Tales From The Lunchroom: What The Hell?!

Four days a week, I bundle my hair up into a hat (my choice, no they didn’t supply me with a hairnet) and stomp off down to the school to slop out food, wipe tables, open bottles of milk for kindergartners and keep the peace among the 1st-8th Graders.

I’m accumulating insight and material and getting a great sense of the flavour of life at my boys’ school as a result. I’ll be sharing stories here occasionally under the “Tales From The Lunchroom” tag. Here’s today’s tale.

It’s a nice school: a Catholic school in a small town that still has a town center as well as affluent developments in its surrounding former farmland. But still, a 14 year old girl is still a 14 year old girl – or more likely part of a pack of 14 year old girls – and I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little intimidated at times.

Standing on the edges of the 8th Grade tables, trying to clean up or get them to quieten down a little, I can feel the wall excluding me, as if it were yesterday and not umpty-however years since I was 14 too.

It doesn’t help that these girls are mostly taller than me, some by a long way (and, at 5′ 7″ or so, I’m not used to that). And they’re gorgeous. They don’t all know it (though some do), but they are all just beautiful, with glowing skin and shiny hair and apparently the pharmaceutical industry has managed to wipe out the old acne pizza-face of yore, so they just brim with life. Since it’s an American Catholic school with a strict dress code, when they try to conceal all that vitality by covering it up with racoon-eye make-up they get sent to the office where there is a handy supply of make-up removing cloths waiting for them ;)

Nice as the school is, I’ve been a bit surprised (appalled?) at how little respect the adults were given. Lunchmoms, teachers, visiting nuns, no-one’s presence seemed to matter. No matter who rang the hand-bell, the chit-chattering, shouting, screaming and food-throwing would continue.

Last year.

This year it’s getting better. I like to think that my email to the principal – containing the words ‘your lunchroom’ and “chimps’ tea party” – had something to do with it, but perhaps it’s a coincidence.


Yesterday I was wandering around near the 8th Grade tables, collecting trays and keeping an eye on things, when I heard one of the girls shout,

“What the hell?!”

I couldn’t help myself. My head whipped around in the direction of the voice. I mean, 8th Graders are 14 and semi-adult and I know that their conversations are not going to be as pure as the driven snow. But there’s a time and a place, you know? Even a mild “H. E. Double Hockey Sticks” in the school cafeteria shocked me – old prude that I am.

When I was growing up, it was understood that there were certain times places and company in which you were On Your Best Behaviour. In front of adults was one of them. In front of women, doubly so. Walking down the street as a family, if we passed a group of guys whose language was getting a little fruity, my father would rumble,

“Watch the language, fellas.”

Turning and seeing a man with his wife and children, the group would immediately start shuffling and looking at their feet, like naughty eight year olds and mutter apologies.

“Oh aye, right. Sorry mister.”

It was just understood.

Nowadays, if TV and a walk down my local high street is to be believed, any kind of language goes, anywhere, with no apologies. Walking around with my impressionable boys, I quite often issue a reproving, “Dude!” when guys with foul mouths swagger past us, but I am met as often as not, with an incomprehending stare.

Now I was hearing this kind of thing creeping into the Catholic school cafeteria?

I turned towards the pack of 8th Grade girls, ready to frown disapprovingly on the speaker, and caught her friend nudging her. The culprit slapped a guilty hand over her mouth and stared at me in genuine horror. For saying “what the hell?!” and being caught.

I pretended I hadn’t noticed a thing.