(originally written on February 8th)
Today, despite the cold, Elly and I ventured out to meet Benjamin for surprise lunch. I debated going as it meant I needed to “get ready” and push aside the headache I was brewing. It also meant searching through the unfolded piles of laundry to find a matching pair of socks for Eliana. Nonetheless, off we went with a quick swing through McDonald’s to pick up lunch to share with my 2nd grade superstar.
The first thing I noticed in the lunchroom is the noise and the “orderly chaos” that takes place in the transition of one class leaving and another class entering the lunchroom hub. For what initially seems like no apparent reason, whole groups of children stand up and mass exit as if called by a trumpeters’ blow. In reality, the children are subtly signalled by their teacher’s quiet presence in the doorway at the far side of the cafeteria. When teacher appears, there is no time to dawdle. As one mass exits, another arrives. The new children enter as quickly as the others leave. The majority of students march in file like ants through the hot lunch line, while a few stragglers meander in, lunch sack in tow. It looks and sounds a bit like chaos, but in truth, it is a choreographed transition that the children know well.
Since I was Ben’s guest, we were allowed to sit at a guest table. There are a designated number of seats at the guest table. Ben, being the host of the guest, invited a few of his friends to the table. It is clear from the expressions on some of the children’s faces and the outright question “are you Ben’s mom?” that some children are trying to figure out how we fit together. I love that Ben usually nods his head enthusiastically to this question. At any rate, there I sat with Ben, Elly, Kieley (whom I believe Ben might marry one day), another Ben, and Zach. I’ve met Kieley before, but Ben and Zach are new friends to me. They try their best to show me how cool they are before the meal is over. Though little conversation occurred, it was wonderful being the honoured guest among such special young people.
Next to the guest tables, and set apart from the long ‘regular’ tables, is the “allergy table”. My heart ached today for the lone child sitting at the allergy table. He sat alone shifting his wait frequently, repeatedly leaning off the edge of his seat. It was as if he longed to stretch his body enough to be a part of the rest of the action, while remaining within the safe shelter of the hypothetical allergin free bubble. The last time I visited with Ben for lunch, there were at least three other students at the allergy table. But not today. My justice seeking heart silently shouted out, “It’s not fair! Why must he sit alone!” He is not noticeably “shunned”, but I imagine he feels, at times, like an outcast. My next thought was to tell Ben that he ought to join this table on occasion to bring some encouragement to the ones who sit there. I knew the discussion would not be a simple one nor would it be one to have with his friends nearby. So I decided to reserve my do unto others with allergies discussion for another time.
Within what seemed like a blink of the eye, lunch was over as quickly as it began. The presence of Mrs. K in the doorway set off the silent alarm that rallied the children. Pleased that Ben would respond so promptly to the subtle cue, Elly and I gathered up our garbage and followed Ben to the door. Ben reminded me that “leftovers are for the pigs” as he dumped the leftovers into the slop cans that the farmers apparently come to gather. I am briefly reminded of the prodigal son (Luke 15) when he realized that the pigs ate better than he did when he rejected his father and left his home. I am also humbly reminded of how much we have when compared to most of the world. Whoa. Deep thoughts for further consideration at a later time... I quickly greet Mrs. K, who offers a great update on my fabulous Ben. Elly, Ben, and I share farewell hugs as Ben slowly moves to join the rest of his classmates. I believe Ben is slightly taller than he was when he left the house this morning, while Eliana is a smidge more confident and my headache is a little less sharp. I leave the school thankful for the briefly shared moments, in a chaotic lunchroom, with 2 of my favourite people. And, I resolve that I shall have these surprise lunches more often.