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Give Me a (Lunch) Break

It was a beautiful autumn day for the pumpkin patch field trip. I was volunteering for the first time with my daughter’s kindergarten class. It also happened to be the first time in a while that I’ve been in direct proximity to other parents of young children. Last time I was among this crowd I was in my late 30’s and even then I was one of the elder parents in attendance. Now, nearly ten years later, the age gap is more significant and the discrepancy between nouveau-parents and seasoned veterans is more painfully clear.

A perfect example of this discrepancy was packed in the children’s lunch bags. Mind you now, this was a field trip and specific instructions were given to provide each child with a fully disposable, simple sack lunch. However, the array of selections that emerged from this directive was anything but simple.

First out of the bag was the “snack” course; a sliding scale of acceptable snacks ranging from the clearing unnatural up to the neurotically pretentious. A sample scale that looked something like;

Candy corns: festive yet clearly more candy then corn ->

Gummy bears: potentially made with some measure of fruit juice and ground up horse gelatin ->

Fruit roll ups: random fruit scraps smooshed into shoe leather ->

Fruit cups: random fruit scraps preserved in an inexplicably thick syrup – more corn then fruit->

Fresh fruit: unprocessed apple slices, or grapes sectioned into non-chokey bits ->

Fancy fruit: melons and tropical selections carved into flowers and butterflies reminiscent of an Edible Arrangement mail-order catalog.

The variety of choices is exhaustive, “Let’s see, I could either give Timmy a healthy portion of organic gluten-free rice chips with sea salt or a bag of Cheetos.”

The choices were no easier when it came to the “entrée” or “sandwich” course which, traditionally, had been something standard like a PB&J or a bologna and cheese.  Instead this fanciful lot had elevated the simple sandwich to something far more grandiose. Bread is cut into dinosaur shapes and smiley faces or pressed together to form a sealed pastry. Peanut butter is replaced with Nutella or Almond paste (or similar substitute in the face of potential nut allergies). Jelly is replaced with fruit compote or fresh berries. Some skip the pretense of assembly all together and go with a deconstructed sandwich ensemble as a culinary statement on consumer excess and obesity in American youth.

You begin to wonder what the true motivation behind all of this high-minded high-maintenance preparation is. I understand wanting to feed your child a healthy meal balanced with the proper nutrition, but does that nutrition require custom Tupperware to keep the colorful collection of treats safely segregated? Is there good reason to replace the suggested brown paper bag with a wood inlaid Bento box that transforms into a mini oven to warm your moist towelettes until post-meal cleanup? Are they trying to prove to the world that they are better than their parents by not packing the smelly tuna sandwiches that stunk up their lockers when we were kids? Or do they just have too much sleep-deprived, nervous, parenting energy that they need to burn off with origami cloth napkins and fresh pressed orange juice? Granted I’m not tossing my kids a snicker’s bar and a diet coke for lunch but it doesn’t reach the level of grandeur that I was seeing on display on those rustic picnic benches. There is a reality that sets in over the years. A delicate equilibrium is reached to balances parental controls between hovering helicopter parent and dismissive distracted parent. For example, even in the farm environment I can be content with a simple hand washing with soap and water, rather than a full body dousing with that jumbo sized pump disinfectant strapped to your belt. That spoon that touched the dirt floor will not be scrubbed and sterilized, but rather brushed and dusted, even though I’m well aware the one forceful breath will not sweep away any lingering country germs.

What happened to the good ol’ days when parents would go on and on about the character building hardships of life, walking miles to school in the snow, uphill, both ways? How do we expect these kids to pass the torch of malcontent when the worst they must endure is being forced to eat from a second string Bento box (toilette warmer not included) and endure full sodium soy nuts? I can only imagine that the parents pushing these fanciful lunches are the same people that strap their toddlers to leashes and hand out toothbrushes for Halloween.  Optimistically one can only hope that their kids will one day prevail and go on to tell stories of how they swindled their fellow classmates out of Twinkies by overselling the nutritional properties of kale chips.

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Art Sake

One might assume that because I was an art major I would be artistically inclined in all things creative. One would be wrong. Assuming I have some sort of global artistic gift is like assuming someone that’s good at math is qualified to do your taxes or that any random programmer is equipped to fix your computer (which I also can’t do, so don’t ask).   I can’t design your web site or re-envision your living room layout. I couldn’t design my way out of a paper bag, if that was even a thing. I’m no more qualified to paint your bedroom then Van Diesel is to cut your hair. My skills with a paint brush are about on par with a sugar fueled toddler trying to stay inside the lines of a college anatomy coloring book.   Nicole, for instance, is far better with a paint brush when it comes to clean accurate coverage. I can tape the crap out of the room to make sure any surface not intended for paint is properly protected but I’m simply not a fan of free-balling it.   Nobody wants a clever abstract stroke or high-minded artistic interpretation when it comes to painting the kids’ room purple. The demands are much simpler here; “if you make me do a second coat I’m going staple your tongue to your forehead and paint it all purple” Nicole suggests without looking up from her razor sharp brush strokes. “I think I should go check on dinner again” I respond quickly, backing away from the paint tray.

Even my fraternity made the fatal flaw of thinking that the resident artist would excel at the Pictionary event during the Greek Olympics (college Greeks, unrelated to Socrates or super thick yogurt). Makes sense, right?!   While I am quite the playah when it comes to a game of Pictionary my true skill lie in my ability to decipher the wild chicken scratch of my teammates. When it comes to the drawing portion of the program, we call to the forefront two of my biggest issues,… inability to deal with tight deadlines and fear of performing in front of groups. Combine these two features (they’re not bugs, they’re features) and my potentially artful drawings devolve into the very same chicken scratch that the rest of the participants are producing but my teammates lack my interpretation skills and are unable to make heads or tails of my speedy creation. Which is precisely what happened when asked to draw “Big Girls Don’t Cry” for the first round of the completion. After a long minute of flailing and scribbling the buzzer sounded and the team filed out of the room politely pretending they could now use the extra time practicing for the upcoming volleyball event later that evening.

Like the pathetic peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail that got turned into a newt,… “I got better”. As with all things, skills develop with practice and in turn bring competence and confidence. I don’t doubt my potential to be a 5-star house painter, it just wasn’t one of the practical skills I received during my under graduate work. House painting is not like drawing which is not like sculpting which is not like design work. Design, for example, is a vocabulary that one evolves over time,… currently my design fluency would be the equivalent of “See Jane run. Run Jane, run.” I would know enough to mirror the action in the second sentence but lack the experience to inject any more depth or personality into Jane or the world she inhabits; In design terms this equates to simple rules like keep things balanced, keep things consistent, never wear white after labor day,… that’s about the extent of my design knowledge.

So sure, feel free to invite me to your next DYI party, I may not earn that 5-star Yelp review but I’ll be sure to bring enough rum and coke to ensure everyone is either painting on an equal level or is unable to clearly recall who painted over the trim, the window, half of the ceiling and the miniature poodle asleep in the corner. It may not be the look you were going for but at least it’s fun to say “purple poodle” ten times fast.

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