by Juliet Johnson
They're watching me. I just slipped a hamburger into my pocket. They didn't see. Maybe they did. Am I weird? Michelle never eats her lunch. She's five. It's a shame to let that lunch go to waste. If I eat her lunch, I don't have to make myself a lunch. This is a big deal. Making the food has me so desperate NOT to make the food, I've resorted to stealing the would-be trash of a five-year-old's lunch. I wouldn't eat food that the kids are GOING to eat. I only eat the food that would be thrown away. Technically, I'm there because I'm volunteering at Nathan's kindergarten, and they always go to lunch at the end of the time I'm volunteering, so I go to help them and just be there, and it's on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and my preschooler Emma is sometimes with me, so she buys a lunch (see, we buy it sometimes) and it's usually disgusting, but really, no, it's not so bad – all the food groups are represented, and while I've never been a fan of a fruit cup, why not eat pre-made lasagna? When's the last time someone made me a warm lasagna and gave it to me in a little tin just for me?? With a spork? And chocolate milk? Michelle sometimes eats her fish filet, which is a bummer because I'd really like to eat the fish. Usually I'm stuck with the hamburger that tastes like really old shoes.
It's the paranoia that's getting me. In the school newsletter it mentioned something about parents not being allowed to be in the cafeteria when the kids are eating and I thought THEY"RE TALKING TO ME. Even though no one's seen me taking the food. But what if the lunch monitors, tough looking prison guard women, probably in their thirties, that look like they've done some serious time themselves, but are in actuality probably just old hookers, or moms of too many kids – they would think it was weird that I was so hungry all the time. Hungry enough to eat kids' trash food.. I mean most of these people actually cook, and have morals. I just can't stand to see kids throw out buckets of food! The mom instinct in me just goes rabid. Don't throw that out! If I had big enough pockets (like as long as my pants) I'd just pack in packet after packet of untouched/unopened (indeed – mint condition) mini-carrots – and then the lasagnas, and the chicken patties and the nuggets and the corn dogs and the spaghetti and the taco pockets. I wouldn't have to cook for MONTHS.
I try to eat before I go volunteer now… an apple, a carrot, try to look normal, something so I'm not so RAVENOUS while they're all eating. Today was St Paddy's Day, and it was raining so we ate in the room, and Emma was eating her hot dog, and she didn't like it (not like her, she's the one who introduced ME to corn dogs, a food I had never eaten until her glorious birth and life) so instead of throwing it away, I taste it and oh my god – possibly the worst hot dog I've ever had in my life – it was actually bitter. I never throw anything out, especially nothing free. Today, for the first time, I threw it out unfinished. In any twelve step program, I know that's progress.
I can't promise that I won't eat the food again. I have made a promise to not eat OTHER children's food, because I could see getting called into the office for a rather embarrassing chat with the principal "Umm… are you EATING the children's food?" instead of her asking the real question, "Why are you so HUNGRY?"
I think it's because after five years of feeding my babies, all my time is spent FEEDING my babies, and then here's this place, this school place, that has all this food, and NO ONE'S EATING IT… most of it is going into those big black trash cans…I'm a big black trash can. Feed ME – but no, I have to contain myself, but Michelle never EATS, and we've told her mother, but her mother doesn't want to pack her a lunch, so she just sits there drinking her milk and throwing her food away.
I want those ladies in the white hats and plastic gloves to shove my crappy food choices at me too. I want them to take my ticket, and yell at me if I take too much ketchup. I want to be taken care of, for free, at least just for one crappy lunch. See, here's my problem: the other lunch monitors either 1. already ate their lunch 2. are getting paid to monitor, not steal food 3. have pride 4. have delicate taste buds. See, none of this applies to me. I'm just a freeloader mom, coming to be with my kid at school so he doesn't forget me, letting my time bleed over into lunch so I can have this combined glorious battle with my kleptomania and hungry mom issue.
I was never obsessed with food. Chocolate, yes. Chocolate and I go way back. Not as an obsession so much as a solid friend. But with all this focus on preparing food, healthy food, balanced food, against my better judgement food, all these years…I've kicked over the edge. I'm too hungry. It's the truth. Nothing has tasted good since I was single and I didn't have to cook. A meal for me in my twenties was corn. When my kids are grown, my meals will again be corn. It's hard to remember a time when I was just a me. Not a me, with these little mini-mes. Hungry and always needing something. I mean, I'm needy enough just in one complete package. Now I'm the bonus plan. I wasn't prepared for the actual GROWING of a person. And my cooking skills are so poor. It's Home Ec. I took Home Ec the same way all the other kids did in Junior High. To ignore the teacher holding that paper pyramid up and talking about something, and to daydream about horses. Nobody tells you that this is THE MOST IMPORTANT CLASS YOU'LL EVER TAKE. Forget Chemistry. I've never had to use a Bunson Burner again. But those faux kitchens stocked with real dishes. Clean countertops, a colander in each cabinet, and all the menus. How to freeze bread. Plan a week's worth of easy recipes. Those classes around the edges of schools – gym and home ec, the retards of the intellect – of course are all I really need. Stretching and cooking, the only things I really need to use everyday and wish I had studied more. The ones that keep you alive.
So I'm forced to cook while waving a shiny object with my other hand and hope the kids pay more attention to the shiny object than what's in their mouths. I've seen fissures in the lining already – after making stew one day, Nathan sat in the high chair and ate a bite and said "WHAT IS THIS?!" and I told him "Crock Pot," and he said "THIS TASTES LIKE SHIT!" I can see him, hopefully a blossoming chef, becoming fed up with the feeble quality of his meals and start cooking for us all before he and his sister's delicate palates are ruined.
Before, being hungry wasn't a curse that meant cooking for four people. It meant getting a burrito, or eating some M&Ms.
I'll be discreet. But for now, I'm grabbing all the free lunch I can.
Juliet Johnson has been published in Los Angeles Family Magazine, The Imperfect Parent, and MOMbo.org, among others. Her motherhood book, Somebody's Always Hungry is coming out in May 2008. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, three kids, and Gramma Moose.
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