Lunch Box Enlightenment

It’s interesting watching your child grow up. Every day, I find it fascinating to see my daughter evolve into a little sentient being. With each turn of the season, she acquires new skills and traits; she tries them out like she’s trying on a pair of new shoes, seeing if they fit, or if she needs to wait a while to grow into them a bit more.

Some of her progress comes with age; such as how she learned to use utensils while eating instead of her hands, or use language instead of grunting (though I still sometimes have to remind her to use her words instead of her “whines”…). Other progressions we have to work at a bit more diligently; such as our current challenge of channeling her emotions of frustration into productive choices, rather than knee-jerk reactions of lashing out. But then there are the moments where she exhibits such clear, forward thought I am almost taken aback by how far she really has come in her 6+ years on this planet.

Such evolution was exhibited this morning, at breakfast, when we were putting her lunch together. We typically go through a question/answer session where I give her choices for her lunch items. This works well for both of us; it allows me to limit her options to those items I feel are healthy, but still allows her to feel like she has some control as to what she packs by being able to make the selection herself (i.e. from my pre-determined list for the day). When we got to the sandwich choice, the options were PB&J or ham & cheese. She quickly and calmly replied, “Well, Mom, I’m kind of near the peanut table sometimes, so I think the ham & cheese would be a better choice, you know, just in case”.

She was referring, of course, to the table in the lunch room at school cordoned off for those students who have been identified as having a peanut allergy. She has several friends who are required to sit at the “peanut table” (though I also learned today the peanut table is for egg and wheat allergy kids, as well – it’s amazing how much educating they do with the students for the safety of the others), and knows that it can make them sick if they get near peanuts. In that one quick choice, simply about which sandwich to bring (or not bring, in this case), my daughter illustrated to me how effortlessly she thought about the well-being of the other students in her world and, “just in case” it might harm them in some way, she didn’t want to chance a mere peanut encounter. It seems like such a simple thing, that little culinary conclusion; but to me, that quick comprehensive decision, at 6+ years of age, seems huge. Especially given that a mere 20 minutes earlier she was bemoaning the fact that my husband hadn’t bothered to seek out her approval on the breakfast menu for the morning, and she was none-too-shy about letting us know how unhappy she was with the presented fare. To watch her shift that quickly from self-centered squalling to a focused concern for others was really something to witness.

It’s heartening to think that it’s working; all of those efforts to teach her compassion, all of the repetitive reminders about being nice to others. The messages are getting through; they’re sinking in. Not only that, she’s applying them to the world around her even when we, her parents, aren’t present. Just like learning to tie her shoes on her own; she’s now navigating these new skills independently as well. And that’s all we can ever really hope for.