Every afternoon for the past few months I’ve been noticing this young girl from my balcony, probably 8 or 9 years old walking home after the school bus dropped her off at the gate. She has to walk through a park within the building complex before reaching her block of flats.
Without fail, every day, she stops near a dustbin placed at the corner of the park. She takes out her snack and lunch box. She unpacks them and whatever she hasn’t eaten that day, she throws them into the dustbin. Then she repacks the boxes and heads home.
Initially, I thought she was emptying the leftovers just to show that she has eaten everything given to her that day. I indulgently smiled as I remembered my school days. I do recall having done something similar on days when I didn’t like the food that was given to me nor could I share with my friends since they didn’t like it either! I didn’t want to get hauled up at home so preferred to chuck it before ma got a whiff that I hadn’t eaten what she’d packed for me.
But then two things struck me. This little girl did this every single day, without fail. And also on occasions, I noticed that it wasn’t just half-eaten or leftover food that she was throwing away but whole sandwiches and fruits!
The mother in me was quite furious when I saw her do that. I pack snacks and lunch box for my daughter every day. And yes there are days when she returns not having eaten some of the things I’d given her or perhaps leaving something half-eaten. It really bothers me because I do ensure I pack food that I know she likes eating. I’m also equally aware that she has to eat healthily. I’ve done what I’m sure most other mothers do, watch YouTube to find interesting foods to pack and also ways to pack them so they get eaten every day. All these thoughts raced through my mind and I was upset.
I have even asked my daughter what she wants and based on her long (ever changing) food list I’ve bought or made things. This keeps me feeling grateful that I don’t have to rack my brains thinking about what to give and also that it’s food she’s wanted so she doesn’t need to be coaxed to eat them. In fact, some days she asks me to give her more because she shares her tiffin with her friends. There have been days when she’s complained that she hardly got anything to eat since her friends ate most of it. And yet there have also been days when she hasn’t eaten something that she had wanted in the first place saying she didn’t get enough time!
Tiffin is such an important aspect of school life. Tiffin breaks are even more important. I know that school is fun for my daughter also because she gets to share a meal and play with her friends.
What was it about this young girl’s tiffin that she ensured she chucked them into the bin before reaching home? What prompted her to do that? Why didn’t she just go home and let whoever was cleaning up, do that for her?
Did she not like the food that she was given? Was it too healthy for her liking? Was she bored as she got the same tiffin every day? Were her views overlooked and disregarded as to what she wanted to take to school? Was she given too much food and she couldn’t finish it? Or was the expectation that she would finish it!
What did a completely empty tiffin box mean for her? Did it mean she wouldn’t get scolded? Did it mean that it gave people at home the false sense of hope that she was well fed? Or did she not want them to know she’d eaten something from her friends that she wasn’t supposed to eat? Did the scolding spread over to other areas of her life? Who did she really try to please by ensuring that her boxes were empty?
I couldn’t stop the questions from racing through my mind. In fact, I also wondered how her attitude towards food was developing? Had it become a trigger that led to much anxiety? Or did she not value food?
I thought of actually meeting her someday as she walked back home and asking why she emptied her tiffin box in the bin every day. That would make her aware that she was being watched. She would stop emptying her box because asking her meant I was indirectly telling her not to waste food. Wasn’t that a good thing to do? Couldn’t I make her feel guilty by telling her about all the children who went hungry, daily?
But I didn’t!
Somewhere I felt that if I did then it would actually be wrong on my part. Why? Because it was her secret. It gave her a sense of freedom. Perhaps it was her way to take care of herself and gave her a way out of a tricky situation at home. I knew that she wouldn’t be honest with me if I confronted her. And if I did pull her up, and she did stop, would it stop whatever was going on with her back home?
Or in fact, perhaps the reason she binned her food every day was just very simple. She just ate whatever and however much she wanted.
So I let her be.