Mornings around my house start out with a bang in the 45 minutes before I get the kids off to school. I awake to a cheerful alarm on my cell phone and shut it off quickly so as not to wake my sleeping husband. My phone and I make our way out to the kitchen, sometimes slipperless unless I can find them in that half awake state in the dark. I set up the iron and gather uniforms for a quick pressing as I get my eyes used to the light in silence.
Next, I go down the hall and wake up older, independent daughter to let her slowly get herself dressed and straighten her short, emo hair. No makeup at school, so that hair is her only means of self expression.
On to wake up the twins. The best way to wake them up is a kiss on the cheek to start and a reminder of the day to come. Gym day today! You get to wear sweats! Or last day of school this week! Tomorrow you can sleep in. If that doesn’t work, I move their mouths to generate a conversation between us. This can be fun because I can get them to say what I want to hear. “Good morning, Mom. I love you!” or “Yes, Mom! Right away! And did I tell you that you are the best mom in the world?”
Petra generally wakes up with a smile, and Rod wakes up and goes through the motions of dressing himself and ends up shirt unbuttoned on the couch in a few minutes. The general struggle then ensues about not wanting breakfast, but needing breakfast which is usually a bowl of cereal or some eggs or tea and kaak (a dry biscuit for dunking).
On most days it is a one sided conversation. Wash face and hands, hurry up! Where are your shoes? Wait, where are your socks! Go get your socks. The bus is going to be here. Alia! Get out here! You are going to be late! Petra, let me brush your hair. Where’s the hair band? Did you get your backpack? Oh, here’s your lunch money. Put it in your pocket. Now. Or you will forget it again. Here, put your jacket on. Oh, here’s the bus. Go on, I love you! Have a good day!
I suppose my mornings growing up were done in a similar fashion. My mom had five of us to get off without a hitch five days a week. She would either send us with a lunch in a paper bag or lunch money, 60 cents which she wrapped in a piece of paper and taped together in that memorable shape and size that would fit flatly in our pockets until lunchtime.
Lunch at our school was held in the cafeteria that also served as a gymnasium and auditorium. Long tables would line the room and we could sit wherever we wanted but once we were seated must stay there. Moms would be there to as lunchroom monitors to make sure we all stayed in line, both literally and figuratively.
There were two lines, one for hot lunch and one for milk. As you entered the hot lunch line, there was a desk with a money box being tended by a teacher or sometimes an older student. I will never forget the time it was my sister’s week to tend the money box, because that was the ONLY time in my entire school career that I drank my milk every day. They let me sit with her and eat my lunch, and although we got along, that would be good blackmail against me. Cross her and she could tell mom and dad that I did NOT drink my milk at school. Who knows, maybe it was the only time she drank her milk too.
Hot lunch, while forever doomed to be dissed by the students, was usually something to look forward to in at least some way. Each year, they would teach us about nutrition and balanced meals and we, as a class, would get to plan the menu for a week. On that week, we would choose our favorite meals of hot dogs or macaroni and cheese and add on a dessert like pineapple upside down cake or cherry cake.
The local newspaper would publish the weekly menus so we would have a heads up as to whether we should pack our lunches or buy. If we didn’t pack and didn’t want to buy, we could at least have a milk or an orange juice in those little cartons with a perforated circle in it for punching in a straw. They also had ice cream bars and sandwiches. That was often more appealing than lunch anyways. And if this was the way you went that day, you might have some spare change left for candy on the way home from school!
Most kids walked home from school in those days. On the way home we made the mandatory stop to the Little Shopper. It was a small mini-market with a large selection of penny candy. Whatever change we had left from lunch, we would buy Swedish fish, Bazooka gum, Pixy Stix and whatever else we could afford. The shopkeeper would hand us each a small paper bag for our purchases and the fun would begin. We learned as much about math buying penny candy as we did playing Monopoly and the rewards were all the sweeter.
These days things haven’t changed much. I give my kids a lunchbox with a sandwich, chips, cookies and a juicebox. Not all days are their lunches complete so I send them with some money where they can buy a “zinger” which has grilled vegetables and chicken, or some other kind of sandwich, chips, juice or cookies. I wish I could send them with fruit, but more often than not it come home smushed, uneaten and rank. And I know they will eat that at home. But I can’t not let them have the opportunity to spend some of their own money and choose how they get to spend it. Kids are kids, and throughout the years we prove to be the same. They have the same spending patterns as we did, sometimes saving up the money to buy a little toy or some candy and ice cream from our neighborhood mini-market.