It beckoned me from in between the utility bill and Papa Murphy’s mailer. A shiny, perfect Pottery Barn Kids catalog. I ditched the other envelopes that rudely reminded me of adulthood to indulge in the teeny backpacks and preciously-preppy baby models. My own real-life ragamuffins could wait. It was time to accessorize my kids’ rooms and monogram their lunchboxes. In my head.
Selah starts transitional kindergarten in the fall and I can’t wait to vicariously do the whole back-to-school thing. To walk her into the classroom on her first day; backpack stuffed with fresh crayolas, sharpened pencils and shiny Lisa Frank folders covered in hot pink puppy rainbow bubble sunshine ponies. I’ll fill her little lunchbox with pb&j, sliced apples (skin removed if I’m feeling extra fancy), goldfishies and carrots. A happy face on a post-it if I have time. Look how perfectly-doting and precious I am in my head, packing this sweet child up for her first day of real school! And right when I was about to congratulate my future-self for imaginary “fancy” parenting, I spotted the lunch boxes on page 13 of that PBK catalog:
Wow…cool lunchbox, Hailey. I love that your mom made you a BUTTERFLY BRIOCHE SANDWICH with herbed ricotta, mandolined radishes, parsley and chives that she probably picked from her organic garden this morning while you slept, after she did Cross Fit in her Lululemon pants and before she made your dad eggs benedict. I have Lululemon pants too! But I save them for special occasions…like big holiday meals requiring elastic waistbanded pants. Anyway, I’m sure Selah would be happy to share some of her Shark Bite fruit snacks with you. What’s that? Oh, I don’t know if they’re gluten-free, and yes they probably do have high fructose corn syrup…Probably extra HFCS, actually. And red dye 40…and probably red dyes 1-39, too. Look, you guys both have love notes from your moms though, so you have that in common! Yours is in French? That’s cool…Selah’s note is just a picture I drew of stick figures high-fiving. But stick figures are the same in every language, so she’s essentially multi-lingual as well. I think you’ll both get along swimmingly.
Another lunchbox in the PBK catalog had a sweet little note affixed with washi tape and the sandwich was cut into a circle with julienned red bell peppers affixed to the top, making it look like a baseball.
Is this real life?
How is Selah supposed to face her fine-dining peers on the inevitable day I forget her lunch and drop off Taco Bell? Pottery Barn Kids, can we please style the next round of lunch boxes with PBJ, baby carrots and Pirate’s Booty? I feel like Pinterest is forcing us to prove how much we love our children through an unspoken new calculation of school lunch complexity. OP (organic produce) + GF (gluten free items) + BB (bento box) + FSLTOTWTA (foods shaped like things other than what they are: bread as baseballs, bananas as mummies, sandwiches that look like storm troopers, bread rolled like sushi, anything cut with a cookie cutter – except cookies, of course, please see “GF.”) = parenting love quotient. I hope you don’t buy those Smuckers Uncrustables because, well, OP/GF/FSLOT/PWA fail, and clearly you do not love your child. (If you did buy these on accident, you can bring them to me and I will eat them all. They are DELICIOUS.)
To be clear, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with school lunches fancier than the French Laundry. If you have the capacity to do this for your kids and also not lose your mind, you go, Glen Coco. But in this age of social media where we trap ourselves into measuring self-worth by Instagram likes and comments with clapping emojicons, we should ask ourselves: are we making these lunches for our kids? Or is it for the iPhone photo, promptly blasted to our friends while we shoo away the precious babies at our feet who we are allegedly assembling these masterpieces for?
Maybe this isn’t a problem for you. But let me tell you a story about a horrible pet owner. Two years ago, a blubbering lady whisked her dying 5 lb. dog to the vet. The dog had contracted a stomach virus and became dehydrated so quickly that she started seizing and nearly died. After that little pup’s first night of IV fluids in a cold cage, the pet owner came to visit. She walked into the exam room and was so struck by the pathetic shivering preciousness before her, complete with a tiny hot pink bandage from toes to shoulder, that she immediately… TOOK A PICTURE WITH HER PHONE. Not picked up the dog to snuggle it. Not spoke sweet encouraging words to a scared 5 lb. ball of fur. She exploited the tiny pup to share a pic with her Facebook peeps. (Whoever she may be…Ok, fine it was me. Pet owner fail.)
I know what you’re thinking: weren’t we just talking about school lunches? Yes. But it’s the same thing. There’s a right way to take a picture of your 5 lb. furball and post it on Facebook; and then there’s what I did. Both look exactly the same to the onlooker. There’s a right way to knock it out of the park with school lunches more intricate than the Sistine Chapel. And then there’s missing the point. Maybe trilingual Hailey loves radishes and herbed ricotta. But if it were my kid, she’d be way more stoked on a bagel and cream cheese, no matter how much Facebook liked the brioche butterfly.
I guess my main point is this: if you love making your kid fancy lunches, AWESOME. If you’d rather throw a Smuckers Uncrustable in a paper bag with an apple but you’re great at doing crafts with your kids, ROCK ON. If you can’t craft but love hosting dance parties in the living room with your littles, SWEET. If dance parties are out because at weddings you have been mistaken for both Steve Urkel and Elaine from Seinfeld, but you’re present and engaged when you’re running errands with your babies, YOU ARE A STAR.
In this era of Pinterest-everything and first-graders’ school lunches more elaborate than the dinner served at my wedding, let’s not miss the point. Love your babies however you were built to love them best. And don’t succumb to the pressure to gourmetize school lunch if that ain’t your jam. Heaven knows we mamas have enough on our plates already. Hailey’s mom isn’t real. She is an employee of Pottery Barn Kids whose full-time job is to beautifully style high-end lunchboxes with sandwiches that took an hour to assemble. She nailed it, but you don’t have to. We all have this imaginary ideal modern woman in our heads who is perfectly fit, rested, cooks like Giada, never nags her husband and does not get frazzled. This woman is not a thing. If you meet someone who says she is, she is lying. Your sweet kids adore you because you’re their mom. Not because their lunches look like they had a personal stylist.
“Present over perfect. Relationship over rushing. People over pressure. Meaning over mania.”
Let’s choose present over perfect every time.
photo credit: s.h.u.t.t.e.r.b.u.g Creative Commons