Crazy-Making, Episode 623: School Lunches

© 2014 The Kids Are Alright
One down, 200-and-something to go.

That was my thought last night as I assembled the firstschool lunches of the year, with the help of not one, but two eager, picky participants.

"I want cucumbers," said six-year-old Cassidy. Awesome. Cucumbers, coming up. "NOT LIKE THAT," she screamed as I cut the cuke into rounds. Apparently, she was expecting spears.

"I would like a wrap, please," my polite nine-year-old, Mischa, said. And so I started rolling.

"Is there cheese?"
"Havarti or cheddar?"
"I only like cheddar."

Last year, she only liked Havarti, but I guess I missed whatever imperceptible shiver of a butterfly's wing made her change her entire outlook on cheese. So I sighed, fed my husband an unexpected snack for which he was entirely more grateful than my children, and went back to lunch preparation. Actually, I missed a step. First I poured myself a glass of wine.

Now, before you roll your eyes and tell me that my six- and nine-year-olds are certainly old enough and capable enough to make their own lunches, let me set the record straight: I agree.

But take away the first eve-of-school micromanaging, and man - it's just so much easier, faster, and cleaner if I make the lunches myself. With five years of school-lunch-making behind me, I have lunch-making down to a science. An art. I am a school-lunch-making boss. I have tricks and rules and go-to's and my process starts long before school does.

To whit: I begin planning lunches long before school starts. I begin with equipment that makes life better, like lunch kits that open, close, and clean up easily (we use Planet Box kits); water bottles that can't be broken, bitten or chipped without a greater effort than my kids are willing to put into wrecking stuff, and a list of approved foods that my kids and I assemble on a pre-school reconnosaince trip to the grocery store. Grapes? Check. Carrots? Check. Celery sticks? Negatory. Turkey breast? Yes from one, no from the other. I start a second column.

Then we look online for school lunch ideas (check out my School Lunch board on Pinterest) like wraps, dips, muffins, etc. and then I tack up the entire list of approved items in a clear and visible location so that I can refer back to it whenever my kids say they didn't like something I put in their lunch. Like Havarti cheese. Which is not on the list. My bad.

Then, for my own sanity, I make lunches at night (usually after the kids are in bed because I prefer not to work under a dictatorship), and I even include a little note, something simple like a joke or an I *heart* you with a sticker or something, but I mainly do this to justify the fact that I do not work outside of the home.

And then I wait for the lunches to come back half-eaten anyway, because they didn't have enough time, or they got a special treat due to so-and-so's birthday, or they just like to see me weep.

Regardless, with this system in place, I do enjoy having a few more precious moments available in the mornings so that I can take care of the truly important things, like drinking coffee and checking Twitter. But like the skilled opportunists they are, my children will sense my moment of downtime, and pounce.

"So mum, if you're not busy with making lunches, think you can make my bed?"

I laugh and take another sip my coffee.



Communication Breakdown

At the Social Capital conference, which I attended last month, the closing keynote speaker, a post-grad student doing her PhD in social media (I shit you not), argued that a society of constantly tech-connected individuals was not denigrating the fabric of community nor contributing any more to the disassociation of humans to one another in any more of a way than generations past once feared the telephone, radio or television would.

I'm paraphrasing of course, but the gist of the well-given talk was, to me, that we have always feared new technology, and in the end, appreciated the benefits. Social media will, if it is not already, be viewed in much the same way, once the generation to whom the technology is still thought of as "new" (i.e. my generation) is gone. The point has much validity, of course. My generation never thought of the telephone or television as anything other than a perfect and comfortable necessity in one's life, because it was always there. As younger generations grow up with computers, cell phones and social media all in their life since day one, these things will seem as necessary - and as perfectly natural to integrate into their life - as the telephone and television was to Gen X.

But if I may wave my cane at you and act the curmudgeon for just a moment, I have some divergent thoughts on the issue.

Social media is becoming less social and more media. Less like the telephone and more like the television or radio. Social media is evolving constantly, but it is evolving out of being a tool for communication, like its ancestor, the telephone, and more like a television or radio - a broadcaster.

So many outlets in my online life are talking at me. Very few are talking to me.

Let me show my wisdom experience age once more - when I started blogging, our PhD student would have been in grade school, so she probably wouldn't have cared to witness first-hand the amazing, groundbreaking, storytelling, connection-forming, radical act that blogging used to be.

We wrote, and we read. Then, because it was our avenue to do so, we commented, and what a rich, intelligent, sometimes divisive but mostly supportive place the comment section used to be! There were no trolls, just talk. No keyboard warriors, just conversation. And if we wanted to leave the comment section for a more in-depth, more personal conversation, we headed to email.

And I don't want to sound like any evolution from there was bad, because it wasn't. As Facebook took off, bloggers flocked to it.

We started linking our posts through our profiles, and started commenting on Facebook pages instead of on the blogs.

Meanwhile, the online world blew up, brands noticed, blogging became a marketing and not a storytelling tool and posts became advertisements, not anecdotes about life. Fine, whatever.

But there's not much to say about the branded posts we began to suspect people were only writing for the swag, and even if somebody was taking the time to write an honest-to-goodness real story, we got jaded so we stopped even adding comments to Facebook links and started hitting the Like button; a most passive response that still conveyed acknowledgement without even having to do anything as radical as reading the post.

And if somebody does actually comment on our post, we don't comment back; we Like their comment.

And if we link a post through Twitter or use our 140 characters to offer an observation or thought or opinion, we don't tweet back, we Favourite.

