Today I set out to solve the mystery of what exactly happens when my elementary schooler eats lunch each day. I figured that as a volunteer lunchroom monitor, I could get some more satisfactory answers than “Nobody” and “I dunno….” when I ask “Who did you sit with at lunch?” and “What did you eat today?”
So I parked my 4-year-old for extra time at her preschool, rolled up my sleeves and strapped on my apron stocked with napkins, ketchup packets, straws, sporks and those thumb-sized wooden paddles for eating ice cream. For a school of around 700 children that was built for 400, it was a smooth but loud operation of staggered entries and departures. That makes for a lot of Styrofoam trays in the trash.
The kids calmly raised their hands whenever they needed adult help. I opened up about a dozen kids’ milks plus lots of fruit cups and those weird squeezable tubes of yogurt, debating whether to appoint myself Manners Police and make them say “thank you” when they didn’t (most kids did). Then I got punchy and teased some kids: “You didn’t even try to open it!” The kids stared back. “Give it a try!” They would, and then I’d finish the job. One kid lost a tooth and gave it to me to hold!
Then one girl said her tummy hurt. Uh-oh. I flagged down Melissa, the paid lunchroom monitor whom I knew from church. “Oh, she’s fine,” she said, and turned to help some other kid. Another kid, whose father is also an at-home dad, said his tummy hurt, and he looked pretty droopy.
“William?” Melissa said when I pointed him out. “Oh he’s just dramatic. Tell him to tell his teacher.”
I told Melissa I wanted to see whether my son goofs off too much to finish his lunch. I also want to see if it’s really true when I ask who he sits with and he says glumly, “nobody.”
“What?” she said, surprised. “No, he sits right there at a table full of boys,” she said, rattling off the half-dozen kids in his posse. Boy, the lunchroom monitor sees all and knows all. I watched when he came in and dutifully plowed through his chicken nuggets, applesauce, chocolate milk and salt-n-vinegar chips.
One sad-sack of a kindergartener first needed help opening something, then got up without asking as I watched him shuffle slowly toward a trashcan as tall as he was. He leaned over it and hacked a big foamy pre-barf-looking loogey. I don’t want to come down on the wrong side the queasy question, , so off we went to the nurse. Turns out he’s a frequent visitor – she knew him by name.
Then one third-grader said her tummy hurt, but I had toughened up by then.
“Did you eat your lunch?” I asked? “Yes,” she said.
“Did you eat breakfast?” Yes.
“Did you eat supper last night?” Yes.
“Did you sleep last night?” Yes.
“Do your legs hurt?” Confused look. “No.”
“Do your arms hurt?” No.
“Head? Eyes?” No, she said, starting to grin.
“Do you have a big test this afternoon?”
One of her friends ratted her out, saying they had the state assessment test or a practice exam this morning.
I told her, “I think you’ll be fine.”