Thursday, September 13, 2007

So last night I'm at the preschool Parents' Night. The teacher describes all the interesting, neat things the kids are doing this year, which makes me want to be a fly on the wall everyday just to watch. Then she points to a row of drawings on the wall and tells us these are pictures the children have drawn of themselves doing their favorite things. Beneath each picture, the teacher has written a caption. "Go to the fair." "Play with Trucks." "Play with my friends."

All the parents scan the wall eagerly. What have their precious children drawn? It only takes me a second to find Fine Young Son No. 2's portrait. He has drawn himself using a gold crayon, little head, cocoon-like body, no neck or legs (but feet). The caption reads "Eat lunch at home."

My children are not subtle. When we took Fine Young Son No. 1 to the hospital for a tour before his brother was born, he was given a crafts project to do. Draw a happy face on this paper circle, the nice tour lady told all the children, and then we'll glue it to the popsicle stick, and when baby brother or sister is born, you can wave your picture at them--baby's love to look! The other children drew happy, smiling faces, clown faces, flower faces. My son, age three-and-a-half, scrawled a monster face all in black. With fangs. I still have it, little portent of things to come that it is.

Now, another parent in the preschool classroom, seeing FYS2's self-portrait, might get warm, fuzzy feelings imagining what FYS2 means by "Eat lunch at home." Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup at the kitchen table while he tells Mommy all about his day. A mug of hot chocolate. A plate of freshly baked cookies. When FYS2 is done eating, a crust or two left on his plate, he runs off to play with his trucks, pausing first to give Mommy a sweet kiss on the cheek. "T'anks for the great lunch, Mommy," he croons into her ear.


The only problem is, FYS2 doesn't actually eat. He scorns food, gives it the hairy eyeball, finds everything but frozen waffles and goldfish highly suspicious. I believe the only reason he continues to grow at a fairly regular rate is that he drinks copious amounts of chocolate milk.

Last year I tried to get him to go to lunch bunch. Give me one more hour, I pleaded silently. Out loud, I told him it would be like a daily play date with his best friend Benjamin, a longtime lunch buncher. I bought him a Batman lunch box. I bought juice boxes, which we usually only get for special treats. FYS2 was excited--until he realized the lunch bunch ladies actually expected him to eat his lunch. At that point, he rebelled. No more lunch bunch.

Every month or so, I'd ask him if he'd changed his mind. Nope. He wasn't going to do it. And I should say it wasn't just about the eating. If it had been, I might have pushed a little harder. But it was clear that three hours of school was enough for him. It wore him out. He loved school, but school was a lot of sound and color and light coming at him all at once. He could only take so much of it. Fair enough.

This year, I haven't even mentioned lunch bunch. Knowing my son, if I bring it up, he'll just dig in his heels more deeply. I hope that by spring he'll want to try it, because I worry about next year, when he'll be in school all day. He needs to start training for the marathon. But I have kept my mouth shut. No dropping of subtle lunch bunch hints, no wondering aloud about how much fun the lunch bunchers are having out on the playground. I've played it cool. It's a nonissue.

But FYS2 is taking no chances. What's your favorite thing to do, sweet pea, his teacher asks. And instead of saying, "Playing with my superhero guys," or "Dressing up as Batman," or "Pestering my big brother about watching his computer time," he says, "Eating lunch at home." Just in case anyone's thinking about making him stay for lunch bunch. He's Mr. Strategy, Mr. Taking No Chances. Now they probably wouldn't let him come to lunch bunch if he begged them to. "Go home and eat that nice grilled cheese, sweet heart," the lunch bunch ladies would tell him. "We can't take that away from you."

Smart, this kid. Very smart.

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