Another school lunch to pack, another day I fill my daughter’s tiffin with poopie.
I don’t set out to send her to school with a sack full of shit—I spend time making the daal, chopping the veggies and simmering and sautéing everything in just the right amount of herbs and spices. But anyway I slice it, my daughter’s friends think her lunch looks like crap.
Most days when Satya, my precocious preschooler, comes home from daycare, she’s brimming with excitement to tell us about the insanity of the day. Three-year-olds are weirdos and often the stuff they want to share is either supremely mundane, just literally narrating what’s happening in front of them, or borderline insane, say, questioning whether they should file a police report to alert the cops that the Big Bad Wolf was on the loose, had terrorized some pigs and could easily come for the rest of us. (True story, by the way. We’ve spent countless hours explaining the many wonders of concrete apartment buildings, primarily as a safeguard against wild wolf attacks.)
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So when my child came home incensed last week, I took notice.
“*Mike called my purple aloo poopie,” she said over dinner. (Aloo is the Hindi word for potato.)
“What?” I asked to buy myself time. I had seen this movie before.
“When I was eating my lunch, he called my aloo poopie,” she repeated, emphasizing the offending word.
“What did you say?”
“I said, Mike, I like you, but I not like your behavior. People not eat poopie.”
The kid had a point. Both of them.
The interaction was innocent enough, these kids are three-years-old and none of them are rotten little monsters trying to hurt each other’s feelings. The intentional meanness hasn’t kicked in yet. They mostly just verbalize whatever craziness pops into their heads. But that didn’t change the fact that the next time I packed her lunch, she asked me if I had included purple aloos. I had. They are her favorite.
So what’s a mama to do?
Let’s be clear: I frequently took “vomit” and “diarrhea” for lunch as a kid. My mom was new to America and they didn’t have Wonder bread and orange square cheese in Bombay. So I took what she gave me. And when she learned more about American school lunch customs, she tried her best, bless her darling immigrant hear, she ended up pairing peanut butter with American cheese. It was worse than the “moldy” chutney sandwiches she started with!
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But this experience didn’t turn me into a baloney-mayo acolyte. If anything, it strengthened my resolve to connect Satya, through her lunch, to her roots. On the days where she brings her lunch, I give her what we normally eat: Indian food. She’s a vegetarian and trades the school lunch Sloppy Joe and Meatloaf for homemade daal, gobi (cauliflower), and aloo. (And on days where I’m short on time, she gets pasta and kale, like every yuppie baby worth their weight in organic produce.)
My mom packed my lunch in a brown paper bag, Satya takes hers in a metal tiffin I had my cousin send from the Motherland. I know we can use Tupperware or toddler bowls, even those trendy kids Bento Boxes that are all the rage. But the tiffin is a silent nod to the most efficient lunch delivery system in the world (hello Harvard case study!) and a reminder that she comes from a rich tradition of food. It’s also wildly practical—dishwasher safe and keeps the various items safely in their own compartments.
I’m not trying to make things more difficult for Satya. And while it might be easier to hand her a sandwich, is it worth denying her the stuff she loves in order to avoid uncomfortable lunchtime chatter? There are times when I will take things off her plate—being a girl is hard enough without the added burden of having to be someone’s cultural tour guide over a seemingly weird lunch. But there are other times when I’ll pack the tiffin full. Part of growing up is learning to sort out the small potatoes, and just get on with lunch.