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Independence For Lunch, One Way Or Another

Independence For Lunch, One Way Or Another

By Mir Kamin

Perhaps my most regrettable failing as a parent (oh, believe you me, there are so very many from which to choose) is my temper. I am not a mellow person. I go from zero to pissed-off in under a second. And it took me years to squelch my knee-jerk hollering when one of my kids was being a complete butthead, because, c’mon, stop being such a butthead! Through more hard work than I should admit, I’ve managed to bring down the volume, but I am still prone to the snap consequence in a moment of pique.

This brings me to my own personal, ongoing internal game of “Would you rather…?” where I’m forever trying to determine whether it’s best to follow through on what I said in the first place or admit that perhaps I was hasty and renege. (Why, yes, it is just super-great being me, why do you ask?)

This is preface to explaining that after a particularly difficult week, my particularly… erm… challenged-in-the-gratitude-department teenager was, I felt, being even more challenging than usual, and I… snapped. The good news is that I didn’t yell. (Yay me!) The bad news is that in my knee-jerk response to undesirable behavior I heard the following pop out of my mouth: “And you need to plan to get up early enough tomorrow to pack your own lunch. This is a service I provide for you out of the kindness of my heart and you’re clearly old enough to handle it yourself and have no appreciation for when I do it, so you’re on your own.”

Um. Whoops?

Because on the one hand: I finally had packing lunches down to a manageable science, plus I am still keeping tabs on my daughter managing adequate nutrition, and it was a very sudden pronouncement. On the other hand: This child is nearly 17, and what I said is true—she can handle it, so why should I continue doing a thankless job she can do herself?

I did the internal debate over going back on what I’d said. I decided the edict would stand, even knowing that might mean biting my tongue through some choices I didn’t love witnessing.

It’s only been two days, but I’d say be hard-pressed to tell you which one of us is struggling with this more.

On the first day, someone (not naming any names here…) was clearly spoiling for a power struggle. I could practically picture the “How inept and oppositional do I need to be before she rescues me…?” thought bubble over her head. I tried to think calming thoughts while I packed lunches for my husband and son. I made sandwiches; I selected fruit; I put treats in tiny containers and cut up veggies while picturing myself relaxing on a sandy beach with a good book. I kept my face neutral as my daughter raced around, running late as she so often does, and paused to stare inside the pantry as if it might suddenly grow sandwiches. I didn’t say anything… until—a minute before the bus was to arrive—she reached into the pantry and grabbed a single protein bar.

“That’s not lunch,” I said, trying to keep my voice light.

“I know,” she said. “I’ll buy lunch today. This is just a snack.”

“I’m not paying for school lunch,” I said, still working to stay very neutral. “If you buy, you pay. There’s plenty of food here. And you don’t even like school lunch.”

She shrugged. “They have pizza. I’ll figure it out,” she said. And she left.

I managed to bite back the question for several hours after she arrived home that day, but finally it escaped: “So, hey, what’d you have for lunch today?”

“I bummed off of A.,” she replied. “She didn’t want the second half of her sandwich so she gave it to me.”

So, lunch, Day 1: Half a sandwich and a protein bar. Fabulous.

I may have suggested she pack the next day’s lunch the night before. You know, just to save time because mornings tend to be hectic. “Nah, why would I do that?” Breezy. Maddening. I let it drop.

The next morning she was in front of the pantry again (seeking the magical sandwich dispenser, one assumes), only this time she was still in her pajamas.

“Please finish getting ready and then deal with your lunch,” I said.

“But if I get ready first I won’t have time to make lunch,” she protested.

“But if you make lunch but miss the bus, that’s not any better.” (Note to self: Don’t try to use logic on a kid with ADHD before the meds kick in.) She considered this, then wandered back upstairs to get ready… but not before watching me pack her brother’s lunch and asking me to just “toss a banana in my bag, too, while you’re right there?” (I obliged.) Two minutes before the bus came, I heard rustling in the pantry.

“What’re you packing?” I called, from my office. I heard giggling and the zip of her lunch bag. I couldn’t help it; I went into the kitchen and as soon as I appeared, she burst into full-pealed laughter. “Please show me what’s in your bag.” She rolled her eyes and unzipped to reveal her banana had been joined by… the remaining half a loaf of bread, the jar of sunbutter, our honey-filled bear bottle, and a butter knife.

