We Are Both Right

Getting Ready for Kindergarten

What's on your first day of school checklist? ©Sam LeVan/stock.xchng

Building a nest of toilet paper. Check.

Talking about stranger danger. Check.

The perfect backpack and lunch bag packed with crayons, sharpened pencils and a marble notebook. Check.

Colors, counting to 100, letter sounds. Check, check, and check.

Being convinced of the importance of wearing sneakers instead of “heel shoes” on the playground. Check (finally).

Giving up naps. Well, we’re almost there. Three weeks after her day care teachers started phasing out naps to prepare the children for kindergarten, most of them are making it through dinner before falling asleep for the night. She wasn’t for a while and I was getting really worried. (But that was totally karma coming back to bite me since I used to silently snicker when parents would whine: “How is my baby going to go a whole day without a nap when he starts kindergarten?”)

So, what else is left to do before kindergarten starts? I feel like we have been talking about it forever with our daughter who will have her fifth birthday a few weeks after the big day. That puts her a little on the young side, but I know she is more than ready.

She must also have some sort of mental checklist going. The other day she asked me — in tears no less — how she would ever figure out how to unwrap a sandwich.

Since she shares her brother’s repulsion for grey chicken nuggets, I only assumed that I would be making lunch for her to bring in every day. I just never thought about the puzzle that is aluminum foil. So I promised her we would practice. She stopped crying and has asked for a trial run every day since.

The other big deal is getting ready for the bus ride. She’s been crying about that for the last three years on her brother’s first day of school — because she wanted to get on the school bus with him. Now that it’s her turn to finally go, she’s nervous. Where do I sit? Who will I sit with? What if I don’t know where to get off? But mommy, I’m going to miss you. Cue tears.

Thankfully the school district does a trial run the week before school starts. She will have a bus ride with her class around the parking lot at school. It’s going to be fun, I promise her.

When the day finally arrives, I know she will do just fine. This is the beginning of many years of preparing and learning and growing. She’s ready. And I’m ready. Truthfully, I’m excited.

There’s a chance I won’t even cry as the bus pulls away — not that I won’t have a tissue stashed in my pocket just in case. But I look at this first day of kindergarten as a milestone in my life as a mother. My child is ready to fluff up those wings and I can’t wait to see her confidently fly through those doors, ready to take this leap.

How close are you to being ready? Is your little one excited about the first day of school? What else have you done to prepare?

Hey Jamie Oliver — do you need an intern?

Do your kids brown bag it? Or buy school lunches? ©Steve Zazeski /stock.xchng

I’m raising Jamie Oliver’s protégé — which means that on this first-day-of-school eve, we’re less concerned with loading supplies in the backpack or laying out the perfect outfit. We’re back to talking about grey chicken nuggets.

That’s right. Grey chicken nuggets. My soon-to-be-fourth grader’s kryptonite.

And if the new school’s cafeteria doesn’t pass his stringent inspection tomorrow, it will be home-packed lunches every day this year too. (Except I’m not waiting for the official verdict, considering he’s in the same district with the same food service vendor. I was already at the supermarket this afternoon stocking up on sandwich stuff and snacks.)

So for our family, the convenience of writing a check to fill a pre-paid meal account isn’t even an option. Either my husband or I pack a school lunch for L. every morning before work. It’s a part of the daily rush I could honestly do without, but it does make me feel better that he’s eating a healthier meal than the school’s processed mac-n-cheese, tater tots and ketchup that counts as a vegetable.

Oh, except for Wednesdays, which if the same menu holds from last year, is breakfast for lunch day. The pancakes and waffles have been deemed acceptable by my resident gourmet. So now I only have to come up with four creative ways to serve tuna, chicken, ham and peanut butter/banana sandwiches with fruit and a complex carb snack.

Extra work aside, it does strike me as kind of funny that he turned out this way. It’s not even that he’s an especially picky eater. He is just selective. And has a leaning toward finer foods. (I think I know where that comes from.)

Still I’m not the type of mom who calorie counts for her kids, or freaks when they ingest sugar. I do want them to eat healthy and I push that when I can, but I wouldn’t tackle you if you handed my child a fruit snack made of corn syrup. (I might just stow the rest of the pack away in my bag and not return them later).

