I could hear it as we strode down the hall. We took our place at the end of the line. We entered through the big swinging doors and the sound ripped into me. My eyes watered and my head thrummed with it. I almost lost my footing. My nose bled. I steadied myself with the help of a large blue post and a tiny hand. One hundred five-year olds with a half hour of freedom. Lunch time, school cafeteria, kindergarten edition.
One of the best things parents can do for their kids at school is to be a presence. And for that, you have to be present. So last week I made a visit at lunchtime. For those that don’t know and have the time, you can do that. Legally they have to let you. Ask first, of course. You shouldn’t just slip into the school and appear in the cafeteria. That’s just creepy. And ultimately, embarrassing. I won’t do it again.
The Pman came with, of course. He is never one to miss a lunch date, especially with his sister.
As part of the deal, we let The Peanut buy lunch for the first time. We’re uptight about what kind of food goes into her tiny little body so she brings lunch. It’s a bit of a drag for her, but better a smidge of disappointment than a steady diet of Tyson Chicken’n’Bitz nuggets. Which of course is what she chose.
I sat across from her at the brown laminate cafeteria table as she already had kids crowded up close to her on either side. As she attacked the first chix nug, I screamed that I was excited to be here and how loud it was. She agreed with a head nod and a quickened chew. I turned to get to know all the kids at her table. There were probably twelve or thirteen. They were hard to count because they kept shifting and sliding and moving. I went around the table, learned all their names, and then made a game of going around the table again and getting them all wrong. “Lessee . . . Chester, Abraham, Marty McFly, Gordon Ramsey, Yancy Thigpen, Sapho, Margaret Thatcher, Logan, The Situation, Susan B Anthony, Rhoda Morgenstern, aaand Bebe Neuwirth”
They liked that game. It agitated them. As the Peanut sat and drank her milk, they played a version of it where they ran up to me one at a time and bellowed, “Your name is Table!” And then ran away laughing. Kids. They say the cutest, dumbest things. Besides, what if my name had been “Table?” Presumptuous imps.
There was one troubled gentleman at the table that has already been labeled as the class trouble maker. About halfway through lunch, he was accused of stealing BeBe Neuwirth’s nuggets while she was in the bathroom. “He stole my nuggets!” howled Bebe.
“No I didn’t!” pleaded The Situation. He hadn’t either. Not that I saw. As The Peanut ate her carrot sticks, I informed the proper authorities of what I felt had gone down. Court date’s set for January 16th.
Poor The Situation. As soon as I sat down, BeBe (she was a bit of a hard ass) had informed me of his dastardly, nefarious ways. “Nobody likes The Situation” she solemnly intoned, “He’s bad all the time.” The others agreed with conviction.
“He’s not bad,” said I. “The Situation is very nice, it’s just that some people have a harder time adjusting to school.”
“No, he is, ” said BeBe with the confidence of a hanging judge. I felt bad for the Situation, marked as he was at the tender age of 5. I also have to admit that he was a pain in the ass. Not to his face of course, but just between you and me.
At some point, a seat next to The Peanut opened up, so her brother went and plopped down next to her. It was sometime near then that my popularity with the group soared to near sacred levels. I’m not sure why. As the Peanut popped nugget number 5 and shared her carrots with her brother, the noisy throng approached and started touching me as if I was Indiana Jones or the Stanley Cup.
It was then, with lunch time almost over and the lunch monitors asking if one was finished or another needed to go to the bathroom, that it hit me how well-behaved my little girl was. With all the action–her brother, her father, soft dubious ovals of a chicken flavored substance–she never once left her seat. Never once raised her voice beyond what she had to. Never once took part in the public shaming of The Situation.
I couldn’t help myself. I looked across the table at her and I winked and I said, “Peanut, you are the best. You know that? The best.”
She motioned for me to come close. I leaned over the table. She stood up to whisper in my ear. “Daddy,” she said, “shhhh. You can’t say that around the other kids because what if you make them feel bad?”
A version “Lunchtime Funtime” first appeared on DadCentric.