Dear little boy in the school cafeteria,
I saw you sitting alone today. I don’t know if you wanted it that way. Maybe you did, but it kind of felt like you didn’t. You also weren’t eating your lunch. You didn’t take a single item of food out of your enormous lunch box, which is what prompted me to walk over and ask if you needed some help.
You said, “I’m not feeling very hungry today,” and then you grew quiet. It didn’t seem like you wanted to talk, especially to some random mom wearing a volunteer sticker. I told you to let me know if you needed anything and then I went back to walking around and monitoring the room, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you and why you weren’t eating your lunch.
Maybe you had a hearty and filling breakfast. Or, maybe you didn’t like what was in your lunch box. Or, maybe you take medicine that helps you stay focused and remember things better at school, but it takes away your appetite until dinnertime. Or, maybe you were nervous. It’s hard to be different. It’s hard to fit in. It’s hard to make friends. When I’m nervous, I don’t eat much either.
When my younger son came home after the first day of school, he said the worst part of his day was lunch. It’s a new school and he had never been in a big cafeteria before. He said it was busy and noisy. He said the table where his classmates sat was full and that no one would let him squeeze in. He said he didn’t know what to do, so he sat at a table all by himself. He didn’t eat much of his lunch that day.
I gave him some advice. I told him to pick one kid he wanted to sit with at lunch and stick to him like glue all the way from the classroom to the cafeteria. I told him it was okay to ask someone to move over if there wasn’t a lot of room left at a table. I told my shy, anxious boy to be bold and not take no for an answer. I promised him it would get better.
When I saw you sitting alone today, I realized the advice I gave my son was well-intentioned but missed the point entirely. What I should’ve told him was, “If you don’t know where to sit, sit with someone who is sitting alone.” Tonight at bedtime, I’m going to do just that.
Anyhow, it was nice to meet you today. I hope you’re hungrier tomorrow, and I hope the next time I volunteer in the cafeteria, you’re sitting with some new friends.