Listen, guys. This year has been rough—like, really rough.

All our lives have been upended in ways we never could’ve imagined. Mundane activities like walking to the bus stop or going to a check-up are peppered with reminders that everything has changed. The scratch of an ill-fitted mask. The sharp scent of freshly squeezed hand sanitizer. Ahh.

These days, ‘normal’ is relative—every movement and thought colored, in some way, by the reality of a global pandemic. 

In the midst of all this is a multitude of internet essays imploring us to think positively, to seek purpose, and to find joy amidst the turmoil. My better self gravitates toward these commands. But my pandemic self laughs at them. It is essentially petty. And tired. And confused. And angry. And stressed. And just over it. 

If you came here hoping for words of encouragement or some philosophical musing on finding order in chaos, I’m sorry to disappoint.

Instead, you’ll find thinly-veiled contempt and an outlet for commiseration. Let’s be real, guys. That’s all we really want at this moment: a space to complain and to share in the bummer of universally negative things. And for that, friends—I’m your girl. 

So let’s chat about something nobody likes, even pre-COVID: the dreaded school snack. 

Here’s my issue with classroom snacks: they have become an event.

person prepping school lunch and foodDon’t ask me when this started. Nobody bothered to sustain my generation with anything more than fifteen-minute Dunkaroo and saucer-sandwich fueled lunches. And it’s not just those cherub-faced kindergarteners chowing down. The trend has spread through all of elementary-dom.

Now I’m not a monster. I have nothing against feeding my kids.

mandarin orange as snack
Via Scatter Jar

In fact, I have quite the hefty..err, healthy, toddler to show for it. My issue is with the ordeal of it all. Nowadays there are so many rules and procedures and requests. Sometimes it’s accompanied by schedules that require thirty pint-sized treats and a personal appearance in the classroom. I love my kids but man, it’s exhausting… and thankless. Have you actually seen how much gets tossed in the trash? Spare yourself the pain and just don’t even picture it. 

These days, of course, snack time has changed because COVID infiltrates literally every aspect of our lives. If you imagined that this era has made it better, please send me some of that sweet eternal optimism (and also, you’re wrong). 

I mean, sure, there are some positives: no more feeding the entire class. No more guilt over arranging my day (and the baby’s nap) to pop in for the one chore I shooed them off to school to escape. That’s all great, but it’s still no walk in the park. 

Now please understand that I will never bash safety rules. They are important and necessary. But they can also be downright annoying, and appreciating doesn’t necessarily negate resenting them as well. 

Our kids are allowed a small cinch sack instead of a backpack. Everything must fit in this one tiny compartment: water bottles (because fountains are off-limits), lunches, extra masks, bus passes, and yes, the dreaded snack. 

What they aren’t allowed? Trash. And Tupperware. Everything must be disposable, and everything must come home to do so. Makes sense, until you remember those little cinch sacks full of everything else. And because nutritional snacks are so repetitively stressed, guess what I put in little plastic baggies the first few weeks? 

BERRIES. 

berries as a snack
Photo by Cecilia Par on Unsplash

Because my mind is broken and I’m just going to blame it on COVID. Smushed berry juice leaking all over their little bags drove me batty. I’ve since gravitated toward goldfish and pretzels, that perfect intersection between nutritious and unacceptable. Not enough to be praised by their teachers for great choices, but also not likely to draw negative attention. The 2020 bar is low, friends.

But the other day, I impulsively threw in a special treat. Okay, so there were two Oreo Dippers left and I wanted to get rid of the box but still, treat day kids! 

The moment my daughter saw me lower that sugary goodness into her bag, her eyes nearly popped out of her head. 

“You cannot send me with those, Mom!”

“Why?”

“They aren’t healthy.”

*cue snarky giggle*

“It’s fine, kiddo. You eat plenty of healthy food at home.”

“No, really. I won’t be allowed to eat it.”

Ok now, hold up. What I had naively assumed to be a school request was being executed as a straight-up rule.

I wanted to rage against some unseen entity. You mean to tell me an elementary school, the undeniable King of Birthday Cupcakes, feels the need to police my kid’s snack? You’re going to look me in the eye and say two weeks of scrubbing blueberry mush hasn’t bought me a cheat day? Come on. 

But because some semblance of my real self still exists, I acquiesced and swapped out the Oreos for some Triscuits. Still, I was annoyed, and I think rightfully so.

It was such a small thing, but those tend to irritate the most. Snack contempt was my itchy mask that day. Minor and intolerable all at once. 

pretzels as snackListen, I know I sound like the worst. And I’m fairly confident that 2020 Caitlin will ease back into something more respectable when normal human interaction resumes. For the time being though, life is a struggle, and I think it’s a healthy thing (sugary snacks notwithstanding) to admit. For all you doe-eyed optimists I both love and loathe, let me dig deep to find something positive here…

There’s comfort in the fact that something as mundane and boring as the school snacks remains obnoxious whether we’re in the midst of a pandemic or not. Those familiar patterns, however silly, bring a small sense of normalcy.

So I will continue my daily ritual of packing goldfish or bananas or *gasp!* even an Oreo or two, in the hopes that someday it will once again be the day’s biggest inconvenience. Until then, mask up, stay safe, and give yourself a treat every now and then.