Every year, Hallmark runs a television commercial in which a girl, sitting at the school lunch table, opens her lunchbox and pulls out a card given to her by her mother. The girl reads the card, smiles, and sighs. All is right with the world. The pressures of school are no more for her—her mother gave her a surprise card. This was my inspiration yesterday for lunch box notes. I wrote We love you for being YOU! and We’re so proud of you!, then I folded the little messages and slipped them into each of my children’s lunch boxes. I will surprise them and make their day, today! I thought. Maybe I’d get a little bit of embarrassed backlash or an eyeroll from my high-schooler, so I knew this was risky, but worthwhile to let him know I care. Maybe my middle schoolers wouldn’t say anything about it, too, but would still appreciate it. My elementary schooler, I was sure, would love it.
Later, once my kids came home from school, I waited to hear something, anything, about their reception of the lunch box notes. It wasn’t until I was driving in the car with my elementary school child, that I heard, “Why did you put that note in my lunch box today?” His voice was almost a whisper.
“Because I love you!” I said. “Were you surprised?!” I cannot hide the excitement in my voice. I knew he would notice!
“Well,” said my youngest son, “can you not do that again?” His voice quivered with emotion. “I didn’t know what that piece of paper was and so I unfolded it and I read it out loud.” His voice starts to crack as he tries to keep his composure. “Everyone laughed. I was so embarrassed!”
I must be the most awful mom in the entire world. How could I not think about what the other kids would say at the lunch table? “I’m so sorry!” I said. “What happened?”
“Well, everyone was laughing so loud that the principal came over to my table and had to yell at them not to laugh at me. She said that if they didn’t stop, she would have to assign them lunch detention!”
“Oh, no! I’m so sorry, honey,” I said. “I promise, I won’t ever do it again.” I repeat this over and over to him as he chokes back tears in the back seat.
“Okay,” he said.
Did all the kids feel like this? I wondered. Once home, I cornered my middle school son. “Did you get your lunch box note today?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Luckily, I get to the lunch table first, so I could read it and put it in the trash before my friends come.”
“You put it in the trash?” I said. My illusions of perfect mom-dom are quickly fading.
“Well,” he said. “I didn’t put it in one trash can. I put part of it in one and part in another and more in another trash can.” He uses his hands and acts out the tearing up and putting of the note’s pieces into separate trash cans. At least, he feels comfortable being honest with me, I tried to console myself.
“You put it in separate trash cans?” I said, trying to keep my own voice from cracking.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m lucky that I get all my stuff and get to lunch early so I can do that.” He smiles at his efficiency—something I’ve strived to have him be in the past.
“Yeah,” said my middle school daughter, coming into the room. “I stuffed mine down in my lunch box and put my apples over it.”
“So, should I not put notes in your lunch box?” I asked them.
“It’s fine, Mom,” my son said, turning to his homework. “I get there first so I can read your note and take care of it right away. Really, it’s fine. Thanks, Mom.” He started to work on his math. My daughter shakes her head in agreement.
I wasn’t sure what to say. “You’re welcome,” I said weakly.
Nothing more was said about the lunch box notes until bedtime. I brought my youngest son into his room, tucked him in bed, and he said, “I guess you could still put notes in my lunch box, Mom, just make them cool notes.”
“Cool notes?” I said.
“Yeah, like on soccer or football or….video games. Something like that,” he said.
“Soccer or video games?” I asked.
“Yeah, something cool. Write me notes with something cool on and then, tell me you put it in my lunch box,” said my son, pulling his blanket close to his cheek. “That’ll work. Thanks, Mom. I love you.” He rolled over and I turned out the light.
“I love you, too,” I said as I walked out into the hallway. Cool lunch box notes….I thought to myself. I’m really going to have to put some thought into this one.
My oldest son, the high schooler, was walking up the stairs lugging his backpack still full of homework to finish in his room.
“Hey, Mom,” he said.
“Hey, honey,” I said, still wondering how to do a cool lunch box note.
“Thanks for the note in my lunch box, today,” he said and smiled. Then, he walked into his room and shut the door.