So many words fought among themselves to pop out of my mouth. SO VERY MANY WORDS. I looked at her. She looked at me. In my head, I reminded myself that experience is the best teacher and problem solving is a skill cultivated by doing. I sighed. “Please don’t lose that knife,” I said, finally. She grinned, triumphant.

“I won’t,” she said.

I know it’s wrong, but I kind of can’t wait to see what she packs tomorrow.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • CSmith

    March 17, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    I know this was meant to be amusing (and it is), but really, a child who at nearly 17 can’t make her own lunch?! Sounds like mom is a bit controlling. What’s this young lady going to do in a year or so when all of her food choices are her own? Is mom going to call her up every week and plan her menu and then follow up every day to be sure she eats the right things? My 9 year old makes her own lunch every day, my 15 year old and my 17 year old make dinner for the family one day a week. I believe we should be raising ADULTS not children. It’s good for them to feel competent and accomplished.

    • Mir Kamin

      March 17, 2015 at 12:50 pm

      You’re right, it’s meant to be amusing. Of course she can make her own lunch. The issue here is more about time management and executive function, two areas where we are currently picking our battles given her particular set of challenges (see also: this post). Furthermore, given that my daughter is recovering from an eating disorder, I’m not going to apologize for being nervous about turning food choices over to her in a scenario where she’s already prone to running late and forgetting things. 

      I think it’s great that your kids have no challenges in this area (truly). It’s a little more complicated for us, is all.

      • Jodie

        March 17, 2015 at 4:05 pm

        What a seriously gracious response.  Brava, Mir!  Also note the total lack of knee jerk temper.  #winning 🙂

        • Heather

          March 18, 2015 at 9:25 am

          Amen, Jodie.  I get it as I have two middle schoolers who also struggle with executive function and time management – so guess who makes the lunches?  Me.  It also doesn’t help that No One in our house is functional at the butt crack of dawn and my poor kids have to catch the bus at 6:30am – I’m the most functional (barely so) so I do it.

        • Rockabyebye

          March 20, 2015 at 3:22 pm

          I totally agree, Mir. Your response was perfectly gracious and lady-like. And, umh bless your heart, CSmith. You must be new. And, you’re kinda judgy…;)

      • Alison

        March 19, 2015 at 11:54 am

        A measured and apposite response, Mir. My nearly 18 year old, ADHD, SPD, Dylexic, Anxiety disordered daughter has to leave the house before 7 am three days a week to get to her 6th form college. She is perfectly capable of making herself lunch, and often cooks and prepares food at home, but not at that time in the morning. Or the nights before, when she is trying to get everything else in order for a college day. I’ve had various people telling me I’m an idiot for making her lunch, but I’m happy to – she needs to eat to absorb her meds and to stop her being a complete bear! As someone who had to prepare her own lunches from the age of 7, I’m happy to “pamper.” Smug and judgmental = most unhelpful.

    • Leslie

      March 17, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      I have an almost 17-year-old son who has ADD and Asperger’s, and as such, he struggles with executive function and impulsivity. CSmith, I’m with you that we should be raising adults at this age, but for some of us, that just isn’t possible in all areas, and that isn’t something I take lightly. Although my son has come a long way from the time he was diagnosed, his fast-approaching post-high school life is something which keeps me awake at night. 

      • Jodie

        March 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

        What a seriously gracious response.  Brava, Mir!  Also note the total lack of knee jerk temper.  #winning 🙂

        • Jodie

          March 17, 2015 at 4:05 pm

          Wrong reply – sorry!  (but yours is great too!)

    • Nicole

      March 17, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      Wow! Way to live a perfect life! I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this blogger and her story, but I challenge you to find a more committed and loving mother. Whatever choices she’s made in providing more assistance to her children than you may are hers to make based upon their readiness. Every kid is different, particularly kids with ASD. For all of your wonderful parenting, you don’t seem like a very nice person.  

    • Lucinda

      March 17, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      Really CSmith? Do you know anything about her child? Clearly you don’t and judging the author without the whole story reflects more on you than her. 

      Mir–I can’t wait to hear how she does tomorrow either.  That sounds like something my kid would do. She’ll figure it out.

