I know that someday you'll find better things.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day. All the cereal boxes say so--even the generic, healthy, low-sugar varieties found in our pantry. According to them, it's practically the only way to start your day out right. 

Each year, when "free breakfast month" is advertised at the kids' school--during state-standardized testing, not coincidentally-- we hope they won't notice, but they always do.

Caleb was the first to give it a try. He reported a veritable feast of pastries, sugared cereals, and chocolate milk.

A dentist's nightmare, basically.
Or dream-come-true, if the dentist needed more clientele.

Later, we noticed his meal account had been charged for these "free" indulgences, so we put the kibosh on the whole thing.

When Mia started school a few years later, she wanted to try it, too. After all, she'd never even been allowed to buy school lunch, so this was an especially desirable opportunity.

Because she didn't have an established meal account for them to 'accidentally' bill, and because Michelle Obama had been on a quest to make school food more nutritious, we allowed them to try the breakfast. 

Just this once, and only because it was the last day of 'free' month.

"Take care of her," I instructed Caleb. "She hasn't ever done this before. She won't know what to do or where to go. And don't let her get too sugared up or she'll be a basketcase all day."

All day long, I waited for a behavior-related phone call or email from Mia's teacher, but nothing came of it. Naturally, it was my first question at pickup time.

"Well? How was it?"
"Fine," said Caleb.
"Fantastic!" said Mia. "I had a cupcake--"

I turned to Caleb, horrified.

"She means English muffin," he said.
"--with sausage and egg and maybe cheese. And a little container of fruit that was covered in honey. And milk that was brown because it had chocolate in it--"

Again I glared at Caleb, who shrugged, feigning innocence, and made himself scarce.

I didn't want to hear the rest of the breakfast bonanza. "So, after you made your choices, you got to choose a spot to sit at, right? So you did you finally get to sit with Caleb?" Their regular lunches overlapped so that third graders and kindergartners were in the cafeteria at the same time, but the school was pretty strict about assigned seating.

Mia's eyes filled. Big, round, sugar-induced tears began to roll down her cheeks.

"Caleb sat with his friends. He said it was the last seat and that I had to go somewhere else."
"Did you find any kindergarten friends to sit with?"
"There weren't any there," she said, sniffling.

I pictured my little girl wandering around the elementary cafeteria and had to keep my own eyes from getting teary.

"So what did you do?"
"I had to sit with some strangers. Fifth graders, mostly. A few fourth graders, too."

My heart was breaking, but a teeny, tiny part of me was relieved that it hadn't worked out. Besides, maybe it wasn't too late to spin out a positive outcome.

"Wow," I said, "that sounds like a very stressful way to start your day. I am so sorry that you had to go through that. Let's just go back to having normal, healthy breakfast here at home."

"Actually, Mom," she said, brightening up a bit, "I was thinking just the opposite. I think I should start having breakfast at school more often. That way, those big kids won't be strangers anymore. If I could just spend a little more time getting to know them, they'll become my friends!" 

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