Paper Bags It Killed Me to Throw Away

Moving with kids has some weird, heart-rending moments.
Moving with kids has some weird, heart-rending moments. Photo by Jef Rouner
I moved recently, and my kid is finally at the age where they are more help than a hindrance in that regard. My 13-year-old and I spent about ten days making small trips from our old apartment to our new house, slowly transferring our lives in boxes and duffle bags.

I was checking the expiration date on cleaning products (because my life is a constant adventure) while the kid sorted through whatever in the pantry was worth keeping. Tired of the task, they stomped over to me clutching an enormous stack of brown paper lunch bags.

“Why? Why do we even still have these?!”

And this is what I told them.

When you were little, you were an incredibly picky eater like I was, which we now know is a sign of several mental illnesses. So, sorry about that. For something like three years, you ate the same thing for lunch, day in and day out. I made your ham sandwiches, picked out a snack bag of baby carrots and a fun-sized Hershey bar, and put them in a brown paper bag, carefully folded with your name written on it in ink. Before you got out of the car, I asked if you had your bag. You would roll your eyes, say yes, shake it at me as if to further prove the point, then bounce off into school.

Eventually, you noticed that other kids didn’t bring their lunches in brown paper bags, so we got you fancy insulated ones with My Little Pony and DC Superhero Girls on them. But sometimes, you’d spill things and need a replacement right away. Or, you would go on a field trip where they told you that you had to bring a brown paper lunch.

And once, you knew I had to roll out on assignment for the whole day. Since I didn’t have an insulated lunch bag, you got up early and made me a ham sandwich, picked out a snack bag of baby carrots and a fun-sized Hershey bar, and put them in a brown paper bag, carefully folded with Dad written on it in ink. It was the sweetest thing I had ever seen.

That was years ago. You’re a middle schooler now who always eats a hot lunch in the cafeteria. You make your own breakfast. Hell, sometimes you make your own dinner. Every day, there is some additional facet of your life you don’t need me to do.

Why did I still have a giant stack of brown paper bags gathering dust in the pantry? Because I didn’t know when the last time I was going to make you that lunch happened. I didn’t throw them away because you might suddenly need me to make you a sandwich, walk you to school, fix your hair, tie your shoes, read you a story, kiss a bruise, etc. etc. ad infinitum. I wanted to be prepared in case time and space collapsed in on themselves and we were both younger and newer and what if my baby needed me?

Part of me desperately wanted you to always need me to make you that lunch. So, I kept the bags, just in case.

The kid looked at me because who expects that kind of monologue while you’re just trying to get one last trip with house stuff in? I walked over, hugged them, took the bags, and tossed them in the garbage.

And then we finished up, drove off, and had a little, more grown-up lunch at a fast-food place together. Because the past is great, and memories are amazing, but the present and the future is always where you should want to be.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner