Hot lunch

When I was in elementary school, I never got "hot lunch" from the school cafeteria.

My parents would pack a brown paper bag for me each morning. I seem to remember that this duty usually fell to my dad, who would lovingly draw a picture which incorporated our name onto the outside of the bag each day, and every lunch was a version of fruit, sandwich and cookie.

At the time I didn't realize what kind of time, effort and love this represented on the part of my parents and instead was jealous of the kids with hot lunch. Once in a while, I wanted chicken nuggets, too!

Now I have my own child going to elementary school, and I feel the opposite. Silas and I have chaotic, messy, loud mornings, which do not seem to reflect the calmer, cereal eating, comic reading mornings of my own childhood. Silas is a creature of habit and would eat the same lunch every day. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, juice box, fruit, cookie and gummy fruit. The only variety is that we sometimes have Spider-Man gummies, and sometimes shark-shaped gummies.

The problem for Silas is that I tend to be a dog-tired, lazy mother most of the time. I think hot lunch was created to support parents such as me, parents who want to fall on the floor in exhaustion at just the mere thought of having to slap some peanut butter on toast in the morning. Instead I focus on trying to make hot lunch sound really, really exciting.

My recitation of the hot lunch menu each morning sounds like a theater major practicing his or her monologue, or at least the audition tape of someone hoping desperately to appear in an infomercial. "Oooh, look, Silas, Cowboy Chili! You love chili!" That Silas loves chili is a slight stretch of the truth: I don't think I've ever seen Silas eat chili, ever. "Yogurt parfait with pretzels is on the menu today! Boy that sounds delicious! And nutritious! Can't get better than that, mmm, mmm, mmm."

Silas is smarter than me, though, and most mornings just gives me a look, a look that says that out of all the mothers in the world he's slightly disappointed to get one who exhibits this much excitement over pretzels at 7:30 in the morning.

Most mornings I blush a little, decide to stop embarrassing myself in front of my only son (who will be my only hope for a visit when I get old), and track down the bread for PB and J. A couple mornings a month Silas actually sounds sort of interested in the hot lunch menu. I think the chicken nuggets offered a couple times a month are due the credit on this, and not my skills in dramatic menu reading.

The saddest of all, though, is the mornings that Silas looks at me with pity in his eyes and says, "I'll get hot lunch, will that help you out mom?" Those are the mornings when I realize I should probably go back upstairs and focus a little harder on personal hygiene before walking Silas to school and embarrassing him in front of all his friends.

I had fantastic parents growing up; parents who took great care of me. I may have been jealous of kids who got to eat chicken nuggets and orange-flavored sorbet for lunch, but I probably just didn't appreciate my own paper bag lunch enough. Now I have a fantastic child. He's understanding and forgiving of the fact that every day I am trying my hardest to be a good mom, and we try to take care of each other.

Zoe Abel is a busy single mom. On a difficult morning nothing seems to get the best of her like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich does. Parenting is difficult, but she gives it her best try every single day. You can contact her at

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