As part of my participation in My 500 words, I am posting what I write each day.
Natural insecurities that can occur in a young school age kids can be overcome in different ways. Some kids try to be a part of the crowd, some bully. For me, it was often enough just to carry a lunchbox. At my little elementary school where I attended from Kindergarten to second grade, kids gathered at noon in the lunchroom. There was no kitchen, everyone brought lunch from home. You could brown bag it like some kids. The hippy boy with hair down to his shoulders used the same brown bag every day.
But most kids had metal lunchboxes. Some were rectangular and some were rounded on the top like a standard mailbox shape. In fact, someone may have had a mailbox lunchbox. Nearly everyone’s lunchbox had its theme. Many were Saturday morning cartoons or recent films. One’s lunchbox could be their individuality like a t-shirt or bumper sticker. That was the kid with the Scooby Doo lunchbox, there was the girl with the generic princess one.
We sat in the lunchroom and loudly ate, our lunchboxes open before us and we regarded them like the boxes of our morning cereal. Pictures of our favorite characters were displayed for us as we lunched on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes there would be bologna or something else with cheese. The popular store-bought cookies brought envy, or one might have some leftover dessert stuffed into a flimsy plastic baggie.
The tumultuous din of the lunchroom continued unabated. School staff and volunteer lunchroom moms would try to encourage a quieter atmosphere on occasion. But it was like trying to hold back the tide. From time to time, one would hear a bag being popped like a balloon, which would stop the noise for a half second before it began again. Ironically, bag popping was a punishable offence.
After lunch we would go out to the playground to work off our energy. Our lunchboxes would wait in lines against the wall. Then we would carry them into the classroom where they would wait for the end of school where we would carry them home.
My 1st grade lunchbox was mailbox shaped, but it had a schoolbus painted on it with Disney characters riding along. The day I got the lunchbox I felt like a big kid. (Kindergartners only went a half day and didn’t eat lunch at school.) I carried my new lunchbox around until I was requested to leave it in the kitchen until the first day of school.
Only a few weeks into the first grade, I got off the school bus and was approached by some big kids. I don’t know what they said or what I said, but I began to feel threatened. The lead kid was close enough to me, so I swung my lunchbox in an arc and brought it right down on the top of his head. He reached out and tore a corner off of a paper I was bringing home and I burst into tears. That got them running away.
The next year I saw a girl clobber a boy with her lunchbox and it looked like it nearly split the boy’s head open. Reflecting back now, the metal edge may have just cut him, but he had blood running down his head and we all just stared. I realized what a formidable weapon I had used on the bully a year back and was glad I hadn’t hurt him bad enough to get me in trouble.
The next school year I was at a different school in a different state. The cafeteria cooked us lunch. We could bring lunch from home if we wanted and I did once in a while in my Speed Buggy lunchbox from the second grade. The thing is, it took way longer to finish home lunches and the upper grades would be coming in before I was done.
I got bullied a lot more in that school and had no lunchbox. Even if I did, I knew better than to try to hit someone and bloody their head. But I missed the comfort and identity I had once had. But a new life had begun, and the old security was gone.