Thursday, October 28, 2010

What does your kids' lunchbox say about you?

Psssst..... Join me here tomorrow for a Cocktail give away!

This is something that I've always genuinely wondered but I am also always too nervous to ask because of the fear of backlash. Seriously! There is a certain defensive contingent of the Motherhood that bands together and takes down anyone seen to be having fun being a mother. Come on... you and I both know it's out there. You hear it in the play centres and playgrounds. I don't know about you, but when I come across it, I can sometimes (depending how strong I'm feeling that day) feel like hiding my efforts for fear of being picked on by fellow mothers for being a "try-hard" when, really, it's a usual and normal thing for me. Let me explain.

Ever since the LGBB has been going to occasional care, I have really enjoyed packing her a lunch (for the most part, you know, except those mornings where I just can't get going... rare for me as I'm an early rising morning person). Call it my hark back to Enid Blyton books - although there will NEVER be any tongue sandwiches served in this house, the LGBB has a no-tongue sanga guarantee - where the characters always sounded so excited to have their bottles of pop, cold chicken drumsticks and ooble-ooble biscuits, but I just get into the whole segmented, pieces of sandwich, little smattering of something sweet, healthy medley of snacks, lunch thing.

Lately, I have been experimenting with the Japanese bento box style of lunch. Think of it as scrapbooking but with food. With this, it can be as simple as taking a cookie cutter to a cheese sandwich and bingo! You have something that looks so special that it is devoured, no matter what action is going on around them.

A while back, Lolly also used to enjoy eating healthy things like cherry tomatoes, grapes and salmon sandwiches (if I took the crusts off, flatten with a rolling pin, then spread with cream cheese and thin sliced salmon before rolling up and cutting like sushi, it was even more exciting than triangles!). But then I started to notice that more often than not, particularly when she was at 3 year-old kindy two mornings a week, her lunchbox would come back with just the sandwich eaten. Lots of wasted, good, fresh, healthy food. And THEN.... she let slip one day that "Chelsea shared her yummy biscuit with me."

"Oh, really?" I asked, eyebrows so raised I thought they might lift off my face. I would have thought that was against some sort of policy. "What kind of biscuit?"

They were Oreo cookies, as it turned out. And it hadn't been the first time little Chelsea had shared her Superstar Mega-Tastebud Eye-Popping lunch box treats with her bestie, my daughter. Apparently, from the sounds of it, Chelsea is a child you want to be friends with - she has all sorts in that box, from the cookies to crisps. Adding insult to injury, the LGBB began to make statements that I knew she had heard from someone else, such as, "My lunch is yuck." You only have to know my kid and her love of not just plain old "cheese n budder" sandwiches but pretty much most foods to know that eating is on her list of Most Fun Things To Do - she is the only child you will find still sitting at the party table, finishing her plate.... and sometimes other people's before she grew out of it, oh dear.... long after the other children have run off again to play. She is a good eater. And I know her well enough to know that I keep her lunch food simple if I want it eaten - none of it had ever before been branded "yuck". Mushroom casserole, that was "yuck" and I could handle that, it was to be expected. Vegetable stirfry, that too was "yuck". But not a plain sandwich. So I knew I had to nip this in the bud quickly.

As it turns out, the biscuits were being sneaked to the LGBB - and I could tell, because she hasn't yet learned to fib, so the cheeky giggle and hand over the mouth as she told me kind of gave her away. I explained to her the importance of letting Chelsea eat her own lunch even if she was being nice by sharing. She kind of understood but, come on, what kid wouldn't pass up their salad lunch for a bikkie!? I know I would!

Far be it from me to decide for another's child what goes into their lunchbox, but I was not supremely pleased that my child's lunch was beginning to continually go uneaten in favour of these other delicacies. So I did my first "real" mum thing. I went to the teacher. She was gorgeous about it. No, they didn't allow children to share and, yes, she was going to encourage the girls to sit away from one another at lunch time (or go in different groups) because there were other issues of exclusivity beginning to form around Chelsea's desire to absorb every bit of the LGBB to the exclusion of all others - something I am deeply diligent about discouraging, but that's another post for another Mother Heart Linky day!

