Author’s note: I finalized this piece of writing on March 1, 2020. Two weeks later, our world erupted. My job as a lunch lady came to an abrupt halt, and now I have no idea what my duties will look like when my kids return to school after their virtual start to the year. Now more than ever, our schools need us. There will likely be a high turnover rate on this position as some have changed schools or opted for virtual learning. Lunch hours will look different. Some of our kids may be eating in a classroom instead of a cafeteria. Lunch rooms are changing from a place of social interaction and fun to a place of distance and safety. All of these things and more prove the point: more lunch monitors are going to be needed this year. Please consider applying, and remember: it’s supposed to be fun, just like the following list.
When the email came from the school looking for lunch/recess monitors, I first thought to myself, why should I become a lunch lady? Surely there were other jobs I could take now that I had two kids in school and a lot more free time. Would I even be able to measure up to the true lunch lady, the greatest person alive, and give those kids a purpose and a goal? You may laugh, I hope you do. Because, after just a few months on the job, I have come up with a whole bunch of (legit) answers to the question of why to become a lunch lady…and not the kind who wears a hairnet.
- Endless “Lunch Lady Land” jokes. If you didn’t catch the reference above, this is tops for me. No, I don’t serve food, but I did grow up with Adam Sandler. I’m pretty sure my entire family is sick of hearing, “sloppy Joe, slop, sloppy Joe… navy beans, navy beans, navy beans…” They cannot steal my joy over this.
- Getting to know your kids’ friends. It’s a big one. Even though I try to keep my distance and not cramp their styles, I love knowing who my kids are friends with. It’s a small insight into their personalities and who they are away from home life. Seeing their friend dynamic at school can be quite eye-opening.
- Monitoring what they eat (or don’t). I learned really quickly how much money I was wasting on my daughter’s insisted-upon hot lunch as I watched her throw away endless clouds made of carrots and peas. We now do what probably millions of other households do and print a menu so she can choose what days she wants to carry her lunch.
- Making new friends. Not all jobs come with built-in friend opportunities—I mean, it’s hard to make friends with Ms. Pepperoni Pizza two cubicles over who’s always a-lookin’ at you, or angry Mr. Liver and Onions from the copy room. This is one of few workplaces in which, most likely, you and your co-workers are all at similar places in life: kids in school, working part time, and doing that daily parenthood grind.
- Learning school rules and policies. There are “student handbook” rules that we all have to sign off on, and then there are “underground” rules that you really wouldn’t have the opportunity to know unless you work at the school. These are little details that come in handy when your child attempts to take all of his (not allowed and confiscatable) Pokemon cards to school.
- Accessibility to teachers. You definitely can’t meddle or take advantage, but being able to pop into a classroom to drop off forgotten lunches or pick up secret book orders is so convenient. It’s nice to see your child’s teacher face-to-face a little more regularly than just at conferences.
- Exercise. Yep, never considered that one. But, two+ hours circling a playground, walking a cafeteria, wiping down tables, sweeping floors, and moving tables is actually quite a bit of exertion. I am usually looking for a chair and a snack as soon as I get home. We are averaging about 5000 steps a shift…I may or may not have some brown orthopedic shoes in my Amazon cart.
- Speed-peeling prowess. Ask me to peel a Cutie, and you’re going to have to count it out. So far, my record is 28 seconds, but I know I can do better. Seriously, this is a win-win situation: kids are counting and I am getting super fast at peeling oranges.
- Brightening someone’s day. Like the saying goes, you never know what someone is going through. Just being there as a smiling adult, asking how they are doing, or wishing them a great day can go so far with these little ones. It brightens my own day to turn those little frowns upside down with a silly joke!
- Halloween and special days. I dressed up for Halloween for the first time in years, just because I was going to be working at school that day. It was so much fun interacting with little superheroes and princesses all day. Other days like the 100th day of school or spirit days bring out the fun characters, too.
- Short hours and extra cash. Let’s be real, nobody’s getting rich working at schools today. But, a couple hours a day, a couple days a week can amount to a couple hundred extra bucks a month. That’s money you didn’t have before, it gets you out of the house, and the best part…you are 100% on the same schedule as your kids. Half days are days off and summers are totally free!
- Saying all the things your parents said to you. Sometimes, multiple times a day. It just doesn’t get old saying, “If Bobby jumped off a bridge, would you do it?” or “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” Of course, I also have my personal repertoire that my own kids hear often, like, “Be kind, maybe you’ll teach them what kindness is.”
- Bonding with your kids. It surprised me to realize how much working lunch and recess duty would positively impact my relationship with my kids. They are excited to say, “see you at lunch!” when they get on the bus, and we often talk about recess activities over dinner. I feel like I have some playground cred’ when I understand what play structure they may be referring to or which friend they are talking about.
- Knowing what to teach about kids who are different than your own. Although this is an ongoing, lifelong lesson, it is pretty cool to be able to see all walks of life at school and have a real-life example for teachable moments. This can come into play with anything from culture to hair styles.
- Lost and found. I can’t tell you how many times my kids lose something and swear up and down (I’m looking at you, first grader.) that it’s not in the lost and found—and then I find it there the next time I’m at the school. Invaluable.
- Easing staff responsibilities. Do you know who does recess duty when there aren’t enough lunch ladies? Support staff and teachers who already have their plates full. Your school needs you so that staff members can do the jobs they are there to do. You can actually help your school run better!
- Understanding proper weather gear. Almost an hour of my shift is on recess duty. Those kids are so excited to get out and play in the snow! I’ve witnessed the importance of snow pants, waterproof boots, and decent gloves. Our school doesn’t allow snow play without boots and snow pants, so it’s helped me make darn sure my kids are prepared. I don’t want them missing any valuable outdoor play.
- Germ patrol. I pay close attention to when my kids’ classmates are sick and amp up the protection at home. (This is obviously so much more important nowadays.)
- Other lunch ladies keep an eye on your kids. Sometimes it’s, “Hey, just so you know, I told your son three times not to throw snow today,” and sometimes it’s, “your daughter looked really sad at lunch today.” Just keep the lines clear—within the circle of lunch ladies, this is awesome… but definitely not within your circle of friends. It’s not your job to tell your friend if their kid got reprimanded at recess; it happens a LOT to a lot of kids and it’s really not usually a big deal. If the school wants the parent to know, they will handle it.
- Parking for an assembly. Most of the special events and class parties at our school take place just 15 minutes after my shift ends. So guess who has a good seat and front row parking for every event? It’s the small things.
- You get paid in chocolate. OK, not really, but trust me, I try every time a kid asks me to open a Kit Kat. Someday, I will get lucky! In the meantime, I eat up their giggles. (Note to my boss: I would never actually take their food! I swear!)
If you’ve been considering grabbing those plastic gloves, I hope I’ve given you some great reasons why to become a lunch lady. Maybe you will find your purpose and goal or play a small part in giving someone else one. You might even end up married to Sloppy Joe and doing just fine. Your kids will definitely nominate you for the greatest person alive.