  • […] at least it affords me good blogging material. Come on over to Alpha Mom today to read about how I’m letting go of lunch, even if it kills me (and it […]

  • Jan

    March 17, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    If it makes you feel any better, I’m forty-mumble and sometimes this is how my lunch gets to work with me, too … still in its component parts.

    It does suck that you can’t just go with Hunger As Natural Consequence.  

    And P.S.  I thought was amusing.  🙂

    • April_H

      March 20, 2015 at 1:22 am

      Me too. I have a toddler, and on our way to play dates or errands, etc, I literally just grab something that I think we both  will eat as we run out the door. It’s often half a loaf of bread, or the entire box of crackers, etc. Ya know what?! Nobody goes hungry! And coincidentally my daughter is turning out to be a very not-picky eater 😉
      (Disclaimer: she typically gets at least 2 well balanced, home cooked meals a day. And she eats all her food groups. Also, it’s dumb that I feel a need to include this disclaimer.)

  • Karen.

    March 17, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for using pique. 

    Also renege. 

    Also I think I understand the hair-trigger response all too well. 

    • bj

      March 17, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Me too (i.e. on the age). And, what’s more, when forced to pack lunch for my kids, I apparently pack them like a 17yo w/ ADHD & executive function issues. Yes, my mother worries about me. But, we all survive. 

      (the eating disorders would keep me up at night, and worrying about the lunch box, too)

  • Rachel

    March 17, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Obviously CSmith hasn’t been following Mir very long, and doesn’t know the back story. You’re doing a great job, Mir.

  • Aimee

    March 17, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Haha. Half a loaf of bread! That’s funny. And yeah, not only was it amusing but those of us who have been reading you lo these many years know why it’s a big deal to let said teenager make her own lunch. Judge-y people are going to judge. Don’t let it get to you.

  • Lisa

    March 17, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    I believe the commenter missed the point. This is a teenager using teenage logic. If I pretend not to be able to do it correctly, mom will be so concerned that she will do it for me because, mom. She is perfectly capable of making lunch. She is competent and accomplished. She is being a normal, frustrating teenager. Nothing to see here.

  • Mary

    March 17, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    “Please don’t lose the knife.” …


    Sending many loves your way. <3 <3 <3

    • Leeann

      March 17, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      One of the so many things in this post that I loved!

  • Paige

    March 17, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    My now 23 year old struggles with executive function issues. And one thing he has trouble with is planning what he needs to get through the day. 

    So, yes, sometimes I help my adult son pack a lunch before he goes to work. Sometimes I bring him lunch. I haven’t had to bring him a lunch since he started working in food service…but sometimes I need to bring him his uniform top or something else he needs. Or sometimes his girlfriend does that for him.

    Not everyone’s brain works the same way and we all have our own challenges. Look…if there’s a group of people who can’t see over a fence and I give everyone the same size box to stand on, some people will be able to see over the fence and some won’t. If I give everyone the size of box they need to see over the fence, everyone has a different size of box, but everyone can see over the fence. We all need a box to stand on, we just need different boxes. Telling a parent that they’ve got the wrong sized box for their kid, when you don’t know how tall the kid is…that’s kind of…not nice.

    • Caroline

      March 17, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      This Paige —- YESSSS!!! I needed that reminder today about my younger son. Sometimes I’m just like “why doesn’t this make sense to you!!!” Maybe he needs a different size box. Thank you.

      • Paige

        March 17, 2015 at 7:53 pm

        Thanks Caroline! Glad that helped!!

    • Beth

      March 17, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      I really love your box analogy. It’s perfect. 

      Also, I think the first commenter obviously doesn’t know Mir’s back story…or that of Chickadee and Monkey. And that’s ok, but jumping to assumptions is not. 

      • Paige

        March 17, 2015 at 7:58 pm

        Thanks Beth! I needed something to convince my son to accept accommodations, and that analogy helped. He’s used it with people who accuse him of getting “extra help.”

        And I teach masters education students, who are working to become teachers…I use this analogy with them when we talk about how to meet each student where they are. If I really want to make a point, (I’m really short) I bring in boxes for us all to stand on. 

    • Pamela

      March 17, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      I’m pretty sure you win the internet today.

