The sixth stage of grief: making snacks

If you’re wondering what happens after eighteen months of parents only being able to contribute to school events virtually and send in snacks for birthdays or class parties that are purchased individually-portioned and prepackaged, when they are finally told that they’re welcome to once again provide homemade food items for a Halloween party, well, I can tell you. At least in one case, the result of all of this pent-up “class parent” energy is the outpouring of a great many repressed creative efforts all at once like the proverbial breaking of a dam, the much-anticipated exhalation of a long-held breath. Technically, the form that took in this household was a highly overwrought production resulting in actual hours devoted to producing a snack for first graders that involved way too much thought and far too many components. Let me explain.

A brief preamble: my son loves spiders. He reads about them, he hunts for them, he collects them, he watches programs about them, he brings them home in his backpack. His science teacher was kind enough to give him permission to travel to school recently with a container of spiders he’d brought from home so he could share with the class. Recently we went to a birthday party at which one of his friends handed him a spider in a pyrex container that he’d caught for him at his house. In advance of this birthday party, when we were preparing the gift for the girl turning seven, my child wrote “Happy Birthday Grace! What is your favorite kind of spider?” on her card. He’s dressing up as a spider for Halloween for the second time this year. The kid clearly has a passion, and of all the spiders there are on this planet, his favorite is the black widow.

When I signed up to contribute a healthy snack for his Halloween party at school a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to send in something more fun than just your average clementine-and-celery-pumpkin. It turned into a multifaceted challenge, and I was determined to fulfill this responsibility in a way that checked all of the boxes, some of which were self-imposed: it had to be nut-free; it had to provide some nutrition; it had to be on-theme for Halloween; it had to appeal to children (or at least some children); it had to be original; and it had to take into account my very own first grader’s interests.

After several different iterations in the development of my plan, I decided to make this snack experience an interactive one. What’s better than making twenty edible black widow spiders to send to school? Why, making twenty “make-your-own edible black widow spider” assembly kits, of course! Here are the contents of each kit, contained inside a cellophane bag embossed with cobweb design:
1.) A Babybel cheese (a crude cephalothorax-cum-abdomen approximation)
2.) A snack-size bag of pretzel twists (can be broken into leg shapes to stick into cheese)
3.) A black widow geometrical hourglass shape cut out of red fruit leather, in a tiny ziplock (to visually designate the species)
4.) Eight black sesame seeds, also in a tiny ziplock (four pairs of eyes)
5.) A pair of plastic tweezers (for applying seed-eyes)
6.) A piece of paper explaining that this was a “build-your-own edible black widow” kit, with the two tiny ziplocks stapled to it

I was so proud of myself. I mean, just think: here was an invitation to play with food and practice fine motor skills at the same time (breaking pretzels, peeling the wax off the round of Edam, probably squishing or squeezing that wax if I know anything about first-graders, impaling the cheese, pincher-gripping those sesame seeds and using hand/eye coordination to apply them.) And maybe, just maybe, they’ll actually eat it (my children won’t eat Babybel cheese, but at least there would be pretzels, and don’t worry; of course I’m sending in that clementine pumpkin too). By this point, having exhausted the reserves of thwarted “class parent” passion I didn’t know had been building up for the past year and half, I didn’t have designs on creating an elaborate snack for my daughter’s third grade Halloween party when I signed up for that one a few days later. The poor middle child would have to slum it with these guys:

Old Crusty Cross-Eyes

If this were written by someone else and I was reading it, I’d have plenty of thoughts. Among them might be, “That is way too much. Is she trying to prove something? Why is she going to such great lengths and trouble, using an Exacto knife on fruit leather and needle-nosed pliers to sort sesame seeds just to prepare a snack for her kid’s class party that probably none of them will remember in a month anyway? I mean, she bought twenty pairs of plastic tweezers.” (Yes, I sent the teacher an email to warn her about all of this and apologize for my egregious behavior). Here’s the thing, though. It might seem like this is for my child, my special spider-loving son, my lastborn whose experience of the world is in every way profound. It might also seem like an attempt to out-Pinterest the most Martha Stewart of class parents in the history of school. But it’s not. I haven’t been able to go on a field trip since 2019. I haven’t been in the school library, a place where I volunteered weekly and took sanctuary for years, in twenty months. I haven’t been inside my children’s classrooms for two years, haven’t met with their teachers except through a screen, haven’t spent time in the spaces where I used to spend so much time, where they spend most of their days, where I loved being, where a part of my identity still lies. I haven’t even been able to create something in my home to send to school; there could be no homemade granola for teacher gifts, no faculty appreciation soup in the crock pot, no baking cupcakes for school birthdays, no heart-shaped cookies with melted Gummi Lifesavers, my Valentine’s Day special. Those privileges were wrested from me, from all of us, with basically no notice and no endpoint to their absence, along with so many other joys that seemed small before they were gone. No watching school plays, no popping in to give a guest lesson on haiku or folding origami stars, no setting out paper plates on the tables for the kids while they were at recess, no supervising the Egyptian dig in the sandbox or Greek feast in the commons. All of the frustration over these two years of being excluded from engaging in children’s school lives in such a real way, it turns out, had to go somewhere, so it went into those little cellophane bags along with the other components of the craft-snack. This wasn’t for my child or anyone else’s children or anyone else at all, really. The undertaking of this endeavor wasn’t for them or about them. This I did for me.

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