Thursday, August 14, 2014

An Introduction to Lunch Lady Land

Last fall, I decided it was time to get a (little) (paying) job after spending ten years as a stay-at-home mom. Working for the school district so I wouldn't need childcare seemed to be the way to go. Applying for a job ten years after your last one is every bit as difficult as people say it is. Thank goodness for Facebook, or I would never have been able to track down the three required references.

I didn't set out to be a lunch lady, but that was what was available. Jobs at the school district are hard to come by, and just getting an interview involved a connection made at a long-running local Bunco game and some downright providential timing. The job description said I needed skills like "counting" and "lifting", so I figured I'd be OK even though I had no prior food service experience, apart from a few months in high school when I served in the dining room at a ritzy old-folks' home. I'd never eaten a hot school lunch a day in my life. But I've been feeding and washing up after my family for ten years. How hard could it be?

Pretty hard, it turned out. I knew that there would be two of us to get the lunch out for 160+ students and clean up afterwards. I knew I would work 2.75 hours a day. I never really put together what kind of pace that would entail.

For the first week, I came home from work and laid down on the floor. I took two-hour afternoon naps. I was sore all over. It was pathetic. I think part of the exhaustion came from having absolutely no frame of reference for much of what I was doing. Becky (who cooks and serves and does the work of at least two people) did a great job of training me, but we don't always speak the same language. When she asked me to quarter some tomatoes and then added --"into eight pieces"--, I'm pretty sure a little smoke wafted out of my ears as my brain worked to process that instruction. Eventually I got the hang of things.

So here's what I do:

First thing is to prep and put out the salad bar. Every day we have salad greens, two fresh raw vegetables (carrots, celery, broccoli, or cauliflower), fresh fruit, canned fruit, and a canned vegetable. After a lifetime of singing "I Love You a Bushel and a Peck," I am inordinately pleased that our boxes of tiny kid-size apples are labeled "one bushel." On days when we have leftovers from specialty salads (tomatoes, lunch meat, hard-boiled eggs), we put that out first. Students must take two "scoops" from the salad bar, or four if they don't want an entree.

I love the salad bar. It's hard for me to tell how much the kids actually eat from it, though, as they dump their trays before bringing them to me to wash.

Most days Becky walks by and says, "Isn't it pretty?!" It's part of our routine.

After I put the salad bar out, I wash any dirty dishes we may have from lunch prep. It's mostly just what I've used, since Becky is an absolute machine and has usually washed up everything else. Once the first shift of kids has finished eating, I start washing their trays. Here I am with my dishwasher, Hobart. I wish I could take Hobart home with me.

I am fortunate to work at a fairly new school, with a new kitchen. It is very ship-shape, with a place for everything, and everything in its place. That pleases me.

On special occasions  (e.g. when the school board is visiting), Becky likes to wear a chef's coat and hat. I demur, but she did make me wear one for a picture. Becky is small but very feisty (also kind and generous, and fun to work with.) This is a weirdly hunched and neck-less picture of me, but I will include it anyways.

I love having a uniform, especially such a simple one. I have five t-shirts (red or black) and five black aprons. Every weekend I wash them, and I count down the next work week as my stack of aprons and shirts diminishes by one each day. I wear jeans of my choice, and the ugliest black industrial shoes on the face of the planet. They are often sporting a film of dried soap suds in their crevices, which looks pretty sinister if you don't know what it is. I know you all are disappointed, but I don't have to wear a hair net. I can't tell you what a huge relief that was.

I thank God that I get to work at my boys' school, where I already knew the principal and many of the teachers and students after a few years of volunteering there. Nels waves "hi" as he goes by my window; Willem blows me a kiss. Lots happens at my tray window, as a matter of fact.

More on that next time.