a rube who pays nearly full-price at the pump.
But then I remembered a story. It floated me past the internet kid lunch wars and the Siren song posts like “10 sure ways to get your kid to eat more vegetables” (it’s all bunk—they don’t tell you it requires a kid who actually eats in the first place.) In the first difficult years of my young son’s taste bud down turn, I was beside myself with guilt and worry, convinced I was going to kill him with bad nutrition or get thrown into DSS’s secret bad lunch slammer. My coworker at the time saved me when she told me the story of her then grown son and how as a kid he ate nothing but PB&J on white bread for five years straight. Did it stunt his growth? Make him a low performer in school? Put him on a path of crime and ne’er do wellness? Nope. He went on to Cal Tech, California’s MIT, and they both lived to tell the tale.
So I took a deep breath, crumpled up the fruit-laden receipt, and made a perfect shot into the trash can. Mom: 3; Guilt: 0. Crap in a school lunch bag? Priceless.