If you ever want to feel like a celebrity. Or maybe a celebrity therapist, have lunch with your kid in the cafeteria at school.
I've done this a number of times, most recently a few minutes ago, and I'm always amazed how much kids love it. And not just my own kid. All the kids at the long cafeteria table are on board.
One of the lunchtime staff said I should return every day because the usually boisterous boys at our table were extremely well-behaved today.
Of course, I help with the usual stuff: opening cheese stick wrappers, zipping up jackets as the kids headed out to recess, etc.
But the part I like best – other than hanging with my child mid-day – is the eagerness of kids to chat.
"What's your name," asks Ralo.
"Do you work here," chimes Manuel, whom I initially mistook for his elder brother who was my child's classmate last year, and whom he resembles closely.
With this basic information in hand, the kids are ready to share. That is, everyone except for shy Savannah, who sits quietly and eats her chicken patty, following the conversation, but resisting any attempts to get her to take part in it.
"I'm learning to speak English," says Manuel, "and I speak Arabic and Greek, too."
Considering his trilingual skills, maybe Manuel is on to something when he then tells me he's done with school. He doesn't want to go anymore, because he doesn't need to go anymore. He's learned what he needs to know, he says.
But considering he's a 5-year-old all-day K4 student, I remain a little skeptical. When I joke that I really do work at the school and I was hired to convince him to stay in school and keep learning he chuckles, but stops abruptly, a little unsure whether or not I'm kidding.
Ralo blurts out something about speaking Filipino at home and then tells me his dad works at a Japanese restaurant Downtown.
"He's the boss at (the restaurant). He's in charge there," he says, adding that he's going to have a baby sister. I wonder if it's true because he also says he controls the school cafeteria.
Making a sweeping gesture with his arm, he says, "I'm in charge here."
A boy next to me admonishes. "You can't have a baby, Ralo. And you don't know if it's a boy or a girl. You won't know until it comes."
"I'm having a baby sister," Ralo assures him and changes the subject.
"What's your work called," he asks me.
"It's called OnMilwaukee.com," I tell him. "It's a website."
He smiles and says, "that's funny."
It might well be. But when I get to split mid-morning and hang out with Ralo, Manuel and his pals to chat over a PBJ, it's also pretty fun.
It's time for recess. I hug my kid, shake hands with the others – I even get Savannah to shake – zip up a few winter coats, get a high-five from Rosie and it's back to OnMilwaukee.com. Likely to the amusement of my man Ralo.
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