Better Parenting through Lunch Preparation

shutterstock_114916579An incredibly exciting/demoralizing thing happened last week: we got an entire carton of apples from our local co-op.

Exciting because we now have something with which to keep the boys and their outlandish appetites at bay for at least a few days. And demoralizing because we’ve reached the stage where the half-life of a 35-lb bushel of apples is measured in days rather than weeks.

Abstractly, I knew that feeding seven boys was going to be an imposing task, even in these pre-teen years. I just didn’t realize that it would become such an all-consuming activity. And I was largely unprepared for strength of the herd mentality.

Here’s how it shakes out:

1. A boy asks for an apple. (Pick any boy; they all work for this particular illustration.)

2. The remaining boys (by which I mean all the fully-teethed ones you didn’t pick in Step 1) are convinced that their happiness — nay, their very survival — is entirely dependent on their ability to procure an apple of their own. And STAT.

3. Now everyone has apples.

4. Repeat ad infinitum. So I’m never giving out an apple; I’m always giving out a half dozen. Hence, the shockingly short life expectancy of our barrel of apples.

I’ve reached the point where I no longer think of food individually, but only in groups divisible by six. I can’t count the number of times in the past few years I’ve taken something tasty out of the refrigerator, realized that consuming it will leave me with only five tasty somethings, and put it back. In the Susanka house, five is an utterly worthless number.

Now, thinking of the boys as a collective when feeding-time rolls ’round is a harmless enough thing, I suppose, and perfectly natural. Cooking/feeding in bulk is a necessity with large families, because time and energy (and patience) are finite. But it feeds (heh, sorry) a less harmless tendency of mine, as well — it’s easy for me to not only feed them as a group, but to parent them as a group (rather than as individuals). And as their radically-dissimilar personalities have already shown me with punishing regularity, that’s about the biggest mistake I can make. (Also, for some depressing reason, the one I’ve made with the most frequency.)

shutterstock_151446731So what do I do? I make them individual lunches.

Yeah, it’d be easier to just throw 12-14 PB&J sandwiches on the counter and turn the gang loose.

A lot easier.

But for me, it’s important to deal with them one at a time, because I don’t do that enough. So, when I check into the kitchen at lunchtime, I pull as many sandwich fixins’ from the fridge as I can hold and start taking orders.

Cormac doesn’t much care what his lunch is like, just as long as it’s easy to hold as he cuts his incredibly-cute swath of destruction through the backyard. So he gets PB&J. David always wants one PB&J sandwich, and one with Peanut Butter, Neat. James is actually the least predictable, because he sometimes double-fists the PB&J, and sometimes elects to go with one PB&J and one meat-and-cheese option. Mark always wants Pepper Jack on his pair of Meat-and-Cheesers, while Dominic wants anything but Pepper Jack cheese. And Sean goes for the exotic flavors, like smoked Gouda and mesquite-rubbed chicken breast. (Why, yes. He does order from the adult menu when we go to restaurants. Always.)

It doesn’t take that long, I suppose, though I must consciously suppress the tendency to imagine how much faster it would be to slap together fourteen generic sandwiches instead of the “made-to-order” ones on the counter in front of me. And when I’m finished, there’s always a bit of pride to go along with the fatigue. There I stand, a suburban Leiningen, surrounded by the empty jelly containers and whitened bones of my once-proud culinary accomplishments, now picked clean by the ravening hordes. But I’m not thinking of them as hordes. And that’s a victory, in my book.

Then, David comes back inside: “Papa, we’re done eating our sandwiches. …Could we have some more apples?”

shutterstock_67418755Attribution(s): Images provided by Shutterstock.

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