header image
 

lunch

Readers — This story speaks for itself (as does the son!). It comes to us from Aimee Turner, who says she and her husband are “happy to know we aren’t alone in the fight against BWCS: Bubble-Wrapped Child Syndrome.” She blogs at The Maine Page Turner . - L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:This summer, instead of going to municipal rec camp (daily, highly supervised….. and so “safe” that it’s kind of boring), we talked with our spunky and independent 12-yr-old son about what he might enjoy better.  So this summer he is taking daily group tennis lessons as well as twice-weekly group golf lessons. 

His father and I both work, so in order for him to do these lessons, he has to get himself to and fro.  On the days he has both tennis AND golf, he has one hour to get across town (on his bike, about five miles).  He has to be sure he has everything he needs for both sports (he is able to store his golf clubs at the course – that would be difficult on a bike!), a lunch he has packed for himself, and appropriate clothes (he needs to wear a shirt with a collar at golf) etc. My husband (his dad) did a practice run with him on a Saturday before the sports sessions started, taught him how to change the bike tube, and they packed a repair kit, in case he gets a flat!

Yesterday I realized how easy it is for “mom guilt” to overtake Free-Range-ness.  DS and I were hanging out, and I almost said, “You know, I’m sorry you have to get yourself to all your stuff and that neither Dad nor I can drive you.”  And then I CAUGHT myself.  Yes, I thought it for a brief moment, but I didn’t say that, because I realized how ludicrous that line of thinking is!   What on earth would I be apologizing for?  That I’m not his chauffeur service???  For goodness sake, he’s 12, and he’s perfectly capable of taking a 20-min bike ride on a dedicated bike path in a bike-friendly town. I said what I really believe: “You know, I’m very impressed by how responsible you are with making sure you have your things, and that you are riding your bike safely the way on the route Dad showed you, and how you are getting everywhere right on time!” 

Instead of infantilizing him, I empowered him.  And his summer days are a lot more interesting than they would have been at rec camp.  (Other side benefits: these activities are 1/3 of the price of rec camp, he’s getting a LOT of exercise, and we’re not increasing our family carbon footprint with lots of unnecessary car-based kid schlepping.)

This morning – no lie – he said to me, out of the blue, “Mom, thank you for not being a smother-y, helicopter-y mom who wouldn’t let me do golf lessons just because of the bike ride there.  I love riding my bike there!  And my coach thinks it’s awesome!”  (He really used the words “smother-y” and “helicopter-y”.)  Not many kids actually thank their parents for driving them around…. But mine thanked me for NOT driving him around.  Imagine that! - Aimee Turner

An old equation. Kids + bikes = joy. (Even in the parents.)

Hi Folks and Merry Christmas, Hanukah and whatever else good is going on. In the spirit of reaching out, creating community and, of course, eating, here’s a great idea I just heard about: The Big Lunch. Check it out:

The Big Lunch is a very simple idea from the Eden Project. The aim is to get as many people as possible across the whole of the UK to have lunch with their neighbours in a simple act of community, friendship and fun.

This year it happened on Sunday 5th June when the best part of two million people took part. Next year it falls on the same weekend as The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Sunday 3rd June 2012. A record number of people are expected to take part. Make sure you’re one of them!

A Big Lunch can be anything from a few neighbours getting together in the garden or on the street, to a full blown party with food, music and decoration that quite literally stops the traffic.

How I love this idea! So simple and so fun. Let’s get The Big Lunch started everywhere! I’ll remind you again as summer comes around. In the meantime, bask in the joy of the season upon us, and look forward to more connecting in the year to come. — L.

Readers, readers — I can’t stand how stupid our culture is some times! Like…right now! At this school! This story came in as a comment to the previous post. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: We just recently had a similar situation at my kids’ elementary school.  Last week, a first grader fell and hit his head in the cafeteria. The extent of the injury in not clear, but all reports are that the injury may have included some blood, but no serious injury requiring serious medical intervention.  The kid basically fell off his stool backwards and bumped his head.

So this week, a whole new array of rules in the cafeteria have been established, including that kids who need a fork, spoon, straw, etc. are now not permitted to get up and get one, but instead they are to raise their hand and ask the lunchroom monitors to get it for them. Kids are also no longer permitted to use the restroom during lunchtime.

