Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Post-Apocalyptic Lunch Box

I just realized that Nick hasn't unpacked his lunch box since the Friday before two weeks ago. First, there was a weekend and he procrastinated emptying it. Then, he had the flu for a week and missed school. He forgot about it. Then last week was Spring Break and he forgot about it still. The lunch box is not my responsibility. It's not, but I have to tell you that it's hard not to get started bleaching and disinfecting it with ultraviolet rays and whatever other tools I have at hand. Can you put a cloth and plastic lunch box in the dryer?

A good mommy would clean that crap up.

A good mom wouldn't.

That's the difference. These days, I'm supposed to be working to be a good mom, not a mommy, a woman who helps her boy when he needs it and lets him fry when he doesn't. That means that I provide the space for homework but I don't tell him when to do it. I might wash his clothes for another year or so but don't fold them or put them away. I still make a healthy lunch but I let him unpack his own lunch box at the end of the day.

Yup, I said let him fry. It's mean, isn't it?

I feel awful. I hate seeing him stress. I hate talking to him about less than perfect grades. I hate letting that lunch box fester even one more night. It was easier being a good mommy and doing everything for him. Trying to tell the difference between what he should do and what I can still do is the worst part of parenting an older kid.

But he needs this, doesn't he? He needs me to let it fester more than he needs me to clean it up for him.

When I was in seventh grade, I left an orange in my locker over Christmas break. Oh, that was the year when my two best friends turned on me, bullying me until I wanted to cry. My dad had cancer and my family and I weren't sure then if he would make it or not. It was a rough time in my life.

But no one cleaned up that orange but me. By the time class started that January, the orange was solid green, mold green, the kind that could either kill you or cure your pneumonia. For weeks, my locker smelled like a horror-movie version of an orange if horror movies had smells. For years, I've remembered how my fingers squelched right through the skin of that orange when I tried unsuccessfully to use a lunchroom napkin to pick it up and dispose of it. Its garbage juice splattered my knee socks, my shoes, and finally the janitor stood over me while I wiped the drippings off his newly polished wooden floors. My lockermate, the girl who had begun to taunt me with my other ex-best friend, truly hated me from that moment on. It was as if I'd done this to the both of us with some kind of intent.

Yes, even though I was stressed by my life, bullies, illness, and the gore of my father's surgeries, I will always remember the smell of that rotten orange. I never made that mistake again. I don't leave food lying around.

This is the moment when I can almost imagine what it was like to be my mother. Almost. She couldn't stand my messes. I absolutely drove her nuts with them, sometimes intentionally just to keep her out of my room. She still can't sleep with a dirty spoon in her sink overnight. And will I be able to go to sleep with that mold-fest partying in Nick's lunch bag overnight? Will I? Will there be maggots? I hate maggots.

I'm going to go try to sleep like a baby. But in the morning, I'm going to work really hard to be out of the house and waiting in the car when Nick opens up that lunch bag and takes a big whiff of it. I might even pull out the garbage can for him to empty and put on the kitchen fan before I go.

I think I'm going to feel a little sorry for him. Who wouldn't after the forty-three year old memory of that orange came flooding back like it was real again?

Thanks for listening, jb

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