Lunch With Rats

If you have ever spent an entire day being talked to, touched, critiqued, questioned and stared at by a group of nine and ten-year-old’s, you understand the importance of lunch.

Lunch is a precious, child-free gift from God to teachers. It is a time that I have always preferred spending in my classroom-alone. This was complicated by my school’s strict NO FOOD IN THE CLASSROOM policy.

I complied with all other school policies. Obediently, I posted the state standards. I hung “I Can” statements on the walls. I took my turn at decorating the hallway bulletin board. But give up a peaceful, child-free, fifteen-minute lunch break in my classroom? I just could not do it.

Shamefully, I began committing the sin of eating lunch in my classroom. At 11:25 every day, I hid in the gap between the cinder block wall and the large, yellow cabinet behind my desk and scarfed down my lunch like it was a hot dog eating contest. I tasted nothing and suffered stomach pains later, but it was worth it. For fifteen minutes of the school day, I was alone—and it was heavenly.

The Friday before winter break we had a class celebration. Thursday night, I stayed up late decorating colorful, paper gift bags for each student. I filled them with chocolate Santas, bells, snowmen, and Holiday Edition Twix, Snickers and bite-size, Milky Way candy bars.

Three students were absent the day of our party. At the end of the day, thinking of nothing but Christmas, New Years and two weeks of freedom, I set the remaining gift bags in the cabinet behind my desk, locked my classroom door and hurried out of the building to begin a glorious winter break.

School resumed the first Monday in January. When I entered my classroom, the air was warm and stuffy. From the corner of my eye, I noticed the cabinet door was slightly ajar, which reminded me of the candy-filled gift bags I had left for the absent students weeks ago. Hastily, I set down my things, opened the cabinet door and was greeted by a grisly scene of destruction and horror.

All that remained of the holiday gift bags were tiny gnawed bits of paper and chewed up remains of red and green candy wrappers. The festive holiday ribbons I’d tied on top of each bag were shredded and dragged away. Frayed pieces of the rope-like, gift bag handles remained, but every crumb of chocolate, caramel or nougat was gone. Every. Single. Crumb.

I stood frozen, staring at the damage.

So, this was the reason for the NO FOOD policy. Perhaps if administration had mentioned the Rats of Nimh were running rampant in our building-maybe I would have been more apt to comply?

I was busted. Big time. Confessing to having food in my classroom, seemed too risky. Remaining silent to the fact my classroom had been the scene of rodent debauchery was also dangerous. Maybe the NO FOOD policy wasn’t so dumb after all? What was I supposed to do now?

When the students arrived, I stood by the door and greeted each child who entered. I said nothing about the rats. At 11:25, I reluctantly accepted the days of eating lunch alone in my classroom had ended, and headed to the teacher’s lounge. There I found a tired-looking group of teachers sitting together in collective silence.

Did they know about the rats? Were any of their rooms hit? Had anyone else eaten lunch in their classrooms before today?

If the rats had attacked any other classrooms, none of the teachers’ faces showed it. No one mentioned any damage. No one confessed. Everyone looked calm, quiet and intent on enjoying their kid-free, peaceful, lunch-in the company of one another.

Maybe eating lunch in the teacher’s lounge would not be so bad after all.

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