school

Confession: 'I am intensely competitive about my kids' school lunches.'

Every mother secretly desires to be more loving than her own mother, more attentive, more creative, more hands-on. In our ludicrous quest to be Alpha Mum, we crave approval, from our children and from the world at large.

But really, what’s the point of selflessness martyrdom if no one notices? Alpha Mum ensures ‘extreme acts of mothering’ have high visibility, it’s part of the ‘good mothering’ display: some crochet natural-fibre socks, others attend school functions – I pack awesome lunch.

Every morning when I face those three stinky receptacles I remind myself that I don’t just pack a lunch, I pack my love. (Ok, maybe occasionally I put in a bit of resentment.) I make sure my packed ‘love’ is a few notches above the rest. It’s how I compensate for being a working mother, for missing sporting events, assemblies where the kids got their academic achievement awards, never volunteering on canteen and occasionally forgetting to pick them up from the bus stop. The lunchbox is where I remind my kids of what a stupendous mother I am, hoping that in years to come, when they recline on the therapist’s chair, they will forget my absence and remember my lunch.

Listen to Mandy explain the levels she goes to on This Glorious Mess with Andrew Daddo and Holly Wainwright: 

I don’t care if my kids are as pretty, smart or as sporty as my friends’ kids, I just want my lunches to be better.

It’s shallow, but it’s the competitive edge that gets my feet on the floor at 6am. I have been making lunches for 18 years. As a mother of five with the eldest 20 and the youngest just six, I calculated that I will end up spending 30 years packing the box. You get less than that for murder.

I wasn’t always a lunchbox Lama. In the early years I packed some pretty ordinary plastic. Like my own mother, I was rocking the Vegemite sandwich, brown banana and a few stale arrowroots. If I put in a popper then I thought I was cranking some serious ‘mother of the year’ action.

My middle daughter Sophia is extremely clever. For years the children asked for better lunches. Nothing happened. One day Sophia said, “You should see Rosie’s lunch. Her mum makes mini spinach pies and carrot cake. And nori rolls.”

One of Mandy’s lunchboxes. Yes, that’s Camembert. Image supplied.

I hated Rosie’s Mum. I couldn’t stop thinking about Rosie’s lunch. Every day when Sophia came home from school I’d say ‘what did Rosie have today?’ I felt like such a failure. How dare Rosie’s mum raise the bar on boxed lunches!

You don’t just fluke exceptional lunches. You have to plan them. I cook extra quantities of chicken schnitzel so they can be sliced up for a schnitz, swiss cheese and lettuce sandwich. With pesto and aioli optional. I buy focaccia bread and make salami and cheese toasties.

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On Sunday evenings when I used to relax with a glass of wine, now I bake low gluten banana bread and bake off some vegies for antipasto plates. I cut up apple and pack it with slices of lemon to keep it fresh. I make fruit salads of blueberries, strawberries, kiwi fruit, black berries. I make tiny cheese platters with water crackers. Nuts, vegetable crudites… but it never seems enough. There is always a Rosie’s Mum out there, trumping you with a lunch box hand knitted in kale.

‘I have been making lunches for 18 years.’ Image supplied.

What is it about a stupid lunchbox that fills me with anxiety? Every morning, these small empty boxes remind me of my inability to measure up. And why do I need my lunches to be better than other lunches?

Why have I started asking the kids, “How was your lunch?” And worse, the other day I said, “Are your friends jealous of your lunch?” Why do I need my lunch to be better than other mum’s lunches? Does the quality of my lunch necessarily reflect the quality of my mothering?

Why do I feel so smug when the kids come home and say ‘Everyone loved my lunch’? Why can I no longer opt for the boring lunches my mother provided without acres of mother guilt?

My mother’s lunches taught me resilience, they taught me how to remain optimistic in a world when there was nothing to look forward to but an iced vo vo and a bruised banana.

‘What is it about a stupid lunchbox that fills me with anxiety?’ Image supplied.

Until yesterday I thought I was queen of the lunchbox. Then Sophia comes home and says: “You should have seen Rosie’s lunch today. Her mum puts in notes.”

Hand-written affirmations of Rosie’s amazingness. Things like ‘You Light Up My Life’ and ‘I want to have adventures with you’.

What a try hard.

So I gave Rosie’s mum a run for her money. I’m a bit of an artist, so this morning, instead of food, I put in drawings. Of food.

I ran twice around the kitchen on a Lunchbox Victory Lap!

Eat that, Rosie’s Mum!

The full episode of This Glorious Mess is available for free in itunes, Soundcloud, or here:

In case you want to look at some more lunch box ideas that may just make you cry, click through the gallery below. 

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