It’s a Pizza Bagel, Not a Crack Rock….

Over the course of the last few weeks, my four-year-old son, Snugs McNugget (uh huh, that’s his real name) has been randomly mentioning that the school lunches I pack for him each day are not healthy.

Sometimes, the conversation will come about when I clean out his lunch box after school and find that he didn’t eat very much.

“Well….it was a fun food.”  He’ll offer as an explanation as to why he didn’t eat…. while simultaneously wolfing down a snack and hungrily inquiring as to when we’ll eat dinner.

“What do you mean, it’s a fun food?”  I’ll ask him.

“It wasn’t healthy.”  He’ll tell me.

Other times, it will come up when I ask him what he’d like to take for lunch.  As I run through his list of options he’ll respond by saying,“I don’t think so.  That’s not healthy.”

The topic of his dietary affairs has come up in the car, during breakfast and dinnertime conversations, even on the weekends.  It’s not an everyday thing, but it’s been frequent enough to raise a red flag, so of course I wanted to know where the message was coming from.  Every time I asked, the answer was the same, “Ms. Stephanie said so.”   

“Who the fuck is this Ms. Stephanie?”  I asked, though I didn’t actually say fuck, it was more implied.

Ms. Stephanie is another student’s mother and she occasionally volunteers at the school, both in Snugs classroom and other classroom’s as well.

Let me start off my saying that I love the school.  Overall, it’s a great environment that is nurturing and fun and Snugs adores his teachers.  I recently told someone that if people were really destined to do and be certain things in life, these women were destined to be pre-school teachers.

Ms. Stephanie though….I’m not a fan.

As for his lunches, I’m pretty particular about what my family eats.  I’ve previously written about how I was diagnosed with a rare form of Lymphoma in my 22nd week of pregnancy.  I was able to safely undergo chemotherapy treatments while pregnant, but after my son was born, I wasn’t able to breastfeed.  One of the chemo meds in my R-CHOP cocktail was known to transfer through to breastmilk and it wasn’t safe for Snugs to ingest.

My only option, if I really wanted to breastfeed, was to “pump and dump” for eight weeks….at which time I would be finished with chemo treatments and my breast milk would no longer be the equivalent of taking a sip from a sink in Hinkley, California.

I tried desperately to do it.  I pumped in the exact intervals that were suggested, I even pumped during my final chemotherapy treatment so as not to lose any ground.  I followed every tip I got from the lactation consultants at the hospital….including the one who told me that breast milk could save my son from developing Lymphoma someday….ouch! Right to the heart.

I scoured the internet and “support” groups for more advice, including local and online La Leche groups, but gave up after one woman suggested I just stop going to Chemo….because, as she so hopefully advised, “what’s more important than being able to breastfeed your baby?”  

I told her I thought having a mother who was still alive in six months was more important than being able to breastfeed….and I might have also told her to go fuck herself.

Regardless, no matter what I tried, my body just wouldn’t produce and I felt like I was  failing as a mother, a job I already felt insecure about.  My son had been born six weeks early and weighed four pounds, four ounces at birth.  His early arrival wasn’t unexpected given everything that was happening.  In fact, it was anticipated and the goal had been to get to 32 weeks.  I made it to 32 weeks and a day before my water broke at home.

Snugs was what the doctors called, a “routine preemie,” in that they knew a lot about how babies born at 32 weeks react to life on the outside.  We were in great hands, medically, but as his mother, I wanted desperately to provide all his care.  I’d already carried him in a body that was diseased and then evicted him too early.  Not being feed him the way nature  intended made me feel incredibly ashamed.

One afternoon, while my son lay in his incubator in the hospital and I sat behind a curtain in his room, hooked up like a milking cow, I started to sob.  It was a painful process, I was exhausted and stressed and had finally reached my emotional maximum.  As I sat there crying, I heard a voice on the other side of the curtain say, “Hello?  Are you OK?”

It was my high risk obstetrician coming to check in on me and see how my son was doing.  I unloaded.  As I wailed on and on about my shortcomings, she held my hand and listened quietly.  When I was done, she said, “Honey, look at what you’ve accomplished” and she pointed toward my son.  She was right.  I’d delivered a miracle.

Despite everything, he was really perfectly healthy and he was exceeding expectations daily.  I felt better, but I still felt guilty too.

As a means of making it up to him, I made the decision that when the time came to introduce solids, Snugs would never eat anything that came from a can or a jar.  I bought only wholly organic foods and I spent hours steaming and pureeing and freezing my concoctions.  I researched super foods and then made sure to incorporate them in  everything I made.  I read books, online articles and queried our pediatrician to make sure I wasn’t leaving anything of important nutritional value out.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to repair the imaginary damage I wrought by my failure to breastfeed, but as the years have passed, I’ve gained some perspective too.  I truly believe in the power of good, clean eating and I do my best to seek out the healthiest options for myself and my family, but I’m not an extremist.  We eat our fair share of crap from time to time….but I can guarantee that as long as I’m preparing his meals, Snugs will never know the pleasure and the heartache (heartburn) of washing down a full can of Beefaroni with a glass of Tang.

