Several times a month, I get an automated phone call from the kids school district reminding me that their lunch accounts are low and need to be fed with my money. I always marvel at how quickly they seem to get drained. I begin to get bitter and assume that they are filling up their trays with JUNK and ingesting thousands of gulps (a true scientific measurement) of sugar.
In my head I start a rant about threatening to force them to TAKE their lunch to school...only I quickly realize it would only be a punishment to me..tooling around Kroger, looking for fruit snacks and Dunkeroos, and rising up even earlier to shove all of that nonsense into a tiny paper bag.
But today when my phone rang and I saw the digits that belong to the district, I clicked the green button to see what child is without funds and began making my begrudging moan but something switched within my brain.
Call it the emotional time of the month.
Call it season affect disorder...What have you.
But I was escorted back in time by my subconscious and lead into my middle school cafeteria and the year 1991.
It was midday and my chicken legs were walking into the room deemed cafeteria that also doubled as our auditorium. The smell of lackluster pizza and mushy tater tots abound. It was noisy and crowded and hot...as I recall. My contemporaries were skinny and pimply just like me. The boys smelled of an excessive amount of Preferred Stock spray and the girls floated around inside a cloud of aerosol Rave hairspray. How anyone was in the mood to eat is beyond me...
And inside my pocket was a check with my parents name on it. Must be a Monday. Every week my folks would write out a "lunch check" for each of us, myself and my sibs, that was the EXACT amount necessary to purchase lunch for the week.
If memory serves, it came to $1.20/per day. Which amounts to $6.00 a week of sweet, sweet cash. My mother always warned me as she handed me the weekly piece of paper with her signature on it, "This is it. Don't lose it or spend it on junk or you will be outta luck"...to which I would always roll my eyes and say, "I know mom".
But lets be clear, in my mind I was always thinking "SUCKER!! Hand over the loot!!"
See, one of the things you may likely have forgotten as an adult is HOW TOUGH MONEY WAS TO COME BY.
I mean as a kid, when it came to money you really only had 3 options: 1) Working (lawn mowing or babysitting depending on gender) 2) Begging 3) Swiping it from the bottom of the ashtray in your dad's car or kitchen junk drawer.
So this $6 was no forgettable amount.
I get to the front of the line and make eye contact with the unenthusiastic lunch lady that extends her leathery hand to grab my ticket to wealth. I smile at her while she unwittingly walks out my little scam. She places the paper from my parents credit union inside her till and gives me the change after the purchase of lunch for today: $4.80 of pure freedom. I pocket the windfall and feel ten feet tall. Yep, I'm loaded. I walk back to my table and eat my chicken patty on a bun and those soggy tots..thats right, Michelle Obama had nothing to say about a 90's kid lunch...and when finished I decide to go back up to the line and treat myself to 2 large chocolate chip cookies and 3 Little Debbie brownies.
Because...I am the boss.
I have money to spend, and however temporarily, a metabolism to match my large appetite. I walk out of lunch full of sugar and feeling like a Scrooge McDuck.
The next day, in case you are wondering, and the 3 other days that followed in the week, I used my remaining riches to spoil myself with countless sweets that were a fraction of the cost of school lunches. I loaded my body with sugar, saturated fat and sodium. And I loved every minute of it. Because, as it turns out, junk food has always been far cheaper than meat and veggies.
And yet, week after week when my mother looked me square in the eye and pre-shamed me for an imagined misuse of her funds I rolled those eyes like she was crazy.
And now, a few decades later, I get phone calls and find countless candy wrappers in my sons pants pockets whenever I switch a load of jeans into the dryer.
And I know his game.
Boys don't understand the art of concealing crimes like girls do. We know that dumping evidence is key.
Just the same, I have chosen to laugh off his schemes because I have to believe that it could possibly be genetic.