Time for lunch. As always, I walk among cafeteria tables and peer down at what kids have to eat. What they bring and how they lay it out says a lot about who and how they are. For example, red-headed and freckle-face first grader, Derrick, has pulled out a peanut butter, jelly, and wheat bread sandwich smashed like guts in a Ziploc bag. The “Ziploc” has held, but not by much.
Then, across from Derrick, sits Anna, with her bangs precision cut and with both shoes tied. She lays out seven identical plastic containers. She has opened the first one – a little blue tub topped off with blueberries – and has lined up six more peach-colored tubs behind this one. “I will eat what’s in ‘em one at a time!” she declares as she tips the tub to let a tumble of berries roll to the back or her throat.
I see two little angels in sparkling shoes who console one another other as one looks down upon her fallen strawberry, now mushed on the floor beneath her seat. A few feet away, two scrappy boys toss diced carrots into one another’s mouths. Throughout the room, children toss back carton upon carton of chocolate milk – sweet elixir and a top tier trade item every day.
Last, Jon, who barks and laughs from beneath a clump of curly brown hair – occupies a perch at the end of the table. He snags good lunch prizes from the boys on either side of him. And more! When the unassuming Jasmine (across from him) turns her head, he plucks a wedge of an orange from her wide-open lunchbox. Within seconds, he has assembled a lunch that tops most others in the room. I intervene to return the goods to their rightful owners and my lunch lady slips him a milk and a piece of fruit. Problem solved, I posit.
Then, a burst of wind muscles open the two big doors that lead to the yard. Leaves spill across the floor and a flutter of giggles flies up. Kids declare that the wind is the same that howled the night before, taking down power lines and tree limbs. It’s back, they holler. It’s back!
In the commotion, I look back to Jon who has set aside the humble grits provided. Instead, he has collected a new pile of prizes. He has a real eye for quality. Note to self! Not one of his classmates protests. Lunch slips from their minds in the crescendo of conversation.
In all, nothing goes wrong. Just a few minor adjustments. Otherwise, the room pops with the spirits of children.
Yesterday morning, a friend read Hafiz’s Tree House poem to me – perfect words to mark out this moment: That I am conducting the affairs of my lunchroom universe, presiding over rambunctious party as if from a tree house that dangles on a limb in my heart.
Between pockets of down draft comes delight. Pure, wonderful, and often unnoticed. Why not let joy expand unchecked? Why not, sometimes, let children be just as are? Tomorrow will rise and will bring what it may. Today, I’ll order my lunch all you can eat.