I have the luxury of sometimes joining my son for lunch at his school. The first time I did this I was quite nervous as the protocol for being a cool mom changes every year. This year especially since we went from a private school (where we knew everyone) to public (where aside from two kids from the neighborhood every other face was a stranger).
I have learned since that first time it is not cool to wave wildly at a kid I do know and yell out “Hieeee!” Nor is it cool to spill ice-tea while trying to balance a tray of food and grab a spork (or foon) at the same time. I have also learned that cafeterias today smell exactly like they did in 1983. Upon entering, mass-produced comfort food, industrial-strength cleaner, and a hint of Crayola marker wafts through the lunchroom and into the nostrils.
The food is actually way better than it was in the ’80’s and ’90’s, at least at this particular institution. I’m not sure what I ingested in my youth, especially if it was encased in a bun. Today I had a chicken/soy caesar salad with actual romaine lettuce and a rather crisp, slightly sweet green apple. My son did not have the quintessential Sloppy Joe, but a rather sloppy slab of lasagna. He proceeded to inform me he’d never had lasagna before and I felt a small pang of guilt for never including it in my small dinner repertoire. He ate the entire thing and a couple tiny bites of his peas, per my nagging request.
We ate outside under a live oak as a rare chilly breeze staved off sweat and buzzing insects. Parents aren’t allowed to eat inside the cafeteria as there are not enough seats at the tables. We had a nice conversation (as they tend to be now in his ninth year of being a child) although it was heated at first as he begged for five dollars to buy a Rainbow Loom bracelet from another kid.
“That’s a rip off,” I told him. “You could make one yourself.”
“No, I can’t,” he countered. “This design is too hard. Plus you have to have like four looms.”
“It’s still a rip off. Tell the kid you won’t go higher than two bucks.”
“But he’ll say no.”
“Then ask him who else is gonna pay that price? I bet no other kid has five bucks to spare for just one rubber band bracelet.”
“They go for ten bucks on Amazon, Mom.”
“This conversation is making me upset. Can we please talk about something else? I came here to have lunch with you, not haggle over obscenely priced jewelry.”
So he finally let it go and proceeded to tell me he fell asleep in class. Then he asked how my day was. Happy sigh. I gave him a run-down of my usual– biked the trail, walked the dog, laundry, chatted with grandma, started some writing. Then I asked him if he could tell me what the bully looks like.
The bully has put squished grapes from the cafeteria floor as well as ketchup in my kid’s soup and salad at various lunch times. I want to strangle the bully.
“It’s easy,” my son says to me. “He’s the one with no hair.”
Of course, I say to myself. Buzz cut. They are always the ones.
As lunch nears its 30 minute mark I notice my son’s class lining up outside to make their trek back to class. I tell my kid I’ll take care of throwing the trash away (as I now know it is also not cool to walk with your fourth grader to the rubbish area). He gives me a pathetic look and pleads, “Four dollars, Mom?” I look through my cash and see that I have only one dollar bill and a five.
“Here’s a one,” I say. “Make it work.”
He sighs in resigned desperation and I coolly nod to him as he joins the class. I scour the line for a glimpse of the no-hair bully. That one has medium length blonde hair. Nope. That one has short hair but it is still present. Nope. Ah, there he is. Hair shaved like an incarcerated mass-murderer. Skinny little goofy-ass kid. Even though I have my sunglasses on I look directly at him and give him an eat-shit-and-die-look. Hell yeah, that asshole saw it, too. Bet he’s a little shaken. The kid looks right at me and freakin waves! All Eddie Haskell-like! I look away and roll my eyes to the December clouds.
As the class line disappears and I gaze down at my new sturdy Croc flip flops I wonder if the bully will continue to haunt my son. Or will he heed my undeniable shade-covered warning? You mess with my son I mess with you. You have no idea what a really crappy Sloppy Joe tastes like.