I was asked to do the dreaded this week. My middle schooler asked me to come have lunch with her at school. I know I should be grateful for the invitation. And I am.
It's just that Halloween day was the only time I could swing it. You know how kids go and act at Halloween. To make matters worse, she asked on a week where I've been experiencing chronic headaches. In case you didn't know, headaches and school cafeterias don't mix.
Like a good mom. I picked up her favorite, a meatball sub, and signed in at the front desk. I slipped into the lunchroom just in time to hug some girls who became some of my favorites last spring after doing a study with them. My daughter, Rylie, joined me at a table I'd unwittingly picked by the garbage can.
I didn't bring a lunch for myself, so I did what I do best while Rylie scarfed down her sandwich. I people-watched. More specifically, I middle school people-watched, scanning every table. I checked the crowd to see if anyone was sitting alone. No one was.
I like to think I have a radar that searches for the broken and alone. Middle school is a place you can often find such characters. One of my daughters sat alone for a spell during those years. The other daughter (during lunch one year) was voted the one they most wished was absent from their table. Another day, when the voting game had progressed, she was the one at her table voted most wished to be dead. Of course both of my girls survived the nonsense. But now I scan lunch tables to see if there might be some other kid who's suffering lunch time nonsense.
What I saw today, instead, was a room full of appropriately livened conversation (which is hard to accomplish.) I saw smiles and a certain seventh grade boy who flossed like nobody's business while Thriller played on the loud speaker.
Several, who were clearly employed to oversee lunch, lead the kids in singing Happy Birthday while seventh and eighth graders sang along, many delightfully off key.
I asked Rylie who her favorite cafeteria worker is. While taking the last bite of her ice cream push-up she pointed to her favorite, but she likes them all.
Close to the stage a cheery custodian, in Halloween makeup and a bright orange tutu, danced with her broom as she scooted between tables. As I watched several boys allowed to show their dauntless dance moves, I recalled the prayer service parents and community members held at CO Wilson this fall before school started. After praying together we were permitted to individually pray in the hallways and over the lockers and classrooms.
I chose to pray for the cafeteria. I prayed that there wouldn't be a single child who ate alone, and that students would make the best of their opportunity with this daily unstructured thirty minutes. I prayed that students, at an age where they likely struggle with their own self-esteem, would positively pour into one another...both into their best friends and the kid they don't hang out with who ended up at their table.
I don't know if the CO Wilson cafeteria is this happy a place all of the time. I pray it is. I just know that I'm grateful for you lunch ladies, custodians, and those employed to monitor and emcee while students eat their one hundredth turkey sandwich and swig down their milk.
You do a job that doesn't always receive much thanks. While I didn't see a single kid alone today, I saw kids who had forgotten about basketball tryouts, confusing math problems and the mess they'll go home to this afternoon. And I saw you. I saw your meaningful engagement and I want you to know...it makes a difference.