Friday, August 15, 2008

Out to Lunch

I never in a million years thought I would be able to utter these words, but here they are: I have lunch duty. Five days a week, one-hundred and eighty days a year, ostensibly thirty -but in reality 45- minutes a day, I oversee the lunchtime logistics of a cafeteria full of ravening children.

Lunch duty was not my idea. I did not dream of lunch duty as a child. I did not grow up thinking "ooo! I can't wait til I have lunch duty." No, lunch duty was a raspberry blown to me by the universe, a brutal wedgie perpetrated by fate. Lunch duty, to put it bluntly, sucks.

It goes down like this: at 11:30, I make a mad dash for the cafeteria, praying to get there before the various lunchees, bobbing like diseased whales down the battered hallway, make it to the door. Once there, I direct traffic, making sure kids are seated three to a bench in the correct order. That accomplished, I force them to keep their mouths shut and their heads down on the table until I call them, one class at a time, to go get their Cheezy Snacks and fruit cups (because 85% of the school lives below the poverty line, everyone gets free lunch). My lunch charges are K-2. Some of the kids cry. Some of them kick. The kindergartners do not understand the concept of standing up and maintaining linear formation, and must be herded, like sheep, toward the food serving maw.

I do not recognize myself during lunch duty. I stalk between the tables, rounding on errant children. I tell them no. I order them to tell me their names and their grades, and force them to restate the lunchroom rules until they toe the line. I tell them I'm watching them. I speak sternly and do not smile.

This is all it takes, it turns out, to become a stranger to yourself. Too many children, the stink of sour milk, a little unwanted responsibility.

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