Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Awkward Years

I've been bringing my lunch to work in an effort to save some money lately. It certainly has been working! I expected that it would work, but I didn't expect the feelings I had as a third grader to resurface.

pic taken of the table at the Shake Shack

My first year of private school was in third grade. I was in a new-school with a bunch of kids who knew each other. And I wanted to be accepted. 

So when the new girl would bring her lunch box, put it under her desk, and the juice would spill without fail, one might develop a complex. 

I was the new girl. And I did.

When the teacher first spotted the spilled juice, I sat at my desk frozen. Embarrassed. Red in the face as I was told to march to the bathroom to get paper towels to clean up the mess. And I did so feeling humiliated and sad that I couldn't be like everyone else. Neat. Put-together. Without incident. 

I begged my mom to give me lunch in a paper bag, with juice boxes and plain sandwiches (not the rich Puerto Rican food I got to bring in).  I got the speeches about less fortunate kids to shush me, and about eating what we have. At school I got speeches from the teachers about my spilly lunchbox.

And so it went on until the day I had the courage to prove to my mother that the thermos was defective. I got a new thermos. My spilly lunch box days ended.

Yet those feelings of embarrassment and even anger were somewhere in there all these years later. Last week when my very Puerto Rican rice and beans spilled a bit from its container into the plastic bag I wrapped it in, I had a moment. A flush of a school kid embarrassed by her lunch. Because somewhere in there, there is the need to blend in a Corporate environment. To be neat. Put-together. Without incident. Especially, when you're the only Latina attorney in the office.

And then I laughed. I laughed at myself because it was no disaster. I laughed at how much I took those moments to heart, blaming myself for not being perfect or fitting in, and directing all that energy to a thermos. I laughed that I unwittingly carried it all those years, even though no one cares, and no one is watching my every move.

I told the little girl from years past that it was OK. This happens to lots of people and it's no big deal. And the little girl finally understood it had nothing to do with her. It was just a thermos. Just a lunch box. Just new-girl feelings.

It's funny how childhood events can be reawakened by a faulty piece of Tupperware. My food didn't spill, just some sauce from the beans. My saucy 'Rican food rocks, but I threw out the container.