      • Paige

        March 17, 2015 at 7:59 pm


    • Kira

      March 17, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      This is a wonderful demonstration of “fair vs. equal”…a concept I am always trying to get my students to understand. I am on the short side myself…and I feel a demonstration coming on next time this topic comes up! 🙂

  • Lisa

    March 17, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    Great story! At the end, I only worried that she’d get in trouble for bringing a knife to school (ah, the life of the modern parent). My 12 yr old doesn’t make his lunch because I know he’d pack 1 thing and some water or use his birthday money for school lunch (i.e. pizza). Choosing our battles and knowing our own children is important. We share our non-infinite supply of motherly patience 🙂 AND our infinite supply of love.

  • Shelly

    March 17, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    Sadly, I’m 40-something & not eating lunch today because I didn’t get up when I was supposed to & had to chose between packing lunch or making it to work on time.  Maybe, tomorrow I’ll use her idea of packing the components of lunch & preparing at lunch time. 
    And I wonder where my children get their lack of organization skills from??  Apple/tree.

  • Heather

    March 17, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    Oh mercy!  I all too often end up with “oh I will just buy lunch” even though I know it’s a terrible financial and nutritional decision 😛  Hope she gets it figured out for her sake and the sake of your sanity 😉 

  • kris

    March 17, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    I feel like I am reliving my past with my then teenagers. Laughing as I was reading this.

    People are always going to be judgmental as CSmith was…

    Obviously does not read your blog.

    Keep up the good work Mir…

  • Wendy

    March 17, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    Ok, I am 40 plus years old, and honestly if my loving husband did not pack my lunch in the mornings, I’d be eating out every day. I never had cold lunch at school, my kids don’t pack cold lunch, they eat hot lunch. That’s how we do it, if you don’t, SO WHAT. You are a great mom, and she’ll learn. They all do eventually.

  • Kim too

    March 17, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    There’s a whole sideline of ADD literature dealing with the fact that we tend to gain weight because planning and executing healthy meals does not come easily to us, or we get hyper focussed and forget to eat, then grab processed carbs because they’re available and convenient.  And lo, said I, there my life is.  Right there.
    I was raised to be an accountable, competent adult, with dire consequences if I did line up to expectations.  It has not served me well.  I’ve made a conscious decision to err on the side of compassion and forgiveness, even at the cost of some independence. We will get there.

  • megs

    March 17, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    I’m laughing…I complained about not liking my lunch in the SECOND GRADE and my mother said I could pack my own (except for the sandwich…she would make that for me!). I would have loved another 10 years of lunch being made for me!

  • Angela

    March 17, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    My son is only 20 months old and I’m already having the internal game of “would you rather?” Sometimes it’s if I’ve spoken to hastily and then decide I don’t really care to fight this particular battle and change my mind, knowing in the future I’ll have to pay more attention so that he doesn’t think my direction is unreliable or question my authority. And sometimes it’s my internal control freak deciding if I’d rather let him make a mess or a mistake and learn the lesson from it, or help him out, therefore saving myself time and a mess to clean up. It’s a fun game, isn’t it?! LOL I find myself usually opting to let him mess up, or make messes, so that he can learn from it. And I’m usually pleasantly surprised that he does learn from it. It’s hard though!! At least the mistakes and messes are relatively small right now. But Chickie is doing better than some since she at least tried to get a sandwich together with fruit. My mother survived high school on lunches of M&Ms and Dr. Pepper! I can’t believe she did that, especially since she was so strict on our diets growing up. But I guess that was the lesson she learned, that nutrition is important! She just applied it to her children and not necessarily herself. Good work though, I think you’re very wise!

  • Mom24_4evermom

    March 17, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I’m a bit of a controlling mom. I have two grown children and two who are getting there (14, 12). I packed lunch just about every day for my first two, at least until they were seniors and did senior lunch at school (opportunity to go out or come home). Was I raising adults? Of course I was, but I wanted to make sure they got a good, healthy lunch, some of the stuff their friends eat would make me crazy. Did they appreciate it? They did? Did they go out in the world unable to fend for themselves? No, but they did decide they wanted to make darn sure they knew how to cook because they’ve learned they like good food (plus it’s tons cheaper than going out). Trust your instincts, you’re doing fine. They’ll get there. If I were Chickie’s mom I’d be nervous too, how could you not be? Thanks for being brave enough to write about your life.

