Every day at lunch in elementary school, I watched my classmates open their colorfully embossed Bionic Woman, Incredible Hulk, or Dukes of Hazard lunchboxes and remove such delicacies as Wonder Bread sandwiches, Cheetos, Twinkies, Ding Dongs.
I would have given my left pinkie for a lunch like that.
After talking, getting a drink, going to the restroom – anything to put off the inevitable – I would eventually open my lunch. Putting my old, non-themed lunchbox in my lap, I would remove my sandwich, bring it to my mouth as fast as possible, take a quick bite, and return it to my lap while chewing. Never quite fast enough to remain unobserved, I had to then brace myself for the questioning that usually followed.
“What IS that?”
My dear mother made 100% whole red wheat bread, which more often than not rose only about half of its intended height while baking. As a result, my bread was about twenty shades darker, two inches shorter, and an inch thicker (if you didn’t cut it thick enough it would fall apart) than Wonder Bread, making it unrecognizable to your typical elementary school kid.
I could handle sandwich questions, but the fallout from the Thermos proved too much.
“What is that SMELL?”
This query frequently followed my opening the Thermos I would find in my lunchbox in lieu of a sandwich. My dear mother, wanting to provide me with a hot lunch on occasion, would put warm leftovers – usually in the form of a casserole or goulash – in the Thermos. The resulting smell, anywhere from slightly stinky to absolutely nauseating, would permeate the lunchroom – well, okay, at least the area surrounding my table – almost immediately.
I finally decided to take matters into my own hands. I went into the restroom and flushed the entire contents of my Thermos down the toilet. It was exhilarating.
Thenceforth, I Thermos Flushed on a regular basis. It was going swimmingly until the day I emerged from the bathroom stall, empty Thermos in hand, and came face to face with my little sister Debbie. Triumph was in her eyes – it’s not often a younger sibling is given such a gift as endless blackmailing possibilities against an older one.
As luck would have it, my sister decided to really think through the issue. She saw the light. And everything changed.
She, too, could Thermos Flush.
We became co-conspirators, flushing dozens, possibly even hundreds, of stinky lukewarm meals down the toilet during our remaining years of elementary school.
My kids have to make their own lunches. Technically. But without my intervention, they’d walk out the door with a handful of crackers and candy, if they’re lucky enough to find any. So I do my part by cutting apple slices, laying out bread for sandwiches, making sure carrots are in each lunch bag, lunch bags are in backpacks.
Minor, minor intervention.
As they walk out the door, I can’t help but wonder if they Thermos Flush. Reality dictates that they do. Apples and carrots and raisins and applesauce cups most assuredly go uneaten.
But here’s what I’m banking on.
My kids will always feel a little guilty about their Thermos flushing. Debbie and I did.
My kids will understand that, no matter what their mom put in their lunches, she did it out of love. Debbie and I did.
Years later, when they know that the confession will be received with laughter instead of exhausted tears, my kids will confess, apologize, and thank their mom for all the lunches over the years.
Debbie and I did.