Column: What’s In Your Lunchbox?

By Carol Bloom

Last weekend, I had errands to run and my travels took me to several stores – all of which were having back-to-school sales and hosting events to draw crowds. As I watched the parents and their children shopping for school supplies and clothing, I was reminded of my own childhood. Although I was always disappointed to see the end of summer, I was also excited by the prospect of a new school year.

One of the fun things I remember from elementary school was my lunch box. I grew up in a very small town in rural Virginia and these were my options for lunchtime: I could eat the food prepared in the school cafeteria, I could walk home for lunch, or I could take my lunch with me. I packed my lunch often, or I should say, my mother packed my lunch fairly often. That meant I needed a lunch box and, of course, it had to be a “cool” lunch box. I enjoyed shopping for the lunch box that was meant for me.

What I really loved about my lunch box was what was inside. The food was what you might expect – a sandwich, a bag of chips, celery and carrot sticks, a piece of fruit, and maybe a cookie – standard fare for the lunchboxes of the day.  But there was something else in my lunchbox, something that brightened my day. Some days it was a simple note from my mother, some days it was a little poem, or a picture from a magazine but it was always something to let me know that my mother loved me and was thinking of me. By the time I went to high school, it was no longer cool to pack lunch from home (and certainly not in a cute lunchbox) but I still found those little gifts from home in my bookbag (backpacks were not yet in vogue) or inside a textbook.

There is no question that raising children is difficult. Parents worry about providing a place to live, food to eat, clothing to wear, medical care, and school supplies.  Even in our mostly affluent setting, there are parents who struggle to take care of these basics. Then add the pressure to ensure that our students do well in school, getting good grades and having an impressive list of extracurricular activities so that they will have the opportunity to attend the college of their choice after high school. Parents are stressed … and their children pick up on it, becoming stressed as well. Students feel the pressure to do well – to meet their parents’ expectations, to meet the school’s expectations, and to conform to peer pressure. Of those, the heaviest weight they carry is the expectations of their parents.

Wanting our children to succeed is natural. We want them to have a good life and we want to do everything we can to ensure that we have given them the opportunities and skills to succeed. Even the Judeo-Christian scriptures contain admonitions and instructions on child-rearing.  One of the all-encompassing instructions comes from the wisdom literature in the book of Proverbs, “train children in the way they should go.” (Proverbs 22:6a, CEB)  Training children in the way they should go is a tall order and involves more than academic skills, learning to play a musical instrument, or participating in a sport. It involves the whole person.

What type of person do you want your child to grow into? Isn’t it ultimately about more than being successful by financial standards? Do we want our children to become super-stressed, neurotic adults who are always focused on themselves and their performance? Do we want them to believe that their worth in the world is measured by academic test scores and college acceptance letters? Training children in the way they should go involves the whole person. The whole person includes being secure in who they are and knowing that they are loved regardless of a bad test score or a lapse in judgment. We can use those situations to help children learn for the future, but we should not let them feel that our love is dependent on test scores and perfect judgment. Those little lunch box surprises helped me to know that. They were there for me to find even if I received a disappointing grade or had a lapse in judgment. As this school year begins, look for little ways to let your children know you love them.     

Rev. Carol Bloom is the pastor of Diamond Hill United Methodist Church in Cos Cob.