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With Coffee Spoons



That’s not how I’ve measured out my life, but rather with brown lunch bags. I figure that in 20 years of marriage and Christopher’s 13 years of school, I’ve slapped together nearly 8,000 sandwiches. Usually I go down to one lunch bag a day in summer but Christopher has worked full time this year, so the two-lunch routine will continue right up until he leaves for college, which will be soon.

The benefits of taking your lunch to work or school rather than buying it include eating healthier food and saving buckets of money by avoiding the cafeteria, fast-food joint, or roach coach. I’ve joked that I’ll accept an easy payment plan if Christopher and David would care to start paying me the roughly $45,000—calculated according to the money gurus—that I’ve saved them over the years.

I can’t get too corny about a fledgling leaving the nest since Christopher is 6’4”—that’s more on the order of a pterodactyl flying out. But as he prepares to leave home I’ve done what every parent probably does, which is to sift through the parental accounting sheet I keep in my head. I hope that the “good” column outweighs the “bad,” and that he’s equipped and ready to face the world.

Christopher is an only child, or “single child” as these children are somewhat coyly referred to. David and I have tried not to spoil him, and made conscious, repeated efforts to help him understand that his words and actions affect others, and to be mindful of this in all he does. When I worriedly filter through the last 17 years of being his mother, an incident of clearly spoiling him stands out, and it relates to his lunch.

“Hi Mom,” his clear, bell-like second-grade voice came over the phone. As I did every day, I had sent him off to school that morning with his lunch bag marked “Dingman, Grade 2.” He had gone to the office at St. Barnabas to ring me up with important and grave news.

“I think you gave me Dad’s lunch by mistake. It has tomato on it.”

In Christopher’s second-grade world, this egregious error rendered the sandwich inedible. In hindsight, of course I should have said, “Just take the tomato off.” Or done as my mother would have and said crisply, “If you don’t like it, throw it on the floor and step on it.” But since St. Barnabas is only a six-minute walk from our house, I threw together a tomato-free sandwich and took it over there. Maria, the school secretary, chuckled when I walked in.  I retrieved the offending sandwich and walked back home where I ate it myself.

You can’t protect your kids from everything of course. Mistakes, failures, and heartache ambush us regularly, along with life’s joys. It’s unrealistic, but I’m secretly hoping that Christopher doesn’t face anything out there much worse than a sandwich with tomato on it. 

About treacycolbert

I make my living by writing about health care. I've always written about life's chastening effect, but just as a way of sorting it out for myself. After years of doing this and keeping these essays quiet, I decided to put some of these impressions out there on this blog. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.

8 responses »

  1. As a parent of an only…er, single…child, I especially love this post, Treacy. I remember lingering at the gate watching Miranda on her very first day of preschool, until she came back and said to me, “You can go now, Mommy.” And then, in what seemed like moments later, I recall leaving her at the dorm in Boston, and soon it was the airport bus for what was to have been just a summer class in Oxford, and we’ve been her hopeful helpless faraway parents ever since. They tell me this is what’s supposed to happen. Good luck with all of it. Come visit soon. (Your writing is always so moving, but never overwrought.)

  2. Although not the parent of an “only” or “single”, but of two, does that make my spoiling and worrying double? I loved this piece. I’ve read it a few times and it brings tears to my eyes each time. I can so relate. The spoiling, the worrying, the guilt (Jewish and Catholic applies), the wishing and hoping for the best for our children as we send them off into the world… And I don’t think it ever stops, at least it hasn’t yet for me. I know all of the emotions you are feeling right now, Treacy. Wanting to hold on, retracing every step and misstep we’ve made as parents up to this point of letting go, and then gathering up the courage to let them go is such a difficult process, especially for a good mom. I’m thinking of you and wishing you all an easy transition.

  3. Spoiling and Worrying! Another poem title! Thanks for reading, Jan, and for your kind wishes, which mean so much. xxoo

  4. Beautiful. Evocative. And, as always, so touching. I love your work.

  5. I’m at my desk at work, a basically dreary day, and now I possess a smile with a few tears. Thank you, Treacy.


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