Monday, September 11, 2006

Boys v. Girls

All I can tell you is that I've got two of each and after extensive field work I've decided that boys and girls are separate creatures. With my girls the big question is whom will they sit with at lunch but with my boys they only care about what's in the lunchbox ("You didn't give me enough food Mom, I need at least three cookies--Dad gets three cookies why can't I have three?")

Grace started the school year convinced that she would be the only female in the whole middle school and that her only hope for survival would be to put in with her best friend Paige up at Goldenview instead of another year at Northern Lights. Andrew and I walked through the pros and cons of staying at Northern Lights then left the decision up to her with that eternally popular phrase, "We won't tell you what to do, you need to make your own decision here." Of course that really meant that we'd let her make her own decision--as long as it was the right decision.

As she is eager to please (thank goodness) she went with Northern Lights but we hear about it every couple days or so. I suspect it's just her standard "Wear and Tear" technique but it's got me convinced we're in for a long year.

Take for example today's trauma. She loves "hot" lunch and longs for it beyond anything except perhaps having pierced ears and owning a dog because yes, I send my children out into the world with cold lunches each day. Her longing for it only grew when she discovered that middle schoolers get special hot lunches. Special food meaning Fast Food. Yup--hot dogs, pizza, Taco Bell, hamburgers, French fries, pretzels and cheese--most of it provided by local fast food restaurants.

Well I've been voted the World's Cheapest Mom seven years running (you'd be surprised how many flossings you can get out of just one string of dental floss . . . kidding) and I refuse to shell out that kind of money for my kids to eat French fries and "Teriyaki Wonder Bites" every day so when Grace saw a sign-up sheet the first week of school asking for volunteers to help out in the cafeteria in exchange for a bona fide, steaming hot, grease dripping piece of pizza she jumped at the chance.

Each day she worked she would get hot lunch in exchange and she and her new best friend Kelly (evidently the only other female permitted in the school) decided it was a deal too good to pass up. They signed up for the whole week--all the time they were allowed, indicating that it's a popular place to hang out--and she's talked about it on and off every day since then.

Today was her first day in the work force and, remembering this, when I picked her up from school I immediately asked for a report from my little Julia Childs. Normally when I pick them up I have three to one odds that there will be tears from Grace over some tragic event or impending doom--anything from global warming to human rights violations in China to nuclear holocaust to the Middle School Christmas Dance, it's just the age and it's just girls--or maybe it's just my girl I'm not sure--so when I have a topic of conversation guaranteed to be hydro-free I'm all over it.

"So how was it?"

Sigh. "Alright," she said, looking out the window.

I cringed, knowing that something somehwere had gone horribly awry and that I would be the one to pay for it. But I forged on, determined to be caring and sympathetic, and I asked, "What happened?"

To paraphrase--the original conversation had a bit more gulps and hiccups and sniffles--Kelly's mom didn't want her working in the cafeteria for whatever reason so Kelly wasn't there which meant that suddenly instead of being one of two cool kids chosen above all others for a coveted position culminating in genuine Dominoes pizza Grace became merely the lonely freak who had to do time with Mr. Michel by serving lunch while every one else ate with their friends. Great.

Trying to make the best of things and promote optimism I said, "Well, did you still get hot lunch?"

"Yes." Silence.

"Well, that sounds pretty good, doesn't it? How was the pizza? Pepperoni? You like pepperoni . . . and with chocolate milk! You like chocolate milk!" By this time I was grasping at anything that might convince her life might still be worth living even if it meant sounding like a bad scene from Better Off Dead.

"I guess."

It was too late. Hope was gone. She is stuck there the rest of the week without parole and even the promise of Teriyaki Wonder Bites isn't enough to pull her out of her depression. Afterall, she was forced to wear a hair net. A hair net! (Maybe that deserves caps--A HAIR NET!) Hayden, her arch-nemesis who looks for ways to taunt her and wound her saw her in her mandatory hair net and those crinkley plastic gloves and he's now going to destroy what little reputation she has left.

I tried to cheer her up by suggesting that she might come down with some horrible disease that would preclude her from fulfilling her sentence but even the hope of contracting malaria in the next eight hours wasn't enough to bring back a smile. I guess her only choices now are either move to Brazil or unionize and bring down the Establishment.

But there is some comfort for me in knowing that these things never last very long and that by tomorrow the eye of the storm will have passed by bringing better weather on the horizon. But I'm pretty sure it's going to be a long year.