As a kid, I never really liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There. I said it.
I’m not sure exactly when that preference began, but my mother, bless her heart, knew this and packed me other types of sandwiches. Turkey, lots of the time, or ham. Either of these with mustard, mayo and a piece of American cheese. With a leaf or two of lettuce – separate from the bread part of the sandwich, of course, lest it turn mushy. For a while I liked sliced cucumbers. I think this childhood book might have inspired that choice, I don’t know.
A sample lunch from for a First Grader, September 7, 2017.
But Mom knew what I liked.
For more than 20 years, my mother packed lunches five days a week, nine-plus months of the year. For most of that time she was making lunches for at least three of her four kids, and for her to take to work, too. My siblings and I all agree that Mom’s lunches were the best, and all of us model the lunches we make for ourselves and the ones we make for our families on her perfect formula. It goes like this:
- Apples slices
- A Crunchy Snack (pretzels, chips, etc.)
- A Treat (often a Little Debbie snack)
All of these seem like mundane components but as I detailed above with my sandwich peccadillos, it was the little things that made them special. She put our drinks in the freezer so that they’d keep the rest of our lunches chilled and perfect despite sitting in lockers or backpacks in the Florida heat. Mom knew our favorites – peanut butter and fluff for Michelle, two drinks and extra fruit for Kevin, salami sandwiches for Courtney. We were all supposed to eat our apples last ‘to clean your teeth.’ I always did that.
When I asked my sisters and brother what they remembered about these lunches, everyone agreed that they were amazing, even though each of us had a completely different idea of what ‘amazing,’ meant. My sisters got notes from Mom because their best friends got notes, and they wanted them, too. Mom complied. She even packed the whole thing in an extra plastic bag INSIDE a brown bag (we never were big on lunch boxes) so that the condensation wouldn’t melt the outside bag. Details, man, details.
In addition to various vegetable condiment options, I also decided that my sandwich tasted better cut on the diagonal, “Like Dad does it.” So that’s how she did it. Every. Day.
She never forgot what I liked best.
And she never complained about this morning routine, an assembly line of sandwich sandwich sandwich sandwich sandwich, apples apples apples apples apples, snack snack snack snack snack, treat treat treat treat treat, drink drink drink drink drink. She claims to have not minded making all of these lunches, so similar and yet so perfectly tailored to the tastes and preferences of each of her four kids.
And this is the magic of Motherhood.
Even though I come from a ‘big family,’ I never felt lost in the crowd. Each one of us was (and still are) special. Unique in our tastes and styles. And Mom knew what we liked, what we needed. Each day when I opened that lunch, no matter how terrible the day or what horrors I would have to face after lunch, I knew, for a few minutes, that Mom was there with me.
I do not remember eating the last lunch that my mother made for me when I was in high school, and that makes me sad. I wish I could tell that 18-year-old to take a moment to savor it. To think of what it really meant: You are special. You are loved.
School started for us this week, and I’m back to making Lucas’ lunch again. And next week I’ll send Davey off with his own little meal, packed away in a new Batman lunchbox, tucked into his Batman backpack. My own little home lunch assembly line routine will begin (although I do them the night before, I’m not that coordinated in the morning).
Lucas is starting to have opinions about his lunch content. He prefers honey to jelly on his sandwiches. Chewy snacks are always welcome; red is the best flavor. And he likes to finish with a Starlight mint. “Mints are my favorite treat, Mom!” So I comply.
I write notes to Lucas every day, and while they are a mix of pictures and First Grade words, I hope he knows how much I love him. How I miss him every day. And when I send his brother off to preschool next week, I will miss him, too. I want to tell them, I know you and what you need, because I’m your Mom. Forever. Everywhere you go, I’m with you.
But since I can’t really be there, I send you off into the world with this lunch, which I made just for you. Be happy. Do well. You are special. You are loved.
Enjoy the mint.