I now skewer those cherry tomatoes with little animal head shaped tooth picks (purpose made) and every cherry tomato is once again devoured. I make flowers with cucumber and 'stalks', I stick 'feet' under apple portions and make umbrellas out of other healthy little bits and pieces. It takes as long as cutting and then sticking them in the bottom.... and it guarantees they get eaten. She gets a cheese slice cut with little cookie cutters as well and, with some of the stamps and cutters my sister in-law sent me (she's Japanese, and lives in Japan... handy for my growing obsession because that is the home of food-in-cute-shapes!), I make penguins, bears, cars, boats.... And the LGBB is delighted. She's back to eating everything.

And now, to my question (and the reason why I ask it):
I have mentioned this food preparation fetish practice of mine to various friends with children of a similar age and their responses - these are friends, mind you! - range from "Oh GOD, I don't have time for any of that in the morning" to "Why would you want to make more work for yourself? Just shove some shit in a sandwich, cut it and bung it in a lunchbox. Seriously." I've also had a couple of "Awwww, I wish I had the patience but I don't" sort of backhanded compliments as well. And it has left me to wonder: With these sorts of attitudes from my friends, what am I setting my daughter up for at 4 year-old kindy next year or school the following year?

To me, when my young child is away in the care of someone else and surrounded by the different energies of upbringings represented by a whole swag of kids, I want her to open her lunchbox and remember that Mummy did something special for her and that she belongs. I don't want to "shove some shit" haphazardly in there and be done with it. I'm also not saying that I do the cutesy cookie cutter sandwich thing every single day either. But by and large, there will be something unique in her lunchbox and I am disappointed that there might (will) come a day that it causes her anguish because of being teased. For if the mothers who are my friends are willing enough to roll their eyes at the care I take, then I can bet there will be worse out there ready to let Junior know, when s/he comes home and says there's this girl who has shapes in her lunchbox (I admit, it probably looks uber-posh but come on! It's just a cookie cutter, I'm not whittling sandwiches into art with a sharp knife for hours!), I can guarantee there will be some whose responses to their children that will not be measured or respectful of the LGBB. And I know it can happen that way. And the only way I see avoiding it is to stop doing it.

From my friends' responses alone, I realise it may be intimidating to some mothers who see other mothers doing something that appears over the top for their children. I know I have done it. Judged, in fact, for if I am honest that is what I am doing. Without a second thought, I can wipe off my own feelings of inadequacy about not doing it "this way" like I have seen someone else do for their child and it sometimes, on a low day, makes me feel better if I tell myself how tedious it must be for that person to be constantly making sure their child is dressed perfectly or has a hair style that looks like an hour was spent on it. That's all MY stuff, though! That's a reflection of my feelings of shortcoming. I grew up with a mum who, now I am a mother I can see, was very self-conscious and used to put down the efforts of my friends' mothers to me. It is deeply sad to me, looking back now, that my mother was in such an intimidated place and, more so, that she found it acceptable to expose me to it.

Hmmmm! This post has ended up in quite a different place to where I thought it would when I began. However, my question still remains.... and I don't expect anyone to answer this publicly, unless you want to! Self-reflection is a personal thing.

What do you put more effort into over other things for your child? Is there any one thing in particular? And how do you really feel, as a person and fellow mother, when you see where an obvious effort has been made by another mother (or father)? Does it affect you in any way, or only on certain days?

 This post is part of Seven Cherubs' Mother Heart Linky, Thursday. 

Addendum: Considering Alliecat's really insightful comment, I think it's probably pertinent for me to point out that I realise the effort I put in to my child's lunch could possibly viewed as over the top ;)  But it is something I get a sense of satisfaction out of doing - it fulfils something creative in me as well as gives enjoyment and an element of surprise to her. Win-win in my books! Although I go to a certain amount of effort here, at least one area of my house or another is always a mess, I never iron, I'm lucky to brush my teeth and have a shower by 12pm some days (yes, still! yes, I know she's four) because I procrastinate about loads of stuff as a mother. So please don't be thinking I'm spinning all plates all the time just because I consider her lunchbox a chance for me to create a work of art. Cheeeeeers!

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