What we feed

Teachers know. That’s why they keep food in their desks.

Years ago, when one of my children was in elementary school, one of her classmates was caught stealing food from another student. This happened in the Red River Valley in a neighborhood school where most of the children walked to school down tree-lined streets where the houses on either side had full refrigerators and pantries. A place where the last thing you would ever imagine was a child who was hungry enough, at the age of eight, to steal a sandwich “for later” so she’d have something once she got home from school. When you’re hungry, the time between one school lunch and another is a really long time.

I’ve been thinking about that little girl from long ago a lot lately as I listen to politicians talk about cuts to educational spending that include free and reduced lunches and remembering what lunchtime meant back when I was a kid. Do you remember school lunches?

Lining up along the hallway? Going past the office lady who checked for your name on a list or punched a ticket? Taking a flat plastic tray and silverware and having the items placed in just the rights spots? Do you remember the turkey gravy and mashed potatoes? The spaghetti with meat sauce? The large slabs of cheese pizza? Homemade hotdog buns and dinner rolls? The pieces of fresh fruit and cartons of milk? The lunch ladies were some of the best cooks in town.  Of course, as we got older and had Open Lunch and a little extra cash in our pockets, sometimes no matter how good the lunch at school was, all we wanted to do was run uptown and buy pop and taco chips. There wasn’t much anyone could do about our life choices as teenagers. The point was that nutritious food was there, in school, if we chose to eat it. Throughout our growing up years, most of us did whether our parents could afford it or not.

Food was the great equalizer. You were hungry and got in line with your peers. You got fed and went back to class. Maybe you took it for granted, like the fact that when you got home in the afternoon and wanted an after school snack, that there would be something to eat. Or maybe that hot lunch was the only hot meal you were going to get for the day and so you never once took it for granted.

All I know is this.

Teachers keep food in their desks. In elementary schools and middle schools, in high schools, and yes, in colleges. In communities that are poor and in ones that are affluent, too. If you ask ten politicians why this happens, you’ll get ten different answers.

If you ask a teacher, you’ll get just one.

You can’t fill a mind when a stomach is empty.  It’s elementary.





Cradle and all

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.

William Ross Wallace

The wind blew hard last week.

Minnesota might be the only state in the country where it is possible, in March, to have a tornado touch down one day and a full-on blizzard the next. Last Sunday, it was 64 degrees when I left the Cities. By Tuesday, the snow was blowing sideways past my window and the wind chill temps were below zero. Come ON, Minnesota. Get it together.

Last week, thousands of women all over the country went on strike for a day, but their demonstration wasn’t tied to any particular profession or labor union. I joined a union back in the early 1980’s when it was essential, as a student teacher, to have that million dollars of liability insurance that was required before any student teacher was allowed to set foot in a classroom full of middle school students with undeveloped regions of their brains.

Thankfully, I came through my student teaching experience never needing that insurance policy and as a union member, I have never had to strike. Actually, the only strike I was ever a part of was self-imposed. It happened when my own kids were in middle school. They probably don’t remember The Week Mom Stopped Doing Everything.  I don’t remember what drove me to it.  Like most moms of teenagers, it probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was feeling unappreciated by the snotty adolescents I lived with. All I know is that I took a stand and made my demands known. Every mom of teens has her limits; I must have reached mine.

For a week, I fed only myself. I cleaned up only after myself. I did only my own laundry. Each morning, I went to my paying job where people actually appreciated me. Each evening, I came home and relaxed. I pleasantly answered direct questions posed of me like “What’s for dinner?” with a shrug and a gently reminder that I was on strike. Once my demand that everyone get a freaking clue had been met, I went back to work. There was once again food in the fridge and peace in the kingdom. At least, that’s how I remember it.

My family may remember this differently. For one thing, I probably yelled a lot more than I think I did. There may, or may not have been, tears involved. Maybe I gave up after a a couple of days because I couldn’t stand the mess. Who knows? Life gets blurry sometimes.

This month is set aside as Women’s History Month. Women throughout the country are making their own voices heard loudly and clearly. In March, strong winds get noticed. Tornado warnings have a way of getting people to duck and cover. Roads get ice-y darn fast in a storm.

Women do, too.

And then, sometimes they strike or even march.  In March.