I am sorry that a child bumped his head, but I do not see the sense in preventing kids from taking care of their own needs helps this.  There is not always an institutional solution to every little problem.  The kid fell not because someone got up and got a straw.  The kid fell because he is a little kid who sat a little goofy on his stool and lost his balance.

This is a perfect example of over-correcting for an unfortunate accident and in the meantime, creating worse problems for kids.  I think 4th graders should not expect an adult to take care of all their needs.  Talk about encouraging helplessness and entitlement!  Now the school would prefer my kid miss classtime to use the toilet instead of lunchtime? — A Reader

Hi Readers — Nothing, as you know, is safe enough for children. Not notebook paper (as we saw a few posts below). Not toddling (as evidenced by the existence of the ThudGuard). And not old-fashioned spoons (which explains the kiddie spoons that change color when food is “too hot.”)   And now, it turns out, not even a home-packed sack lunch is safe enough. Or at least, that’s how this story was reported:

9 Out of 10 Preschoolers’ Lunches Reach Unsafe temperatures

According to this MSNBC account, “Unsafe,  as the researchers defined it, was anything that sat for more than two hours between 39 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.”

So basically it sounds like “unsafe” = any food that sat for more than two hours in room temperature almost anywhere on earth (and possibly Mars). Despite the fact that most of us adults went to school carrying sandwiches  we kept in our clammy lockers from arrival till lunch time — and are alive today — this became a huge news story, carried by TV and newspapers thrilled to have a new thing to warn parents about, a new everyday danger they must protect their children from.

….Even though, as it turns out,  the lukewarm lunches don’t mean that kids are actually getting sick. That was one of the fine points much further down in the stories, after the dire IS YOUR CHILD’S LUNCH UNSAFE?-type headlines.

So — what is the point? We should start worrying about sack lunches that have never been shown to hurt children just because a rather strange study of a non-problem found that there COULD be a problem if only there was one?

And yet, the press could not stop itself: “Should Parents Bag the Brown Bag?” asked the once-unflappable Boston Globe, as if one study proving something that every parent pas personally witnessed as non-threatening should now throw us all for a loop. It’s like that old joke, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your own lying eyes?”

Yes, I suppose it is better NOT to serve lukewarm yogurt and listless lettuce. But when, as the researchers determined, “just 1.6 percent of the perishable yogurts, cheese slices, carrot sticks, bologna and other items were at the proper temperature when pre-schoolers were ready to eat them,” it appears that 98% of everything kids eat from home is a dire threat, even if their parents packed their lunches with an ice pack. Yes! Forty percent of the 700 lunches surveyed contained a lovingly packed (and apparently useless) ice thingy.

Not to go to the old, “We ate curdled pudding and we LIKED it!” saw, but now parents are being asked to transport their kids’ lunches thusly, according to boston.com:

The researchers recommend brown bagging it and transporting the bag to the day care center in a small cooler filled with ice packs. Parents should then take the brown bag out of the cooler and put it directly into the center’s refrigerator — hopefully there is one and it’s set at the right temperature.

Excuse me — isn’t that the procedure formerly reserved for ORGAN TRANSPLANTS?

And, by the way, doesn’t this advice pre-suppose no kids are walking to school with their parents? Because who is going to lug along a cooler stuffed with ice packs?

My friends: This is how society changes. Not with a cataclysmic coup, but with thousands of little “tips” that trade one kind of lifestyle (walking to school, dropping a kid off ) with another (driving to school, coming inside, overseeing the lunch transfer).

And we wonder why parents feel so overwhelmed with everything they “have” to do and all the expectations for their constant involvement. When even a sack lunch is now a deathly danger, parents must be ever-present and ever on guard.

On the upside, if they ever DO have to transfer a heart or a liver, I guess they’ll have had plenty or practice.  – Lenore

Kids in grave danger from…their lunches?

Hi Readers: This one will make your blood boil even if it’s freezing outside. It’s about a North Carolina high school senior suspended for a paring knife found in her lunchbox, which, for the record, was actually her dad’s identical lunchbox that she brought to school by mistake. (Dad pares his apples at lunch, his daughter doesn’t.)

Sometimes I worry that by printing these weird Zero Tolerance stories — stories of kids suspended for the most innocent of “crimes” — I am giving as warped a picture of our culture as the nightly news does. (Albeit, with a different slant.) But then I think, the reason for publicizing these incidents is not to say they are epidemic, but to point out why they are happening at all: It is due to the inability of those in power to do any kind of sensible risk assessment.

