Meatballs



Tears had blazed three or four different trails down her face as she continued to scream, "I HATE MEATBALLS!"

This was not normal behavior for my sweet girl. This was desperation.

The funny thing is, she doesn't really hate meatballs. But you tend to speak irrationally when you feel your ability to control your world is slipping through your fingers.

I could hear the hum of the engine telling me the bus was nearly here, so I plucked her out of the car, placed her two feet on the asphalt, and began pulling her toward the bus stop. "I promise it's going to be all right. I promise you're going to be just fine. You need to give this a try."

Aware that the kids at the bus stop could hear her now, she forcefully brought my ear within listening distance of her mouth. I could feel the tension in her hand as she whispered through gritted teeth, "Momma, please. Take me home. I hate meatballs."

Bus brakes screeched as its doors smacked open, inviting everyone who was going to school to climb aboard. I squeezed her back as she hugged my leg, making our way to the bus doors. Reaching them, she let go of her grasp, and as she took the first step, I said, "If all you do is drink the milk, just give this a try. I love you."

*****

Hopping back into the car, I found myself so grateful for the neighbors who had warned me that first grade was going to be an adjustment. How do you prepare a six-year-old for a seven hour school day when they're used to going for three?

So we'd talked about how she'd be eating lunch at school and we went to the grocery store and picked up a bunch of juice pouches and grapes and for the first time loaded the freezer with Gogurts. I prepared her a sandwich every morning and dropped a couple of Oreos in her lunchbox.

A week in, first grade was turning out to be a really wonderful situation except for two glitches: the long days were rocking little girl's world, making her much more moody at home than usual. And she was sick of the scenario inside her lunch box. I felt for her as she watched me spread the jam on her bread the fifth day that week. She missed the range of choices lunch at home with a microwave provided.  I knew one of these problems would best be remedied with love, patience, and consistency. The other would take creativity and another trip to the grocery store. I was only able to provide one of those this particular morning, seeing how we had a bus to catch. 

But then I realized we had one more option. "Hey sweetie, you can have school lunch. Do you know how school lunch works? Does your teacher ask the kids each morning if they are having home lunch or school lunch?"

She nodded her sleepy head. "And when you go into the lunch room, do you know where the kids with school lunch are supposed to go?"

She nodded again. 

A few clicks on the school website told me that today's special was meatballs in marinara sauce. "They're having meatballs today. You like meatballs!"

And I thought that was that.

*****

In the car on the way to the bus stop, she zipped her backpack open.

"Mom... where's my lunch?"

"Sweetie, that whole conversation we had. You're having school lunch today. Meatballs, remember?"

"I said I know how it works. I didn't say I would have it today!" And the tears that have been residing so very close to the surface lately started to pour.

I swear we had reached an agreement on school lunch fifteen minutes ago. I had a feeling there would be many more such moments in this stage of school-age motherhood.

Her voice that has been escalating in volume much faster these days was already screaming when she opened her mouth and cried, "Take me back home! Please! Make me another lunch! Momma, I HATE MEATBALLS!"

I considered the four minute window from the time we leave the house til the bus comes. "There's no time sweetie...".

"Then take me to school after you make my lunch. Please, Momma! PLEASE MOMMA! PLEASE!"

I conferred with myself for a moment, and my momma gut knew so passionately what needed to happen that day.

I did not need her to remember the day Momma rushed home and whipped up a lunch and drove her the long way to school. Although I had considered it for a few seconds.

No, this morning I realized I needed more than anything in this moment for little girl to know that her world could feel like it was careening out of her control and that she would be able to survive it. She would be able to navigate it and come out on the other side successfully. Even if it was just an elementary school lunch room.

So while it may seem silly, after putting her on the bus I came home and said a little prayer for her, that the adults in the lunch room might be aware of this little girl who might need to be guided her first time through the lunch line. Then I completed the ten minute process of opening a lunch account and making a deposit in it so she would have no trouble getting it paid for.

It occurred to me that I loved her so much, I didn't care that she didn't know about all the little ways that I was making sure that her lunchroom experience would work out okay.

One more time, being a momma was teaching me how my Heavenly Father feels about us. Because on so many occasions navigating this world, I had felt like my little girl. 

"So it is with you, every time you are convinced that your world is careening out of your control.  I have already prepared the way."

*****

The bus pulled up at the end of that day. I tried not to appear to anxious on the outside, but I couldn't wait to hear how it had gone.

She climbed in the car. "Lunch was horrendous," she reported.

Oh no.

"I went through the line, I got a milk just like you said I could, and the lunch lady made me go back and get food."

Relived, I laughed. "Well how dare she. Of course she did."



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