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Small Talk: Feeding frenzy

I’ve discovered you don’t really know children until you see them eat.

Since the library is pretty quiet these days, I’ve been drafted for lunch duty — sometimes double lunch duty. It is equal parts fascinating and exhausting. Obviously, lunch is not what it used to be and has become even more convoluted when the plague dictated a more stringent COVID-prevention protocol post-Jan. 1.

Each lunch supervisor gets two classes to oversee. I have first graders. They are both adorable and terrifying. If you’re lucky, the classes’ separate designated eat-and-play areas are close together. If not, you’ll want to set up a step-counting app, because you might break a record. You will spend 45 minutes hiking the 30 yards between play areas, back and forth, back and forth, counting heads, making sure the mean girls haven’t made anyone cry and that no one is missing a limb.

You might have to referee who gets which bouncy ball. If there even are any rules to the chosen game, you need to monitor Billy, as he keeps making up new ones, insisting they are in the official rule book, if such a thing existed.

The kids come out to a designated outdoor area, sit on towels 12 feet apart, and eat their lunch. Once finished, they mask up and can play in that same area with their 8 to 10 classmates. Knowing that BFFs would challenge the 12-foot regulation, we were issued 12-foot bamboo sticks. We must refrain from smacking anyone with them — just measure the 12 feet and shuffle bodies around. It helps, but they still argue.

It is astonishing how long they take to eat their lunch. I expected they would race through eating to get right to playing, but this isn’t true. These particular first graders happily spend the dining window shouting Truth or Dare challenges, or chanting “Chug, chug, chug,” to get someone to drink their milk too fast and spit it out their nose. They discuss the menu like gourmets, who’s eating what and whether it is any good. There is also the “Would you rather eat this or that?” game which always degenerates into grossness.

I have also noticed a strange phenomenon wherein one day the whole group runs around happily together without much fuss. The next time, that same group, in the same area, is unhappy about everything from keeping their masks on to sharing the balls or soccer nets. My respect for teachers continues to climb.

Thus far I haven’t had to panic and call the nurse on my walkie-talkie, and am able to calmly dose out a “Do I need to take the ball away?” and “Perhaps you’d prefer a time-out on the bench?” style of discipline. It doesn’t take too much with first graders. If I’m transferred to fifth or sixth graders, my bamboo stick may just get a mind of its own.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer packing the large, economy-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. Contact her at [email protected].

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