By NICK CHILES
I was pleased to see that the class trip was a big hit. My daughter Lila’s third-grade class had hit the Salvador Dali exhibit at Atlanta’s High Museum in full 8-year-old curiosity mode. They bounced around the cavernous rooms, wide-eyed as they took in Dali’s unique and whimsical view of the world. They had studied him in class; now they were seeing the real thing, close enough to touch (but keep your little hands off!). A painter who could put the Christ child, floating rhinoceros horns, a waterfall and a lovely portrait of his wife all in the same painting was clearly a genius in their eyes. The High Museum made it extra fun by creating an audio-tour that was narrated by Dali’s “mustache.” When the third graders put the headphones on and heard the silly, French-inflected voice that was supposed to be the painter’s mustache, they all broke into giggles. Nothing like seeing giggles coming from 8-year-olds in an art museum.
I was one of two class chaperones, meaning I had to help the teacher and the other chaperone, a grandma, keep 20 8-year-olds moving along the exhibit at a brisk and coordinated pace. Yeah, right. Certainly you’ve heard the expression “herding cats.”
When we reached the end of the exhibit and the kids had to regretfully hand back the audio kits, we announced that it was time for lunch. They were happy. And that brings me to the point of this here diatribe.
We sprawled out in the museum’s courtyard and handed the students the lunches they had brought from home. I was having a great time eating with my little Lila and sharing our impressions of the tour. Then I heard a whole lot of giggling and loud exclamations to my right. I looked over and saw that one little boy was struggling to put away a mammoth 12-inch sub sandwich.
“That’s too big!” one little girl said, pointing at him and laughing. “You can’t finish that!”
I agreed with her, shaking my head and wondering what form of dementia would move a parent to send a child to school with a sandwich that was bigger than my forearm. But it got worse.
A chubby girl (yeah, I know, a little mean, but I’m just keeping it real) sighed and looked down at her lap. What stared back at her was a feast that could have fed half the class, no exaggeration. The girl had about eight sandwich quarters, cut up and stuffed into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. She had a large bag of potato chips. And she had three large containers of those cheap, sugar-water-with-food-coloring bottles of liquid that we used to call “quarter waters” when I was little because they only cost a quarter. She had finished the pink one; now she was looking down at two blue bottles, wondering if she should crack open another. But it got worse.
The girl sitting next to her, who also was a bit chubby, was wrestling with a large red candy apple, covered with nuts. I don’t know about you, but I still have nightmares thinking back to those post-Halloween candy feasts as a child when I had to figure out how to eat a candy apple without losing several molars. The idea of handing one to my child in the morning and telling her to eat it for lunch at a museum…well, I really am unable to understand. I checked in with her a few minutes later and she had shorn off the top layer of hard, sticky, red lacquer—much of it of course winding up on her hands and face—leaving the abused, browning flesh of a sad little apple. But it got even worse.
Sitting next to me was another little boy. He wore glasses and he also was a bit chubby. I will call him Raymond. Raymond was steadily making his way through a giant chocolate Twix bar. When I say “giant,” I mean one of those 8 ½ x 11 candy bar sheets that you see near the check-out counter at the CVS and wonder to yourself under what circumstances any person would ever need to eat a pound of Twix. Well, I found out the answer: apparently when you send your child on a class trip.
Michelle Obama would have had a coronary.
We hear a lot of grousing in this country about the poor health of our children, and how we are hurtling scarily toward a day when like half of the population will be suffering from Type 2 diabetes. We shake our heads and wonder how we got to this point. Well, on that recent afternoon at the High Museum, I got a little glimpse at the root of the problem. My wife has written here at MyBrownBaby about how unhealthy and plain bad school lunches are, and how Congress needs to get off its behind and get a Jamie Oliver-type Food Revolution going in all of our schools. But we can't just blame Congress and schools for feeding our kids crap. Nope—some of this has to fall squarely on the parents' shoulders.
I feel compelled to add one more fact: all of the children with the ridiculously inappropriate lunches were African American. Of the 20 kids in the class, about 8 are black. The rest are a little model U.N. of white, Latino and Asian. But only the black kids had the bad stuff. And, I might add, the black kids were the chubsters. Come on, people, we gotta pay more attention to what we are feeding our children! So many of us fight so hard to keep off the bulge as we get older. Let’s not put that burden on our kids before they even learn their times tables.
* * * * *
About Our MBB Contributor: Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestselling tome The Blueprint: A Plan for Living Above Life's Storms co-written with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. Nick also writes for several publications including Essence, where he frequently pens stories about fatherhood and manhood.