The Lunch-Box Chronicles
Child Magazine Best Parenting Book of 1998;
Developed by CBS/Universal Studios for t.v. pilot.
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The first page...
In school portraits tacked over my desk, you can see them at seven
and five: Captain America and his little brother, The Refugee. Hayes
makes a smirky Captain in his blue Cub Scout uniform and shiny helmet
of hair, arms folded statesmanlike on the desk before him. Poor
Vincent could qualify for social services on the basis of this
photograph alone, I fear, eyelids half-mast, face covered with boo-boos, one ear blending with some books on a shelf in the background
so that it looks outsized and deformed, like a leaf of radicchio.
How is that these school mug shots can turn the most photogenic
little angel into a sickly goon who seems to be smiling despite the
matchsticks wedged under his fingernails? And then the prices! I'll
take the Bargain Bonanza Package for forty-five bucks, of course.
Couldn't pass up those two dozen bonus wallets.
"Dear Mom," says an old Mothers' Day letter, posted beside the
photos, written in shaky, fresh-minted cursive handwriting on a piece
of blue-lined paper. "I really like when you take me to the movies.
You are special because you cook what I like. I want to help you
clean the house. I really like how you smile. I have a surprise for
you. Love, Hayes."
He wanted to help me clean the house? That was surprise enough.
Another missive is pencilled on a bunny cut out from yellow
construction paper: "Dear Mom. I love you Mom. Happy Spring Break
Mom. When can Will come over."
Vincie, who doesn't write letters yet, is represented by artwork – a
crayoned depiction of a Martian and his pet shark, living in a castle
full of fax machines and Nintendo controllers; another sheet printed
all over with a rubber stamp of Vincent Winik's return address, some
wobbly pink hearts, two figures with big smiles and bifurcated
flippers for arms, and one word: MOM.
Some days – like maybe three out of a hundred – I am just so busy
riding a tsunami of productivity in this home office of mine, I wish
I didn't have to drop everything at 2:40 in the afternoon to go pick
up my little pals at school. Far more likely, I start checking the
clock at eleven, if not before, and count the minutes until it's time
to go. Not only because it means I get to escape the solitude of the
so-called creative process for a few hours and resume my role as
household drudge, math tutor, and nuthouse warden, but because I
can't wait to see them, to re-possess them, to get them back on my
territory, whole, healthy and breathing – in part, the same impulse
that used to drive me to check their baby cribs mid-nap. Of course,
this feeling of anticipation involves a bit of willful tiptoeing
around the possibility of The Awful Afternoon With The Devil Brats
From Hell, but hey, why not be optimistic.
I fly out the door and into the jeep and have to force myself to slow
down to 20 miles per hour as I reach the speed bumps and blinking
lights of SCHOOL ZONE. I pull into the circular drive of the brick
elementary school behind the minivans and Volvos and pick-up trucks,
and my personal favorite, the flower-power printed Volkswagen Beetle
that belongs to a local family doctor, reportedly equipped with a car
phone but no air conditioning.
On the bench under a live oak tree, a mom with a Keith Haring button
and black leggings is chatting amiably with a dad in a three-piece
suit. Baby brothers and sisters mill around as their mothers stand in
clusters, deconstructing last night's PTA meeting with the
earnestness of Harvard graduate students, and representatives from
various after-care programs stand ready with clipboards to gather up
their broods. I spy the fundraising co-ordinator and wander over to
find out when I'm scheduled to sell grocery certificates but am
waylaid en route by the soccer coach and the plant sale chairwoman.
BRYKER WOODS ELEMENTARY, says my mental bumper sticker for this
place. WHERE PARENT INVOLVEMENT IS A SICKNESS.
Excerpted from The Lunch-Box Chronicles, Marion Winik (Vintage Books, 1991). Reprinted with permission of the author.