Published for Motherhood Matters on (click HERE for the link)

Every day at lunch in elementary school, I watched in wonderment as kids clicked open their beautifully embossed “Bionic Woman,” “Incredible Hulk” or “Dukes of Hazard” lunchboxes and removed such delicacies as store-bought white bread sandwiches, chip bags and cream-filled pastries.

I would have given my left pinkie for a lunch like that.

Keenly aware of what my own lunch contained, I would strategically delay opening it until everyone appeared sufficiently distracted. I would then place my old, outdated lunchbox in my lap, take a lightning-quick bite of my sandwich and return it to my lap while chewing.

Lightning-quick was usually too slow.

Some curious kid would stare at my sandwich and ask, “What IS that?”

With as much swagger as I could muster, I would maturely reply, “A sandwich, duh.”

Yet it was a legitimate question. My mom baked 100 percent whole red wheat bread and rarely gave the yeast enough time to do its job. So my bread was a good 20 shades darker, two inches shorter and an inch thicker (because if you didn’t cut it thick enough it would fall apart) than store-bought white bread, making it virtually unrecognizable to your typical elementary school kid.

I learned to cope with sandwich difficulties, but the fallout from my Thermos proved too much.

Since the family budget didn’t allow for cafeteria lunches, my mom felt duty-bound to provide hot meals on occasion. This was gallant in theory but painful in practice. No matter how far under the table I would hold my Thermos of lukewarm goulash or casserole while opening it, the odor would immediately permeate the air.

Kids would wrinkle their noses and ask, “What is that SMELL?”

Swagger is rather difficult to muster under such circumstances.

After years of recurring Thermos-opening angst, I decided that enough was enough. At the beginning of lunch one day, I casually walked 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.

I froze, carefully watching her reaction. Blackmailing possibilities were endless, to be sure. But my sister was too clever to be so short-sighted. She thought through the issue and understood its life-changing significance.

She, too, could Thermos flush, forever freeing herself from Thermos-opening angst. This was infinitely better than blackmailing her sister for the rest of eternity.

But my sister also realized that this freedom was assured only if Mom never, ever found out. If she knew about the flushing, Mom might do something unthinkable like station herself at both of our lunch tables to watch us eat every last bite of goulash.

So my sister and I became co-conspirators, flushing dozens — possibly hundreds — of lukewarm meals down the toilet during our remaining years of elementary school.

Fast forward several decades.

Technically, my kids have to make their own lunches. In reality, I frequently stand beside them and drop healthy food into their lunches since they often “forget” to do it themselves.

As my kids walk out the door and I remind them I love them and to please eat everything in their lunches, I know darn well that some apples or carrots or nuts or raisins will get thrown away.

But here’s what I’m banking on.

My kids will always feel somewhat guilty about their Thermos flushing.

My sister and I did.

My kids will understand at some point that no matter what their mom put in their lunches, she did it out of love.

My sister and I did.

Years later, my kids will blurt out a confession, apologize, and thank their mom for all the lunches over the years.

My sister and I did.