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the lunch box

“Noah’s mom, Noah’s mom!” said the boy sitting across from me at the kindergarten lunch table. “Do you want to see me be a turtle?” Pulling the back of his shirt over his head, his neck disappeared leaving his face to peek out.

“Let’s all be turtles!” I exclaimed, encouraging the entire table to abort sandwiches and twist bodies.

“Put your clothes on this minute!” She appeared out of nowhere. 

Jolt.  Where were we, the army? Who was this vindictive creature?

Rotating my body, my neck still jammed in my shirt, I saw her, the lunch lady. Her Aqua Net hairstyle, red lipstick and thickly creased foundation made me want to shove her outside in hopes of a less zombie-like appearance.  

She targeted one child, Noah.

“You know better than to take your clothes off in school!” she spat, crushing his innocence.

His face fell.

He was a boy becoming a turtle. It was lunch. This was kindergarten. Was I missing something?  

“Excuse me!” I stood up. WE were being turtles!”

“WE don’t PLAY when we eat,” she said, her tone overly condescending. “Do you play when you eat at home?

I hated her.

“All the time.” I said, proud of playing-while-eating family.

And poof. Just like that this beautiful moment of child-like spontaneity was gone. She’d killed it.  Without even realizing it, she made sure no one would think outside the box of lunch. Kindergarteners, sitting boy girl boy girl, they learned to be less disruptive, more apt to conform, and believe that good kids were quiet, obedient and uncreative.

Freedom to express and exist without the fear of getting crushed wasn’t welcome. And explanations of any kind were irrelevant.

This was school.

shelley steinley