My youngest son Alec and his best bud Demaris were holding court at my kitchen island last week. I was at my station flippin’ grilled cheese. Sandwich making was the subject of their all-knowing declarations. “I think you can tell a lot about a mom by the kind of sandwiches she makes,” said Demaris. “One kid at school gets a few crackers and cheese for lunch, instead of a sandwich. How does he survive seventh hour math?”

Overhearing can be better than hearing, as any knowing mother of adolescents knows.

I butted into their highly irrational conversation. Frankly it piqued my vanity. I am regarded as one of the all-time great lunch makers, or at least I am a legend in my own mind in this most misunderstood art. Even my nephew Jasper in the great Pacific Northwest is aware of my reputation. Jasper is the son of my beloved brother Patrick, my junior by seven years. On a recent visit, J begged me to make him a milkshake and a sandwich, just like I used to make his father. “But, we just had breakfast,” I protested.

But of course lunch making is not time bound. I have been known to start school lunches for Monday on Saturday afternoon, squirreling away the last few cookies from a prize batch in sealed wax paper, or hiding the best three clusters of grapes under the tortillas in the fridge where they will lie undisturbed until pressed sure service. One can never be too careful if one is to avoid the mad morning rush of inadequate lunches.

The parents of Suzie (of SuzieQ cookies) had it down to a science. They had a combination safe to keep their five mad hungry kids from raiding the lunch treats. After dinner, they would unlock the safe for the child whose week it was to make school lunches. I sure wish Suzie still had access to that mid-century modern relic. (What our own kids don’t know is that Suzie and I plan to employ the same safe tactics to lock up their cell phones this summer at the beach.)

Back to the present landlocked island. “Well, now lunch making, that is a feat where I can compete.” An audible groan from the 14 year old son. Translation: oh no, here she goes again. “I must rate a 10,” I exclaimed. “No mom,” said Alec, “you get a 6.” “But that’s barely passing,” I protested. The imp smiled “Then get rid of the whole wheat, and buy me white bread, and your ratings will soar.”

I could wax on and on about lunches (quite literally) but then I might lose my readers in my brown bag reverie. (I am obsessed with Kroger’s giant sized lunch bags.) The tale I want to tell concerns the third leg of the Alec/Demaris tricycle, their buddy Hadley. Had’s parents divorced last year and I asked his mother, a scratch cook of the French variety, what I could do to help normalize his transition to living at two homes. Without hesitation, the ever wise mother said: ” You could pack his lunch. Had raves about Alec’s lunches.” (I followed instruction as this is the same formidable woman who introduced my son to beef bourguignon.)

boys on couch

And so I have. All through the boys’ 8th grade year, I packed three lunches, one for each of my boys still at home and one for Hadley. I also pack extra treats for Demaris but, from what I understand, delivery is intermittent, at best. I know what Hadley does and doesn’t like: lettuce, meat, no condiments, partial to pretzel bread. Brown Cow yogurt, no cream on top, chips, no store-bought cookies, and NO fruit in cups. I even offered lunch making consulting to Hadley’s dad when the three boys had a ritual last sleepover at the old homestead, on a school night. From what I understand, Christopher performed admirably.

I can confidently tell the boys that whether it’s crackers and cheese, pre-soccer beef bourguignon, or a crack lunch with homemade cookies, the first ingredient is love.

“You can do no great things, only small things with great love,” said Mother Teresa. She said and lived it best.