So the fact that my son is interested in where his food comes from (and just where do grey chicken nuggets come from?) makes me proud. He’s taking charge of his own health — not because I haven’t — but because he understands how it factors into the bigger picture.

And there doesn’t seem to be any degree of peer pressure that is making him sway off course. I’ve asked him at various points during the year how many of his friends bring lunch and how many buy. There’s a different answer every time, but it seems that the majority buy school lunches most of the time.

And I’ve asked him if it bothers him to bring his lunch sack and sit at the table waiting for his friends on line in the cafeteria, or if any of them make fun of him for bringing lunch. His shoulder shrug says it all. He really doesn’t care.

As long as there’s fresh bread and something he can identify inside that aluminum foil, he’s happy.

How about your school-age child? Do you pack lunch, or do they buy lunch at school? Also, are there any superior school menus out there? I’d love to know.

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School lunches are bought not packed in Amanda’s house.  Which makes me think that I might just have to check out their school menu, if we ever consider moving.

In Defense of School-bought Lunches

©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I have enough faith in our school district to let them feed my children every day for lunch. Do you? ©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I don’t know what my children are eating for lunch today. As I write this (the first day of school here where we live) my kids are at their respective institutes of learnings, getting ready to enjoy their midday meal. They both opted to buy, despite us not yet having a calendar spelling out what the food choice for the day will be.

They like buying their lunch most days and that’s OK with me. Is it because our school district more progressive than most when it comes to healthy school lunches, offering organic, all-natural fare? Not really, although they try — serving grilled chicken Caesar salad, roasted chicken (or turkey), omelettes and even orzo salad on some days.  But don’t get me wrong, they serve up their fair share of chicken and pizza nuggets and nachos too.

I let my kids buy lunch because they want to (and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t), the price is right and it saves me a step in the morning. I have rules — they have to buy the lunch being offered or the alternative (generally a sandwich of some kind or a bagel with yogurt and a string cheese) and they have to promise to take and eat all the components of the meal that is being served — the entree itself, plus milk (flavored is acceptable) and the snack, which is generally fruit (sometimes canned, yes, but fresh most of the time).

Do they actually eat all of those things? I have no idea. But they tell me they buy them (and I believe them) and I feel like if this variety of food is on their tray it’s hard for them to throw it out. The ladies who work in the cafeteria (and see how much food is wasted every day) may scoff at my logic, but there it is. And according to research, I’m not too far off in my thinking that school lunches aren’t all bad — if a child is wise about his purchase.

According to the USDA, schools must “provide lunches that are consistent with the applicable recommendations of the most recent of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans including: eat a variety of foods; choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits; choose a diet moderate in sugars and salt; and choose a diet with 30% or less of calories from fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat.  In addition, lunches must provide, on average over each school week, at least 1/3 of the daily Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C.”

Seems pretty reasonable and I think my district does a good job of following these guidelines while offering up things the students actually like to eat. Where kids get tripped up it seems, is when they buy lunch items a la carte — some pudding here, some ice cream there — and they don’t buy what the food service director has put together. (I don’t know how it is by you, but in our district, they do not monitor what the kids buy so it is conceivable that a child eats only dessert for lunch.)

Do I worry that my kids are eating things that aren’t as healthy as they should be when they buy their school lunch? I suppose a little, but honestly, I’m not necessarily always serving the highest-quality things either, frequently turning to boxes, cans and bags for our sustanence.  A poor excuse, I know, but it is what it is. My concern above all else is that they eat something. The school isn’t serving them bags of sugar or giving them some salt to lick, it’s a basic meal that covers most of the food groups.

All that and an education too? Works for me.

What about you? Do your kids buy lunch or bring? Which would you prefer they do?

Suzanne and her husband do such a great job of making lunch for their kids every day. Forget about my own offspring, I’m going to their house every day for my midday meal!

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Who Wants to Put Dad in Detention


©tenneysmit/stock.xchng

When it comes to the first day of school, who puts the kids on the bus? ©tenneysmit/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

My daughter Tess is starting her first day of kindergarten next week. She’s an only child and I’m viewing the day as a momentous one for all of us (Tess, her dad and me).

