Ernest Hemingway once wrote: “Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it.” I had no intention of using hunger as a tool to teach my son a lesson, but it certainly made an impact on him this week!
On Monday, Justin asked me to make him a “special lunch” for school. The school provides lunch on a daily basis, but I think Justin was feeling a little neglected because GWE was out of town and I was spending a little more time with the baby. I happily agreed to make him the best lunch he’d ever had. (Yes, I did not realize it at the time, but I was about to set a high standard which would be impossible to maintain over time.)
With Garrett supervising from his high chair, I proceeded to make Justin a smoked turkey and lean roast beef sandwich on Milton’s bread with a little Thousand Island dressing (instead of mustard or mayo), a spinach salad with feta cheese and cherry tomatoes (sesame dressing on the side), 2 peaches from grandma’s garden, and a Danimal’s Smoothie. As a final touch, I put a “special” note on the top. I packed everything in his lunch box with enough ice packs to take down the Titanic and then we all left for school.
After dropping Garrett off in his room, Justin and I proceeded to his classroom. As we got to the kids’ gate, Justin ran up to it in an effort to hold it open for me. Unfortunately, there was another child holding the gate for his mother at the same time. The children exchanged a few words….and then fists began to fly. I quickly grabbed Justin by the shoulder and pulled him aside. I got down to his eye level and in an angry tone I told him that I was not ok with him hitting and that we had talked about this many, many times before – and then I added the final, “I’m very disappointed in you.” Justin had been in too many physical confrontations recently and it needed to stop. I was frustrated and felt that some sort of punishment was necessary.
So – I told him that I was taking away the lunch I had made for him. He would have to make do with the lunch the school provided. In that moment, Justin was destroyed. He begged and pleaded to keep the lunch, but I said “no.” He cried and he tantrumed…and I still said, “no.” I instructed him to go and play on the playground while I spoke with his teacher. With tears in his eyes, he sulked off.
When he was out of earshot, I told his teacher what had happened and about the punishment. But, then I explained that I didn’t feel right completely taking away his lunch. (No punishment should last 5 hours.) So instead, I asked her for a place to hide it in the classroom and instructed her to give it back to him at lunch. I felt satisfied with this. He would feel the sting of losing something he wanted (temporarily) and I felt like he was still getting a healthy lunch. Justin continued to cry as I left, but I knew that it would all be alright in a few hours.
At 6:00pm, I arrived back at the school to get the kids. My first stop was to get Justin. While he was preoccupied outside, I collected his belongings and signed him out. Realizing that his lunchbox was not in his cubby, I went over to other area in the room where lunchboxes and jackets were stored. Still, no lunchbox. All of a sudden, a pit grew in my stomach. I went back to the cabinet where I was instructed to “hide” his lunchbox and there it was….UNOPENED. His lunch was still inside!!
I stormed out of his classroom and up to his teacher while holding the lunchbox. I saw her face go pale and her jaw drop.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I’m so sorry! I forgot!!” She continued to explain that she took a break during lunch and forgot to tell the other teacher. She kept apologizing and I kept reassuring her that it was fine – accidents happen. But, I’m pretty sure my body language betrayed me and the truth was, I was pissed!! Justin saw me from across the playground and then he saw the lunchbox. He ran up to me and gave me a big hug. “Daddy! You brought my lunch back!” I bit my tongue and lied. “Yea buddy, I heard you had a much better day, so I brought it back.”
He told me how sorry he was for hitting his friend and that he had apologized to him later in the day. Clearly, he understood that his actions had consequences, but all I felt was guilt. As we got into the car, I told him that I was also sorry and I unwrapped the sandwich per his request. He happily ate half of it on the way home while humming with happiness.
By the way – everything was still ice cold thanks to my Syracuse-learned, Igloo, ice-packing abilities! GO ORANGE!!