Want to read something scary? Something REALLY scary?
Back in prehistoric times when I worried about such things and wanted to do better, I was flicking optimistically through one of those women’s magazines, trying to discover the elusive secret of how to be an ‘other mother’. The kind who spends ‘quality time’ with her kids, knits undergarments out of organic fibres which make your personal bits itch – and does dinners from scratch.
It jumped right out at me – as these things do when you’re not feeling very confident in your role as the epitome of good motherhood – and believe me, it was scary all right. A smug little feature entitled ‘Creative things to do with a school lunch’. For someone whose most creative activity with food is to eat it, it came as a bit of a shock to see what ‘other mothers’ (the nurturing, loving, ‘from scratch’ kind), allegedly crawled willingly from their beds at 4am to fling together.
Nope – no sign here of the smeary vegemite jar with buttery knife stuck in it – nary a glimpse of uncreative things like last-chance speckled bananas or tryhard homemade biscuits which either come in the Break Your Jaw or Pile’o’Crumbs variety. Here before me, triumphantly glossy, was presented Nirvana for the kindergarten lunch set. Gourmet constructions burst obscenely over the edges of brightly coloured lunchboxes, complete with strategically placed red gingham napkins and minute monogrammed condiment shakers.
The first suggestion (to ease us into it gently), was pita bread pockets filled with smoked turkey, slivers of avocado and fresh rocket – with just a dash of cranberry sauce. And if (whoops, silly me), I’d neglected to spend the night smoking the turkey and crushing cranberries with my bare (albeit detoxed) feet, the article assured me it would be quite acceptable to substitute smoked salmon with cream cheese and sundried tomatoes – (but don’t forget the lemon wedge, wrapped in foil and tucked into the side of the lunchbox).
Excuse me? And what, pray tell, do the teachers think as they chew on day-old bread with an avant garde processed plastic cheese slice poking rakishly from between the crusts?
Laughing in the face of danger, I flaunted convention. First Child was sent to school with cheese and vegemite. Second Child preferred lemon butter – and nobody ever died. Third Child declared only Nutella would do – no butter, and don’t cut the bread. It has to be slapped together just so. No care or responsibility taken. In fact – she’d make it herself. Just to ensure it was done properly. Fourth Child is a boy. Say no more – as long as it’s remotely edible. Queries of, ‘Did you eat your lunch?’ always brought replies of, ‘Yup’. Nobody ever thought of pumping their stomachs to verify it.
Then one awful day which will forever remain etched in the memory, I accidentally sat on the end of Child Three’s bed – probably while I was in there asking whether she’d eaten her lunch. There was a ghastly, Stephen King-esque kind of rustling noise from beneath the doona – I knew damn well it was something I didn’t want to know about – but in best horror story tradition, was compelled to uncover. Trembling, I pulled back the sheets – and there they were. Drum roll, please, as we proudly present in a bedroom near you … The Lunches of Tragedy! Lined up neatly along the bottom of the bed were seven little square packages wrapped in greaseproof paper and encased in individual Hercules bags. Black ones, green ones, furry ones – take your pick, there was something to please everyone.
She said, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have been spying on me!’
I said, ‘Hadn’t it occurred to you the sheets might have needed changing before the end of the millennium?’ She glared balefully. I’m not that kind of mother.
I never again went in a child’s room after that. They’re grown up now – living away from home. Or maybe not. Maybe they’re still in those rooms, mouldering away with two decades of unwanted lunches.
Oh – and for the person who wrote that article … what I’d like to do with your creative lunches would be very scary indeed …