Every morning it's the same thing: "Please don't eat on the playground." I repeat this phrase a dozen or more times, sometimes a few extra for the kids whose listening is most impaired by being in fourth or fifth grade. And then I have to reflect, not for the first time, the reality in which they are being turned loose.
Many are not sent out of the house with any sort of healthy breakfast. The cereal with milk, glass of orange juice, Flintstones chewable vitamin and the occasional slice of cinnamon toast is not readily available in most of the homes from which our children make their daily trek to our playground. If it were, it's also quite possible that there is no adult awake or around to make sure that any or all of those ingredients get fed to them.
Instead, they graze. Often they walk out their door with whatever was on the counter from the night before: a piece of pizza, a tube of Ritz crackers. Then there is the inevitable stop at one of the corner stores located between home and school. Nobody behind the counter will ask a paying customer about what makes up a healthy breakfast. It would be nice to imagine that there would be some halfhearted lecture from the cash register about how those flaming hot Cheetos are best saved for an afternoon snack and probably shouldn't be the first thing that gets dropped into the empty stomach of a nine year old.
So often times, before the first bell ever rings, a group of our kids have been poisoned by food with enough artificial colors and flavors to bring down a rhino. Not that this will have the same effect. In most cases, it makes them even more excited and agitated just to be living in their skins and the breakfast we are offering them in their classroom as soon as they troop inside goes ignored. "Not hungry," they grumble as their sugar high begins to dip. When lunch rolls around, the kids lucky enough to have a lunch packed for them dive in, and a very similar group to that in the morning will fuss and fume about how they aren't hungry and they don't like that stuff the cafeteria is serving them anyway. Never mind that it's free and it will be the healthiest option most will get in the next twenty-four hours. Because they still have that bag of chips in their backpack that will be consumed in furtive bites in the classroom or on a corner of the playground where I will inevitably come upon them licking orange dye from their fingers and I will say, "Please don't eat on the playground."