The Playroom: Lunchboxes, all in a row

Author: Maraya Steadman '89, '90MBA


I put my son’s lunchbox on top of the cubbies where the children hang their coats, Star Wars, Diego, Barbie and a small, snack-size lunchbox with princesses on it from a preschool nobody goes to anymore. I want to keep these lunchboxes, this moment, this amazing life, here, now, just the way it is.

A wind is blowing outside and I hear the rain as it hits the windows, but inside I feel simply a breeze, a breath, a whisper — “Hey pay attention.” And I am humbled by the gift of these lunchboxes, here, now, lined up in a row.

Later in the evening, after the stories are read, I go upstairs and climb into bed next to my son. I want to hold him close to me because I never want to forget what it feels like to love a 5-year old boy.

I feel the warmth of his head under my arm as he snuggles against me and falls asleep. I lie there for almost an hour, listening to him breathe, feeling his 5-year-old room wrap its arms around me.

The LEGOs built into towers, some scattered on the floor, a train set, his Sunday school picture, a pair of dirty jeans with a hole in the right knee, a box I bought at a garage sale for $2 that holds treasures. Underneath the Maurice Sendak poster, the cover of Where the Wild Things Are that I picked out for him, he has taped Pokemon posters to the wall.

I see the books we have read so many times together jumbled in all sorts of odd poses on his shelves. The poetry books I favor, the ones where Custard lives in a little white house, are buried deep on the bottom, and the Star Wars readers are within easy reach.

I cover him with a blanket I bought for his nursery. When he first went to preschool I stamped his name on it and sent it to school with him, just in case he needed to take a nap. Only the little kids take naps, Mom, and so it came back home.

The chair where I nursed him, all of this I inhale as I listen to him sleeping. When I get up to leave his 5-year-old room one more time, one more night, I feel his 5-year-old life turning 6.

I want to keep the lunch boxes all in a row.

When my children were younger, I sometimes wished the days away. Nursing an infant while caring for young children, I was so tired and desperate for the baby to sleep more.

I wished them out of diapers and off the bottles. I wanted them to tell me what they wanted with words instead of grunts and hollers. When the clock would get to 4 p.m. and I realized there were still three hours until bedtime, I would think what am I going to do with these kids for the next three hours?

Although I loved those gorgeous baby moments, the overwhelming sensation of holding my newborn child, and the giggly, drool-filled smiles with kicking feet and little hands that grasped my fingers, still, there were hours until bedtime I wished away.

Now I wish them all to stay.

But that is my own selfish wish. What I give to my children is their own life. I give them the gift of seeing their own children’s lunchboxes lined up in a row.

Five is supposed to turn into 6, my children are meant to grow and to give back to life, to love and to God. They will pass through my life and into their own. I will not ask them to stay.

But, maybe, the dogs can stay.

Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at