Hey! It's been almost a year since my last post. I've been a little more active on FB and IG, but it's been a busy year. I've missed writing though. I hope you'll take me back!
I'm back with a story to tell you about M. About 2 months ago, my dad dropped M off at my store after school. She was crying and distraught. She wanted to tell me that since school had started at the end of August, she had been teased almost every day for her lunches.
I make her lunch everyday and I have since kindergarten because she can be a picky eater and I don't want her wasting the school lunch when another child might really need it. I do my best to create lunches I know she'll be able to enjoy and that she'll be able to eat in the 5 seconds they give the kids to eat their lunch. (Okay, it's more like 17 minutes, but still.)
Over the years I've packed all sorts of food, cold and hot. Build your own taco kits, soups, crackers and salami, pasta, rice and bulgogi, etc. We've only had problems 3 times.
Once in Kindergarten when the almonds and cubed ham were deemed "boy food" (probably because she was wearing a superhero shirt, which was also called boy clothing). This was easy to deal with. I gave her a speech about how there's no such thing as boy food, and I went to the school and pretended to be a superhero undercover at lunch. Thanks to Amazon, I even had the special effects necessary to make them wonder if it just might be true.
Then in 3rd grade, we had some friendly curiosity about the Korean food I would sometimes pack. It edged a little towards unfriendly and the staff quickly adjusted the students and everyone walked away with a taste of kim (aka nori aka seaweed) and a new respect for different foods.
Now we come to the point 2 months ago in 5th grade. For about the first month of school, I had been packing Korean food for M's lunch. She likes it and it was easy for me. Apparently some of the boys in her grade had been bullying her almost every day because of it. The day she finally said something, I had packed leftover jjajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce) and the boys were merciless. Saying that she was eating worms and then proceeding to call her worm girl through the rest of lunch and recess. Then, since 10 year olds aren't necessarily the most mature group, other kids joined in.
I was livid and she was hurting. I gave her the best assurances I could and I told her that I would handle it. I was going to reach out to the school. I would do everything I could to make it better.
The problem was, I didn't know how. So, like any good elder millennial mom, I turned to the internet. I had joined a FB mom group at the beginning of the year for moms who were either of Korean descent or had children of Korean descent. I figured if anyone might have some experience in this area, it would be them.
They did not disappoint. 100s of moms offered encouragement and advice for dealing with the school for me and advice for my daughter. They shared their children's stories, but also their own stories. Many of these moms had experienced similar and worse things as children and some told stories of their recently emigrated parents being unable to stand up for them the way they wanted to because of the language barrier. Their stories broke my heart and their strength mended it.
Armed with their support (they even offered to start an email campaign to school district), I emailed the school and explained what had happened and why it was such a big problem. My daughter actually attends a fairly diverse school with a significant population of immigrant families. I worried that maybe some of them were having the same problems that the Korean moms described their parents having. I wanted to stand up for their babies, too. The principal, school social worker and my daughter's teacher all responded with appropriate disgust at the behavior of the lunch bullies and they took steps to correct the boys and also talked about implementing strategies to encourage diverse thinking. We're having the 3rd, 4th & 5th grade musical next week (side note: M's got a speaking part!!!) and it's all about exploring the cultures of children at the school and every week they're having students share greetings in the languages of their culture on the announcements. I can see they're trying.
For my part, the next day, I got up early and made a feast of Korean foods and then went and had lunch with M. All of the kids were craning their necks to see the food. Many of the kids were very quiet and wore guilty expressions. One boy tried a little of the food and liked it very much. M was thrilled!
One of the K-Moms in the group also chimed in, after seeing our situation and reading the experiences of the other moms, and decided to do more. Africa Yoon, the executive director of the K America Foundation, got to work immediately producing a PSA called "Stinky Lunch" to shed some light on this issue. Please take a moment and check it out, it's pretty great and watching it made Em feel really good.