Rice & Seaweed in the Thermos

I love my children. I am just very grateful for the local public school system.

All three kids are off to school (though Elias shed a few tears today, causing a few other moms to cry for him), and we are trying to get into a new rhythm. The boys and I walk to the elementary school, and Bethany rides off on her bike to the middle school. Depending on the morning, Peter joins us or waves as he drives off.

And when we’re lucky, everyone has remembered their backpacks, homework, and lunch boxes.

The novelty of the school lunch wore off fairly quickly, so we’ve had to get creative. What will they joyfully eat in the 20 minutes (!) they get for lunch? Bethany and Corban got smart. They asked for leftovers in a Thermos. Every now and then the leftovers are recognizable to friends – meatloaf, mac & cheese, spaghetti. But more often than not, leftovers involve sticky white rice and some sort of marinated meat or fish. Even better are the fragrant soups full of oxtails, seaweed or radishes.

Having been the brunt of much teasing and ridicule during my childhood (we were the 1st Asian American family to move into our suburban school district), I must admit that I worry a bit that bringing seaweed soup would create some social difficulties for my children. One might argue (and believe me I have tried) that cheese has a pretty pungent smell. But kids know cheese. They even get processed cheese food in a can. But seaweed?

Why God why? Maybe it’s the four weeks of seaweed soup I ate post-partum with each of my children to help my recovery and breastmilk production (thanks, Mom!) that they love it so. Maybe they like the shades of green and the opacity of the broth against the glimmer of the Thermos.

The first few times Bethany or Corban take something “new” for lunch I try to be cool. I don’t ask them whether or not their friends wanted to know what was in their lunch. I don’t ask them if anyone commented on the odors released when said Thermos is opened. I just closely monitor the contents of the Thermos when I do the dishes.

I was genuinely surprised when the Thermoses would come home empty. Maybe some rice (sorry, Mom) stuck to the bottom, but pretty close to empty.

I guess the thing that I feared most – that their friends would make fun of them and their food choices – doesn’t matter to them because it hasn’t turned out that way? I know friends have asked, and made a comment here and there. Maybe Bethany and Corban are so hungry that rice and seaweed soup is better than cardboard pizza with fruit cocktail cups? Maybe they don’t care what other people think? Maybe they are more comfortable in their own skin than I give them credit for?

Having children forces me to deal with my stuff, the old stuff from years ago that has spilled into my 30s. Their worldview and understanding of being Asian American forces me to deal with my understanding of Asian American so that I don’t freeze myself in time much like my parents’ generation did.

Next time: Thoughts on the “Guess whose baby picture this is” game.


  1. pegpie August 30, 2007

    When I was in the 3rd grade, my dad gave me a package of seaweed crackers to share for my birthday (instead of cupcakes like other students). The only person who took a cracker was my best friend in the class. I have often thought that when I became a mother, I would make sure my kids got cupcakes. It never occurred to me that they may want to bring something representative of their culture… or even something they liked that their peers might find strange.

  2. Kathy August 30, 2007

    As you may be able to guess, I can relate your seaweed cracker story. For me it was the class potluck or “share a food from your culture day”.

    It seems a little different for my children; it’s not unusual for my oldest child (middle school) to have friends who frequent the local Japanese restaurant for California rolls or teriyaki chicken or the local Thai restaurant for pad thai.

    But I would put money on my kids being the first ones to bring seaweed soup to school!

    I still get a bit worried when they ask if a friend can have dinner with us if I’ve planned a more “traditional” meal, or if friends or neighbors drop by when the house fills up with the smells of soybeans, kimchee or oxtail soup.

    I do recognize that I am better prepared to interact with my children’s friends and neighbors and to help my own children understand that they are both Korean and American in a way my parents could not.

    But tomorrow it’s turkey sandwiches with mayo and cheese.

  3. Bo September 13, 2007

    Since there are no microwaves for Micah to heat up his lunch he’ll either buy in the cafe or bring a sandwich. But as a good Korean boy Sarah has him eat “gook bop” for breakfast. He’ll take soup and rice for breakfast any day over cereal or waffles. Last Monday the school served beef Teriyaki so Micah was eager to eat in the cafe. He later complained that it tasted pretty bad. He already can spot bad Asian food.

    Last year in preschool there as a kid from biracial marriage in Micah’s class. The mom (being white) regularly brought rice, fish, and “banchan” for her son’s lunch so we didn’t feel inhibited in the least. Perks of being on the west coast.


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