I want to get fired desperately. My job is stressful, monotonous, and demanding. I get job performance reviews daily where I’m told that what I’ve done is inadequate, boring, and sometimes even, just plain bad. So why not fire me?, I ask my formidable boss. Please, I’m begging you, fire me!
My boss happens to be my sixteen year old daughter. The job I’m talking about is Chief Lunch Maker. But she refuses to unburden me of this task. Sometimes she’ll cry when I say I can’t do it anymore. Once, she even stomped her foot and fisted up her hands like I suppose she would have done as a toddler. But she wasn’t the tantrum throwing kind back then. That’s only been more recent, when the teen years kicked in and wow, can my girl throw down.
I also make breakfast and dinner everyday too, but for some reason, it’s the lunches that do me in. Maybe it’s the unrelenting, every day-ness of it…. At six a.m. as the coffee is brewing, I’ll carefully choose the roundest tomatoes and only the greenest parts of the arugula. I’ll add chicken and quinoa and toss it all together, just so. I’ll wrap up her favorite chocolate chip cookie and even sprinkle lemon juice on her freshly sliced apples so they don’t turn brown when she retrieves them from her lunch bag later in the day.
But by the time she’s home from school and unpacking her backpack, and with it, her lunch, the reviews come in. I’ll be making something for dinner when she’ll say some version of “The apple wasn’t crunchy enough.” or, “I told you I don’t like quinoa anymore.” Since it’s after five p.m, the wine I’m sipping helps ease the impulse to take the mostly empty lunch containers and throw them against the wall. “Can’t I just give you PB and J tomorrow?” I ask/sigh. “On gluten free bread?” she replies, “that would taste disgusting!” The disdain in her voice drips like the bottom of the leaky tea carafe she pulls from her backpack. The same one I handed her, warm with Earl Grey and the perfect amount of honey, as she headed for the bus that morning.
Of course, I could always quit. In fact, I’ve tried. There have been times when I tell her, plead really, that she is now in charge of her own meal plan. I remind her that she’s 16 years old. A junior in high school – she can do this! But instead, she’ll dig in her heels, narrow her eyes and enunciate clearly to ensure my understanding, “I can’t make my own lunch, Mom. I have no time! I go to school! I’m busy and work hard and it’s like you have no idea!”
“You have no idea how hard I work!” I say.
“At what?!” She demands to know.
“At life!” I scream back.
When she was in kindergarten, her teacher gave the class an assignment to draw what they thought their parents did while the kids were at school all day. While many of them drew their mommies and daddies at work or taking care of younger siblings, my daughter drew a picture of me napping. I got it framed.
At the time, our family make-up was very different – both dogs, the cat, two frogs, as well as my husband, were alive and well. Her perception that I did nothing but nap, while in fact both my husband and I worked full-time, amused me. And it made me happy that she didn’t notice how distracted I was by work…marriage… life! At five years old, she couldn’t imagine that I had a life outside of her care and well-being. Clearly, that hasn’t changed.
This many years later, as a widow and only parent, every responsibility falls to me and me alone. Not just the meals but the scheduling and schlepping, the constant doing of everything… plus the worry about my only child’s overall well-being – finishing high school, getting into college, falling in love, finding a career – hopeful that she will thrive in a world that especially now, seems crazy. It’s exhausting, yes, but I don’t have time to nap.
So even when she complains that the grapes were squishy, or the pesto pasta not warm enough, perhaps I should see the lunch bag as half full. My daughter doesn’t just want me to make her lunch, she needs me to. Somehow it translates to her feeling whole and safe and loved in our now small family of two. I guess I’ll keep at it.
Lunch recipes welcomed.
Melissa Gould lives in Los Angeles, CA with her teenage daughter and neurotic dog. She’s been writing about her young widow experience for The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Kveller, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, and more. Find her @widowishwidow and www.wid