This past school year I spent every Wednesday in my first grader’s lunchroom enjoying the noon meal with her and her classmates. You learn a lot about what swims around in the mind of a first grader when you share a meal with them on a regular basis.
A favorite topic of conversation was teeth. Almost every Wednesday some youngster would proudly turn to me – mouth wide open with semi-chewed lunch food – and point out a new lost tooth, or a tooth that had to be pulled, or a tooth that was about to fall out or a tooth that was growing in wrong. Indeed, teeth are important, but to a first grader they must be worth their weight in gold because boy do they want to get in on that conversation.
You’ll be happy to know most kids get a dollar or two these days from the tooth fairy, but I’d like to talk to the sparkly, winged creature who left one kid $10.
Other topics of interest included my food preferences. For example, if it was fajitas day, kids wanted to know why I liked so many tomatoes. If it was cookie day, kids wanted to know why I didn’t take one – a truly unimaginable decision to them. If I didn’t take any fruit they’d want to know why.
I tried to be conscious of how I responded to every inquiry because at that age we want kids trying all kinds of foods. I could usually dodge the question by saying something like, “Oh, I had fruit for breakfast.”
Conversations were usually light hearted and focused on food, teeth and if there was a special program coming up. The kids were well behaved when given direction, and I can’t recall hearing any negativity like, “Did you see Jane’s outfit,” or, “I can’t believe Tom is playing with Bob.”
Naturally, however, kids would get excited if they could sit next to their bestie, and I felt accepted when they got excited to sit next to me.
I also remember a conversation about one kid’s dad falling off a ladder. That announcement was followed by every kid at the table proudly displaying the body part that has received the worst boo, boo so far. Luckily, most of the injuries described were abrasions and bruises, though one poor fellow fell on the ice this winter and bashed out his two front teeth. That looked really painful. He said he kept cutting his tongue on the sharp nubs that were left before his folks could get them fixed by a professional.
The most striking conversation happened this spring when a boy who seemingly was happy as could be out of no where said his parents were getting divorced.
I looked up quickly to see how his peers responded and somehow they seemed to know the comment was meant for me. In the tender tone we moms take when necessary I asked, “Is that difficult?”
He responded by saying he knows his brother is sad because he cried in the driveway.
I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say in these situations, especially when it’s not my own child. I sat quiet for a moment waiting to see if he had more to say. I know enough to know that I’m supposed to listen. He didn’t say anything more and looked at his plate and looked at me, and looked at his plate and looked at me.
“I know your parents love you and your brother very much,” is how it ended. I know that to be true as I met both parents a time or two at school gatherings.
You never know what will come your way when eating with first graders. It may be a little spray from someone talking with their mouth open or it may be a very unexpected revelation. Either way, to dine is divine and to do it with kids is delightful.
You can contact Emily Bialkowski at firstname.lastname@example.org