Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lunch Funnies

Day in, day out making the same peanut butter and jelly sandwich for an entire year of elementary school lunches can get old. I have tried other things in my son's lunchbox. But nothing reminds him of home and the goodness of mankind like PB&J. I completely understand.

When I was a kid, I went home for lunch. In today's go-go society, that seems pretty odd now. The fact was I lived exactly two blocks from school and it seemed natural to pop home for a meal. Even better yet, the school thought it was fine too.

During my middle school years, I remember walking down leaf strewn streets during gorgeous Indian Summer days. The cool crisp fall weather and blue sky overhead was a refreshing escape from the drab cafeteria. Waiting for me would be my mom and a bowl of tomato soup with oyster crackers, or sometimes what she called "toast treasures." They weren't really anything more than buttered toast cut up in thirds. Having that chance to escape even for 30 minutes became a touchstone for my day. It became a reassurance, a comfort-style grounding.

In an effort to repeat that for my son, we happened upon the idea of the "lunch funnies." It all started one Wednesday when I witnessed my son's classmate laughing hysterically over her lunchbox. Showing no shame, I snooped over her shoulder to see that her dad had written a hilarious knock-knock joke. It was not a one hit wonder either, she told me he made up a new one every single day.

Now I have written a nice “love ya” note or sometimes tucked “have a great day!” well wishes in my son's desk. But to put a joke in every day and to actually invent it too, that was taking it to a new level. I loved the idea of the lunch funnies -- a happy way to make a plain day sparkle. Lunch with a joke was a sweet reminder to put a smile on his face. Even though lunch would always be PB&J, I could invent new wonder daily with the lunch funnies.

Some say imitating genius is the highest form of flattery. Smartly, I borrowed the joke idea and made it my own. Like finding the prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack box, my son looked forward to my lunch time whimsy. Later I would find the jokes I had written stuck in his locker, folded up carefully and tucked in his pockets, secreted away in his back pack. He would save every single one and carry it with him all day long.

He loved it so much I started inventing new ways to be funny. One time I put a pack of sardines in his lunchbox with a note that said “something is fishy around here!” Then there was the sporting phase where I would put in golf balls, mini basketballs and wrote notes about “have a ball at school!” The balls weren’t the best idea because you can imagine the ruckus that followed with rolling a golf ball around a bunch of second graders.

The spring brought the bug phase where I would put pretend rubber bugs in things like snack crackers or crawling on sandwiches or popping out of snacks. The bugs made for a high scream factor among girl classmates, so I had to taper that one off quickly.

This year in third grade, we are back to the jokes again. Each day he loves to report back on how funny he thought it was or ask a question if he didn’t get it. More than anything, I wanted my son to remember that even though I wasn’t with him, he’s still on my heart. I wanted his daily lunch funnies to be a reminder that despite how good or bad your day goes, you can always find an opportunity to laugh. To know, even in the ordinary moments, there is joy.

PS. If you want to feel really inadequate as a parent, check out Cookie Magazine’s 30 Days, 30 Lunches Blog. A friend sent it to me as an inspiration with amazing ideas for lunches including puzzle-shaped sandwiches, sculpted animal snacks and heirloom quality note-cards. Check it out at www.cookiemag.com/magazine/blogs/food/30-days-of-lunch/.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Small Time is Big Time

If you had to come up with one little thing that would make your life better, what would it be?

Repeat, little thing, not big thing. I recently read this idea about teeny tiny changes and thought the chances of something small making a difference are only that, small. Nevertheless, I thought I would give it a whirl and my little thing would be to spend 15 minutes a day on piano.

The backstory is I started playing piano several years ago on a whim. I had taken it as a child and hated it. My piano teacher, Mrs. Coon had breath that smelled like feet. She used to press her bony fingers down hard on top of my hands as I played. Apparently she was going to put piano into me by force. The only good thing about going to Mrs. Coon’s house was riding the school bus there and getting to watch TV while my brother had his lesson first.

The practice lasted until my mom could no longer afford it and I was all to glad to be done with Mrs. Coon. Fast forward about 30 years. A friend and I were having a conversation about regrets. We were asking each other if we died today, what would be our greatest regret for not having done in this lifetime. Without hesitation, I said “piano.”

It shocked me that it came out. Somewhere in the dusty attic of my soul, this deep longing to play piano showed up. The truth was that I loved piano, I didn’t love the way I learned it. I wanted to be good at something that was hard, that took practice, using a totally different side of my brain. For me, there is a complete undoing that happens when I listen to stunning piano music. Like combing through the ratty parts of my spirit, piano somehow tapped into hidden, lost places.

I longed to play, to be able to read music, to sit down and hammer out a jubilantly spirited tune. To be like a movie during the holidays, where friends and family gather around a beautiful baby grand, belting out Christmas carols as I accompany on the piano.

So I began the piano, or pseudo-return to my childhood over three years ago. At first it was fun, really really fun. I found a fantastic young piano teacher who was spirited, yet challenging. She would clap and sing along as I heartily played the Mexican Hat Dance. It was a blast. But as I progressed in my lessons, it got hard. As you know, anything worth doing, is hard. And I noticed it became harder and harder to find time to practice. Without meaning to, piano was sliding out of my life.

In my heart I wanted to keep going, but it required more effort than I had planned. As I read about the tiny changes, I immediately thought about piano. If I set aside 15 minutes a day, which is not very much time, I would at least make an effort. Fifteen minutes is nothing, it’s a cup of coffee, a trip to the bathroom, a flip through a magazine – I could handle 15 minutes.

I found that once I got started in my 15 minutes of fame, I was lost in it. All I wanted to do was keep going. Ticking off my 15 minutes soon turned to 30 minutes and I looked forward to my time just to play each day.

Seriously, you may be wondering, what is the point of this piano? Nothing really other than sure pleasure. This is my time to do something completely ridiculous and lovely all for me. I’m not going to be a concert pianist anytime soon, but Christmas caroling parties might be in my future. It shows that I have a passion that I'm not afraid to put to use, however ridiculous. It’s certainly a much better use of my time than Facebook.

The beauty of it is that it only takes 15 minutes – or at least that is what I tell myself. But those 15 minutes are probably one of the best parts of my day. It's ironic to me that to do the things we love, we have to fool ourselves into it. Fooling or not, this small is big to me.