Do You Remember Your First Lunchbox?
I remember mine: a metal GI Joe box with a plastic white tab to hold it shut and a plastic yellow thermos inside. On the front, back, and sides, a battle scene in which members of GI Joe used machine guns and tanks and rocket launchers against their enemy combatants, Cobra.
Each school day, I pulled my GI Joe lunchbox from my locker outside Mrs. Jensen’s classroom. Then I got in line with my best buddies. I remember their names with the same feeling of nostalgia I have for the pictures in *Goodnight Moon*: Chris, Randy, Mindy, Patti.
I would have loved to sit with them every day. But our principal, Mr. Sloan, had some very progressive ideas about lunch.
He believed in assigned seating, and he believed fourth graders should sit with first graders, and first graders should not sit with their friends. The older kids were named Table Monitors, and they were supposed to act as mentors to the little ones.
We were just learning what a full day of school was like. Just learning how to tie our shoes. Just learning how to “hold it” between bathroom breaks.
My mentors had a lot to teach us. Enjoying the power they had over us, they’d threaten us. Cuss at us and tell us dirty jokes. They taught me a little rap that got me in some trouble at home: “He’s a man, he’s a man, he’s a hell of a man / His name is Charlie Brown.”
I hated our Table Monitors. I was afraid of them. They made me feel even more small and alone than I was. I looked around for my buds, though they were spread out through the cafeteria with their own table monitors. We were all trapped.
But I had my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A little Ziplock bag of Ruffles. Applesauce sprinkled with cinnamon in a small orange Tupperware container. 3 cookies, usually Oreos or E.L. Fudge.
And sometimes a little note, written in blue ink on my napkin, with a short message from home. (Thanks, Mom.)
As a parent, I’ve had two fourth graders now, one of them a boy, and you know what? They’re not all that. Kind of like those metal lunchboxes, they’re all machine guns and rocket launchers on the outside, all soft and sugary and needing their mom on the inside.
Come to think of it, a lot of the grown-ups I see blustering around are that way too. Nothing to be afraid of. . . just keep them away from the little ones. And the rocket launchers.