  • Brigitte

    March 17, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    Oh no, hubby is 50 and an unaccomplished, incompetent child, since I make his lunches for him!  Horrors!  😉

  • Susan Budziszewski

    March 17, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Speaking from the trenches, since she should be responsible for making her own lunch but you worry about her food choices and her time management, I can see why it would be difficult to let it all go. So maybe now that she has experimented with it for a few days, you can sit with her in a quiet moment (like a weekend) and help her plan for the following week. After all, she may actually want an edible lunch for herself as much as you do. And if you come up with a perfect solution, please share! None of us have it all figured out.

  • Jan

    March 17, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Ok, this just made me laugh.  Mostly because I see myself here.  My favorite: Please don’t lose that knife.

  • Melissa

    March 17, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Heh – I too hoped this wasn’t ending with a call from the school, accusing your daughter of packing heat with her butter knife. ZERO TOLERANCE you know.

  • Jean

    March 17, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Mir, that was hilarious…your response was perfect!.
    You are an amazing mom and when your kids have developmental issues, it is really hard to let go.

    CSmith….I am really glad that your children have no issues and are clearly perfect. Do not judge anyone else ever ok? Not your place and you have NO IDEA what parents of children who have issues go through.

  • Cheryl S.

    March 17, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Don’t lose the knife is PERFECT.  And, BTW, sunbutter is a pretty good choice! She just brought a deconstructed sandwich for lunch. 

    If I am judged by the contents of my daughter’s lunch box, I am the worst mother EVER.  My daughter does not eat at school. She has some “thing” (Yes, that’s the medical term) about the cafeteria. Therefore, I will put damn near anything in her lunch, if it means she gets food into her belly sometime during the day.  Today it was a small box of cereal, grapes, cheese and crackers, and some brownie bites plus a juice box. If ANY of that gets into her stomach, I’m thrilled. I’ll worry about nutrition at home.

  • Megan

    March 17, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I make my kids lunch every day because I want to. They have the rest of thier lives to make lunches. My oldest is 150 miles away in the middle of her freshman year at a 4 year university. I’m not sure how she ended up with the skIlls to manage since I made her lunch until she left home! 😉

  • Lauren

    March 17, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Ha! I packed my own lunch in high school and would always get into it with my mother about whether or not I could just pack whole bags of chips rather than taking the time to portion out little amounts into my own Ziploc. (I was in favor; she was opposed on grounds of “THAT’S EVERYONE’S FOOD.”) 

  • My Kids Mom

    March 18, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Not sure if she/you want advice, but I got something years ago from Parenthacks: a lunch menu. I customized it to our eating habits but basically it is a list of protein choices, fruit and veggie choices, carb choices and treat choices (treats around here equal bags of chips or cookies– otherwise known as bribes to pack your own lunch.) If they pick from each category they’ll have a good lunch. I keep lunch meat, cheese blocks and sticks, yogurt and sunbutter around, then there are bagels, pitas etc and always lots of fruit and veggie choices. It has helped us for 8 years.

  • Melinda

    March 18, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    Have an oldest teen that mirrors yours nearly exactly…. Incl eating issues. Refuses to eat often times. Uses hot lunch but throws most out except dessert. I nearly cheered when she changed her morning beverage as she walked out the door from soda to herbal tea. But I did the same and asked she return the coffee cup! It took two weeks but it resurfaced from her backpack – unbroken

  • Caroline

    March 19, 2015 at 10:27 am

    I think it’s definitely a good idea to give her the reins on this one, to some extent. Clearly she has time management issues, but as with anything, practice will help her, with a soft landing should she come unstuck. I agree with what another poster has said, let it go for the week and laugh about it, but then over the weekend sit down and chat about how things will go, come up with an agreed plan for A/ what constitutes lunch and B/ time needed for prep. It’s cute and funny to march off with the loaf but it doesn’t really take account of anyone else who may want a slice for example. HOWEVER, 10 out of 10 for thinking on her feet! She’s clearly a smart girl and this will foster her independence and making reasonable choices about what to eat in the longer term.