We have funneled our messaging down to so perfectly efficient a system that we no longer have to read, write, utter a syllable or dictate even one word to "communicate."

I'm glad to know that things change quickly in the online landscape, because I'm not sure this is the social media world I want my kids to think is normal. Our student/teacher at SoCap suggested that the anti-tech push to unplug for periods of time is unnecessary and reactionist, but I'll do it anyway. I want my kids to look up, to truly interact with, and not just look down at, the world and the people around them. It's why I am also, at this point, not able to embrace a digital classroom or encourage my nine-year old to get her online profiles in shape. Why, exactly?

A few weeks ago our family spent a wonderful weekend at a sleep-away camp in Ontario's cottage country. The kids had an amazing time outside, ziplining and flying on the trapeze and kayaking and swimming and sleeping in a sleeping bag in a cabin. I'd like my children to attend the camp at some point, because despite it being costly, I'd be willing to pay not for what the camp did have, but what it didn't - hundreds of people were in attendance and not one was in possession of a phone. Nobody looked down at a screen, no drama was being played out over texts, and teenagers were having fun despite the absence of selfies to prove it.

I'll be interested to see what growing up wireless means to my kids, but for now I'll enjoy the fact that they're still young enough to live their life looking up, thinking of screen time still as treat time. That's not to say that an online life will contribute in some way to the downfall of the moral fabric of the next generation, or that the relationships I see degraded by the Like button would not have become tiresome or trite anyway. Communication breakdown - it's always the same.


Should you have a baby shower the second (or third) time around?

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

This week, the gossip rags are lauding us with details of the magical, whimsical baby shower Christina Aguilera and her fiancé have just thrown, vagina cake and all.

Again? Hasn’t she already had a kid? Hasn’t she already had baby showers? My guess is that even if she isn't recycling, that baby’s nursery is already completely stocked with ironically-sloganed organic cotton onesies, receiving blankets woven from the hair of mermaids, and gold-plated soothers.

Why on earth does Christina Aguilera – or anybody, for that matter – need to have a baby shower after the first kid?

I was given two baby showers when I was pregnant with my first daughter. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law hosted a lovely afternoon for my husband’s side of the family, and my work friends threw me a book-themed shower in Toronto. Jews don’t throw each other baby showers, so I didn’t have one for my side of the family, and that was fine. Two showers were great; we came away well-stocked on items both big and small; practical and twee. We were well prepared for our daughter’s arrival, at least in material terms.

Less than two years later, I was pregnant again. And although I hadn’t known the gender of my first child until she was born, this time I knew I was expecting another girl. Clothes that my first daughter had outgrown had been saved and were now transferred back into drawers, awaiting the new baby. Blankets were laundered, books re-shelved, seats, swings and mats that I had received the first time around were dusted off and made ready for use again.

Besides a stroller for two, there was really nothing additional that I needed to accommodate this new baby. So when a friend suggested she host another baby shower for me, I balked.

How greedy did she think I was? How greedy had we all become? I had already been shown the tremendous generosity of friends and loved ones, and thanks to that earlier generosity, my baby stores were still quite nicely supplied. Why on earth would I ask people for more? What could I possibly still need?

In the end, my friends and a I enjoyed a very modest “going away” lunch before my mat-leave, at which several people did in fact bring me a gift for the new baby. It was very nice and very appreciated, but in no way was it requested or expected.

People magazine devotes reams of paper to celebrity baby showers, whether the star’s first, or fifth, child. The excess, the greed, the spectacle, is mind-boggling. And it sells magazines. 

But even closer to earth, a shower for every child seems to have become the norm.

Is it because so many of these new kids seem to also come with new dads, and with showers no longer relegated to the realm of women, these newly-created families reset the counter and feel entitled to a fresh start, with fresh gifts and fresh onesies that some other guy’s hands haven’t held?

Or is it that I’m just completely cynical, and baby showers are meant simply to be an expression of love for an unborn child; an opportunity for friends and loved ones to gather and support the growing family?

As if.

Have you ever been invited to a baby shower and asked not to bring a gift? Because I’m invited to baby showers where cards directing me straight to registries are included in the invitation. The only time I have ever been invited to a baby shower and asked not to bring a gift was when the parents simply requested money. Classy.

And if you are invited to a baby shower for a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) child, what do you do about the other kid(s)? Here kid, take this to the table full of stuff for your unborn sibling, who will continue to upstage you until he learns how to whine and you learn how to get your own snacks – oh, and by the way, I got nothing for you. Move along, try not to cry in the crab dip.

So what I mean is, an invitation to a shower for a subsequent child practically demands a gift for all those older, less special kids you already bought gifts for at their showers.

Sometimes, it's a simple case of a new group of friends throwing a mother a shower for a second kid because they weren't around for the first kid. I get that, and that's fine, because chances are, nobody at the second shower will have been to the first. So maybe the point is not, one shower per mother, but, one shower per guest. Pretty please.

Because it’s all too much.

And it’s all become completely accepted, and, it seems, acceptable. We expect when we are expecting, whether it’s our first and we’re too dumb and excited to realize that our babies don’t need Uggs, they need bibs, or it’s our third and we’re just tired of seeing the same sleepers cycle through the wash, day after day.

Somehow, having a baby makes us think we are deserving of stuff; that our procreation should be constantly funded by our friends, that the words, We’re pregnant! is somehow synonymous with, Bring gifts! And though I do get great joy from hearing the former, I’m getting quite fatigued with the latter. So I’ve embraced two more words that do also accompany the seemingly endless cycle of baby showers we feel no shame in endlessly throwing:

Regrets only.