The Forgotten Lunch

He may never remember it. But I won’t forget that smile

By Sara Phile

He did it again, yesterday.

He does it around 25 percent of the time. He strolls outside, armed with his book bag in one hand and his trumpet case in the other and hikes the .8 miles down the gravel road to the bus stop. Or, if he’s done fixing his hair by 6:55, his dad drives him the .8 miles to the bus stop. I’m typically taking a shower at this point, maybe working on my own hair when he calls. It’s usually five minutes after he leaves, sometimes 10.

“Mom, I forgot my lunch. Will you bring it to me?”

Only twice have I not taken it to him. Cruel, maybe, but I wanted him to learn the natural consequences of forgetting his lunch. He is, after all, one day shy of 13. It’s his job to remember.

The first time I said, “No, I can’t take you your lunch. I don’t have time.” He said OK and hung up, and all day I felt stings of guilt. I tried to will them away, but thought of him hungry, shriveling in a corner of the classroom, so hungry he couldn’t pay attention to fractions, integers, or even more dramatic, adverbs and prepositional phrases. (Gasp!) When I picked him up from school, he bebopped out to the car, looking his high-energy self. I was a little taken back.

“How was your day? I bet you’re hungry.”

“Oh, fine. I just ate lunch at school.”

“Oh, really.” (I had not put any money on his account in a while and was pretty sure he had a zero or negative balance.) “With what money?”

“I just charged it. No big deal. Every one charges lunch, Mom. Everyone.”

“Don’t charge your lunch again.”

The next time he called, while I was straight-ironing my hair and still had several sections to do, he said, “Mom, I left my lunch on the counter. Can you drive it to me?”

“Sorry, I don’t have time this morning. You are going to have to be more responsible. Do not charge your lunch.”

Again, all day I felt guilt. I told him not to charge his lunch, but what was he supposed to do? I willed away these guilt feelings when children who really are hungry came to mind. Neither of my boys has ever really missed a meal, not really. He would be fine, and he would learn.

When I picked him up, he was still alive. Very much alive, talking in the way he talks, that if it were written out, there would be no commas or periods. Just run-on sentence after run-on sentence punctuated with exclamation points, lots of them.

“How did you do?”

“Oh, fine. I just ate Ethan’s lunch.”

“Wait, what? David!”

“He shared, and then basically let me eat it all. Mom, it’s OK. He shares his lunch with me a lot.”

Great. Now I have to reimburse lunches to Ethan’s mom.

“Quit stealing other kids’ lunches!”

He continues to forget his lunch, maybe once every two weeks. Back to yesterday. He spent 17 minutes on his hair, and his lunch was simply an afterthought. He called around 12 minutes after he left the house. I grumbled that he was going to make me late for work. That this was the last time ever in the history of moms I was going to interrupt my getting-ready-for-work routine and drive down the hill just to take him his lunch. I stopped at the bottom of the hill and there he was, book bag and trumpet case on the grass and phone in hand, thumbs flying over the keys. He didn’t even look up. I rolled down the window and the thought to throw his lunch out and drive off passed through my mind. He looked up and a smile passed over his lips, the one that shifted to his eyes.

“Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

I obviously don’t know the solution; I’m not asking for advice here. All I know is, those words, coming from him, melted all my madness away. Just like that. It didn’t matter if he meant them or if he was just trying to soften the mood. I drove back up the hill thinking that taking him his lunch may not be so bad and maybe I should just start planning for it.

Until the next time . . .  PS

Sara Phile teaches English composition at Sandhills Community College.

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