Thursday, May 19, 2005

Brown Paper Bags

For many years, both of our children packed a lunch for school...usually a predictable assortment of peanut butter and jelly sandwich, some prepackaged fruit thing, a cookie and a drink. Standard fare that most parents have learned to automatically add to their shopping lists and a ritual as old as the school bus that usually brings an "expletive deleted" on that evening before the first day of school.

Part of the fanfare at our house began in the preschool days when one of us, as proud parents, would diligently "bag" for the next day and perhaps add a note to brighten Betsy's or Andrew's morning.

At some point, and I'm still not sure if this happened because we simply didn't have enough to do the evening before, but slowly the simple, quick note transformed into an art project of decorating the plain brown bag and identifying each lunch with a sometimes elaborate moniker.

As the children got older, the burden of preparing the next-day's course fell into their hands. On occasion, when the bus was sitting outside the front door, or simply "I forgot" was a good enough reason, one of us would find the sandwich bags, slap together a quick PB&J, scribble their name with a quick missive and send them on their way.

Eventually, Andrew discovered the true value of a school lunch line and decided that it was much easier to bug mom for lunch money than to stare at the cupboard and try to decide what to have for a meal the next day.

But Betsy never grew fond of cafeteria food and preferred to scour the refrigerator and drawers in search of some hidden delicacy to store in her bag the night before. And so, even into the high school years, it wasn't uncommon to find applesauce and pudding snacks on the grocery list.

I always knew that when I opened the refrigerator in the morning, I'd have to weave my way around Betsy's lunch bag to find the orange juice. And, every once in a while, especially on days when she had a big game or a tough test, I'd scribble a little note on her lunch bag - making sure I made her name big enough to embarrass her in front of her friends.

The other night I opened the refrigerator and found two lunch bags sitting in the way. I quickly remembered that Betsy was serving as a host for a grade school "buddy" on a field trip to the zoo. As such, she was required to pack two lunches.

As I pulled both bags out, I couldn't help but notice that she had written her buddy's name on the plain brown bag with a magic marker.

The orange ink wouldn't have been my first choice. But it was the only available marker that provided enough contrast against the familiar Kraft paper.

Our 18-year-old daughter has carried the nickname "Beaner" ever since she was a baby, and as I scribbled the letters onto the bag, I realized that we were losing more than just the passage of time.

I topped the letters E and A with a flower and placed the bags back where I found them.

Today is Betsy's last day of high school and because of special activities planned at the school, no lunch bags were packed.

I found the orange juice much too easily this morning.