So, with all this in mind, I was a little confused by Ms. Stephanie’s apparent condemnation of the items in my sons lunch box.  Some days, I make him a grilled cheese sandwich.  Sometimes, it’s macaroni and cheese.  He takes PB&J, turkey and ham roll-up’s, pasta and homemade meatballs, chicken nuggets, hummus and pita bread, crackers and cheese, pizza bagels and muffins, corn bread, zucchini bread and banana bread for snacks.  Every bit of it is either made from scratch, by me, or produced with organic and responsibly sourced ingredients.  It’s not like I’m sending him with a can of Spam, or some Cheese Whiz and a box of Bugles.

Of course, I also include a treat most days.  Like homemade pudding, or a chocolate chip granola bar, oatmeal “cookie” bites, fruit snacks, Pop Chips or Pirates Booty.  I believe there has to be a balance between nutrition and fun, or the groundwork you’re setting won’t last when the kids have the power to make their own food choices.

I decided to seek out Ms. Stephanie to discuss the issue.  I had an idea of who she might be, but I wasn’t entirely certain until late last week when I casually asked Snugs, “Hey, is that Ms. Stephanie?”

I saw her a few more times between then and today, but she was always preoccupied with a group of children, or chatting with a teacher, but this morning, I got my chance when we both exited the school at about the same time post AM drop-off.

Me:  Excuse me, are you Stephanie?

Stephanie:  Yes?

Me:  Hi, it’s nice to meet you.  I’m Snugs McNugget’s mom.  He’s in Ms. J’s class.

Stephanie:  Oh, yes, hello.  Nice to meet you.

Me:  Hey, the last few weeks, Snugs has been coming home and telling us that his lunch isn’t healthy.  Some days it appears he’s not eating any of it and he comes home starving.  He says you’ve told him his lunches are “fun foods” and not healthy foods and this seems to be creating a bit of a barrier for him at mealtimes.  What’s up with that?

Stephanie:  (Looking a bit red in the face).  Oh, well, it just seems that his lunches are lacking in fruits and vegetables most days, that’s all.

Me:  I see.  Are you a pediatrician?

Stephanie:  No

Me:  You must be some kind of dietician or nutritionist then?

Stephanie:  Well, no.

Me:  Hmmm, so what exactly makes you qualified to offer commentary and advice to my four-year-old regarding his meals then?

Stephanie:  I’m not being mean to him and I’m not singling him out.  I talk to all the kids about healthy eating.

Me:  OK, but your soap box speeches are apparently shaming my kid out of eating his lunch, so I would appreciate it if you mind your own business, especially given that you lack the qualifications to dispel dietary advice.

Stephanie:  My intention isn’t to do any harm.  I’m just really aware of the importance of healthy eating and I know it can be a struggle sometimes to get kids to eat things like fruits and vegetables.  I just try to reinforce a positive message.

Me:  That’s nice, but you don’t know anything about us.  For instance, did you know that for breakfast this morning Snugs had a ham, cheese and avocado omelet made from eggs I plucked directly from the butt of a free ranging chicken?  (That’s not entirely true….I bought them directly from the farmer, I imagine plucked them directly from the butt of a free ranging chicken….so it’s kind of the same thing).

Also, the ham came from a food share I belong to that sources 100% grass-fed beef, pork and poultry from local farmers within a 250 mile radius of New England, raised on pasture and with no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones.

Oh and he did likely meet any recommended servings of fruit this morning when he also ate the Triple Berry Chia Pudding I made for him.

After school today, he’ll likely have an apple or banana with peanut butter, maybe veggie sticks if he’s still hungry and for dinner we’re having pot roast with carrots and potato’s and salad.

Stephanie:  (Silence)

Me:  So, I guess you can say that I’m also really aware of the importance of healthy eating.

Stephanie:  (Silence)

Me:  So, moving forward, you’ll leave the parenting of my child to me?

Stephanie:  (Silence)

As we stood there just looking at one another….I can play the stare down game like a boss after years of having to utilize it in the workplace….I heard someone calling to me from across the lawn at the entrance to the school.

It was Ms. J.  As she jogged up to us with a giant smile on her face she said, “Oh, good.  You’re getting to know one another!  I’ve paired you up as chaperone’s for the Science Museum field trip on Friday and I was hoping you’d get a chance to meet before then.  See you both Friday!”

I turned back to Stephanie.

Me:  (Never one to miss an opportunity to make an uncomfortable situation 10x worse) Well, this is probably going to be super awkward, huh?

Stephanie:  (Silence)

Me to myself:  I’m totally bringing a can of Vienna Sausages and a jar of pickles on Friday.

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