Ben had been chomping at the bit recently, to have his little brother Nolan and I join him for lunch one day at school. He requested that we sit with him and his “girlfriend” Victoria (https://momarock.wordpress.com/2011/08/19/ben-has-a-girlfriend/). You always think the “meet the parents” scenario would happen when your children are much, much older. Not in 1st grade. But I digress. He also stipulated that I would need to partake in the school lunch being offered that day. I suggested I bring Subway. But he wouldn’t budge.
Nolan and I walked into the school at the time given to me, 11:20a.m. It was eerily quiet. I snuck into the school office and signed a Visitor’s sheet, and was given a badge to wear so people knew I was there on business. I pushed Nolan’s stroller into the lunch room. Aside from a few lunchroom workers, there were no kids. Then I heard chattering from behind; a large group of children were headed our way, and they immediately swarmed around Nolan and I in an attempt to get to the lunchroom tables, and find the best seats. In a sea of towheads, brown hair and pigtails, I was trying to find Ben, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. With that many kids, they all blend together.
I peer down the hallway, and I see a small figure wave at me. Next to him is another small figure, and both are smiling. Suddenly, Ben intertwines his hand with the person next to him. Ben gives me this look of complacence. Almost of challenge. What will you say? Will you get angry? I try to mask my face, because really, I don’t know how to feel in this moment, seeing my 6 year old holding hands with who I can only assume is Victoria. She is blond haired, and blue eyed, wearing patent leather sandals. They both rush at me, and Victoria starts gushing over Nolan, and how cute he is. “So, this is Victoria?” I ask, and she nods and grins. I almost introduce myself, but stop short. I feel like I’m in some alternate universe right now.
We pay for lunch (which is soft taco day) and the three of us sit down on a secluded table, Nolan in his stroller. For all the hand holding I had just seen a few minutes earlier, now Victoria and Ben are just two kids, sitting at a table with a grown up. Both need my help opening their chocolate milk. Both ask me for sour cream, which I share. They barely speak to each other as they rush through their lunch. Glancing at the other kids, I see that this is a common theme. It reminds me of stories I’ve heard from those in basic training for the military; you’re given an allotted time to eat, then you MOVE. Nolan doesn’t go by that rule. Nolan takes his sweet time as I try to give him applesauce, and bits of my tortilla and some meat.
The kids are already done, and Ben looks at me impatiently. “Are you ready mom?” As he says this, Nolan manages to grab onto the spoon I’m feeding him with, and splatters of applesauce go in every which direction. “Nope. But you go on ahead, and I’ll meet you out there.” He looks so proud, sitting there with us. He smiles at me and gives me a hug. “Make sure you find me Mom!” He yells as he lines up with the other kids, all being huddled out to the playground.
After cleaning up Nolan… our table…. the floor… and myself, I head outside. It’s mass hysteria. When is the last time you’ve been on a playground, while school is in session? I commend the teachers who are brave enough to withstand the force that is youth. Kids are darting left and right, running, screaming, bouncing balls, hitting things, hitting each other. A few are crying, because they’ve been hurt. A few are sitting on a bench, either because they want to be anti-social, or were in time out for something. Ben runs up to us, and starts telling the kids around us how I am his mom, and this (pointing to Nolan) is “my baby”. Not “baby brother”, but “baby” period. We stand as if on display, and some reach out their hands to touch Nolan’s arm, or his leg. It’s amazing to me how loved Ben is, by these kids. Random children come up just to say hi to him. He mingles for a bit, and then heads off on his own, to play on the monkey bars. He seems to be able to border between socializing, and being alone. I find this so admirable about him. And Victoria? No where to be seen. She’s off doing her own thing, Ben is doing his.
I can almost feel, if I close my eyes, the memories I have, at Ben’s age, being on a school playground like that one. It’s close enough to touch, but it’s got a bubble around it, formed by many years of growing up and becoming an adult. It makes me sad, in a way.
A few whistles blow, and the 1st grade teachers line up next to one another, waiting for their students. I ask Ben what this means. “Time to go back to class.” He says, sadly, as he takes my hand. I squeeze it gently, as the children all run to line up. “I had a wonderful lunch with you Ben, and a great time outside.” I tell him this, and I give him a hug. He doesn’t want to leave me, but I tell him he needs to go and line up with his class. His teacher asks me how lunch was. “Not bad, for school food.” And she winks at me as she heads the class inside, Nolan and I trailing last behind them.
All the students verve to the right, and Ben stops and hugs me again. “We’ll see you in a few hours. Love you.” And he’s off down the hall, and I am heading for the office to give back the badge.
Leaving the school, I got a little teary eyed. Such a small gesture, on my part. All I had to do was have lunch with him today. In my eyes, this isn’t anything over the top, but for Ben, it was monumental. It truly is the little things in life.