That is worth blogging about, because sensitivity to ACTUAL danger, versus the trip-wire, brain-frozen fear of any POSSIBLE danger is one of the things Free-Range Kids is all about. When we, as a society, say, “I don’t care if it’s safe in1 billion cases, it’s that billionth case that matters!” then NOTHING seems safe. Not a kid playing in the park, not a kid eating a hot dog, and not a kid who accidentally (or even intentionally!) brought her dad’s fruit-paring knife to school. Unless you’re an apple, this just does not pose a threat in the hands of a normal school kid.

We are getting really good at substituting fear for reality. See the posts below this one about suing the Scouts for allowing boys to play in the semi-darkness, or about the recall of drop-side cribs. The fear that an item or activity might have any negative consequences EVER is enough to make us ignore any upside — even a huge one — and outlaw it.

And so we have this girl forbidden from stepping foot on campus because, in the words of the superintendent, “Bottom line is we want to ensure every child feels safe on our campus.”

If these “children” (actually high school students) don’t feel safe because one girl has a paring knife, it’s a good bet they will never feel safe. Which is why I blogged about this story, and why I run Free-Range Kids. Because in that situation, kids are ENTIRELY safe, and it is a BIG LIE to say they aren’t.

And it is a lie with consequences. — Lenore

Okay, here's one way to eat an apple WITHOUT using a paring knife. (But really I just loved this photo. The game looks so fun! Circa 1960.)

Hi Readers — Thought you might enjoy this peek at the lunchtime shenanigans at one American school. (Well, perhaps “enjoy” is not quite the right word, but anyway.) A reader writes:

At the beginning of the school year we got a list that forbade nuts and nut products, which is pretty standard these days.  My daughter started coming home from school complaining that she was told her apples should have been “without the skin” and that oranges were “dangerous,” because there is a kid in the school who is allergic.

I contacted the school and asked them to explain the policy. They told me that even though there is no “formal” list, they do not encourage skin on fruit because it could be a choking hazard.  A few mothers and I ignored them and continued to send the kids to school with the normal fruit, skin on, and not cut up. The lunch mothers make the kids feel bad by constantly telling them that this is not allowed, even though there is no formal rule.

The “no processed lunch meat” is another story altogether.  A few of the PTA mothers decided that it was unhealthy, again constantly harassing the kids during lunch by saying so.  Again, the school has no formal policy not allowing processed foods ( you should only see what they serve as a school lunch)!  This whole effort is spearheaded by a few helicopter PTA moms who have nothing better to do.

This is the same school that outlawed tag and does not allow kids out for recess in below 50F weather.  My son attended the same school a few years back and none of these practices were in place.  The school and the principal go along with this hovering because this PTA does raise a lot of money for the school.

In my community, as a full-time working mother, I am in the minority.  Since I and the few others like me can rarely attend PTA meetings (these are not held in a the hours a working mother can make), we have a very weak voice.  Every time we do speak up, we are reminded that while we are out at work, there are mothers who truly care for their children by staying home and being “involved.” They act like good, old-fashioned school-yard bullies.

Honestly, it is not worth the effort to fight with them.  I laugh them off and continue to send my daughter to school with whole apples and salami sandwiches.  I let her play tag all she wants on our street ( thank God, we live in a small development where almost all parents believe in the Free-Range concept).  She is allowed to go out in all kinds of weather and go to her friends’ houses by herself.

She will be out of that school in a year or two… and off to middle-school where my son is now.  That school allows apples and salami, but they have taken other things to absurdity.  One of these days I will post on the concept of “punishment should fit the crime.”  I think that in some of our schools the zero tolerance for violence policy is taken to absurdity, but that is another topic entirely.

Yes it is. Can’t wait! Meanwhile, thanks for this glimpse into the black hole of lunchtime. — Lenore

What foods are permissable in the lunchroom? Photo by Shinyai

Hi Readers — Tomorrow morn will bring a posting of gravitas and import. Or at least, something relevant to Free-Range Kids. But tonight (it’s bedtime here in New York), here’s a video that I’ll be replaying in my mind tomorrow morning: A woman and her son get ready for school in FIVE MINUTES! (And I love how she makes lunch!) 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_DJpYo0l28&feature=related]