Her dad, my husband Frank, works quite a bit. He leaves early in the morning and isn’t home until late at night. He’s home on weekends, but he misses a lot of what’s going on in Tess’ world. I do my best to keep him updated.

I think it’s important for Frank to be around on the first day of school, if not for the whole day, at the very least to put Tess on the bus with me. Frank usually leaves for his office around 6 a.m., the bus is scheduled to come at 7:45 a.m. Frank says he wants to watch his daughter get on the bus for the first time but simply doesn’t have the time.

This is turning into a big issue for me. Now that Tess is starting school, I can no longer keep her up until her dad gets home from work. I know she isn’t going to see him a lot and it upsets me. I don’t see the big deal in Frank going into work a few hours late. How can I convince him that this is very important and he needs to stay home?

– Disappointed Mom

Suzanne: Feeling like you have to be in two places at one time is never easy, but in this case I suspect your husband might have a little more leeway than he’s admitting. It doesn’t sound like he is fearing for his job if he delays his start time by two hours. From what you say, he just can’t “make” the time. And in that case, I would say that there’s still more wiggle room in your argument discussion.

I know from my own experience that unless you are arriving late or leaving the office early every day, a morning appointment here and there is not scrutinized. And I’ve made it a point to be at every first day of school and other important parent activity in my children’s schools whenever possible. Same goes for my husband — who is in the minority among his peers in his status as a dad. (He’s someone who spent years wringing his hands over the prospect that he would probably have to miss his son’s first day of kindergarten because he would be in the classroom welcoming his own students to school. When the time came, he was working in a different field and was right there with us. He still talks about that day.)

But there was one year when an early meeting on my part coincided with the arrival of my son’s bus on his first day of second grade. My husband was still planning to see him off (and take pictures) but I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out a way to be there. It wouldn’t have been career-ending for me to skip that one meeting — except that I was on the agenda to make a presentation (talk about adding insult to injury since public speaking is not my favorite early morning activity). Then I got bumped. Then I got rescheduled for another topic. Ugggghhhhh! Turns out I did have to miss the first day of school fanfare and yet we all survived.

My frustration stemmed from the fact that there’s so much more to that first day of school than just walking your child safely to the corner and nodding your head at the bus driver. Pride. Excitement. A mental reminder of just how quickly you are moving through the years and why that drive to the college dorms is looming in the not-so-distant future. The first days of school are numbered.

So even though you don’t want to push to the point of resentment, it would be worth bringing up subject again with your husband in a less direct way. Ask him about his office culture and how he feels about what lies ahead when the first day of school gives way to chorus concerts, science fairs, field day and career day. Get a feel for how other people in his office handle family commitments, doctors’ appointments, etc.

And suggest that if there’s the least bit of flexibility in his day, he might want to save those precious slots for times like these because while he’s doing his job for the benefit of your family, his bonus comes in the form of working in some face-to-face family time wherever possible since that’s the stuff memories are made of.

Amanda: I’m trying to remember back to my first day of school. I think I wore a pink or a red dress with flowers on it. That’s about it. I’m sure it was a huge day and I’m sure my parents were proud, but some 30-odd years later, I’m scratching my head over the details.

Having said that, I do remember both of my school-age children’s first days of school very clearly, so I understand your concerns. The first day of school (especially the first first day of school) is an important one, especially to parents. I do my best to make sure that day goes as smoothly as possible. For you, that means having your husband there and I get that.

The thing is, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to presume that Frank can take off without any repercussion. It’s his job, I think it needs to be his call. I do think another conversation is in order. Try to be calm as you explain why it means so much to you that he is there for your daughter’s big day. If after your talk he still can’t make it, understand that given the choice, he’d probably rather be with you and your daughter. So do your best to make him part of the day. Suggest he write a note to put in Tess’ lunchbox and take plenty of pictures for him to view (you can even text him a couple on your cell phone). Maybe the three of you can have a celebratory meeting over ice cream over the weekend where Tess can share with both of you all the special moments of the day.

No matter what happens, good luck!

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O.K, your turn. What would you tell Disappointed Mom? Is she asking too much of her husband? Should he take a few hours off of work to put Tess on the bus?

If you have a problem that needs two sets of answers, send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.