The Lunch Table


Finding your place.

The high school lunch table is an interesting study in social relationships.

It is a time to blend with peers, whoever they may be.

I’ve had the chance to experience this as a student, a parent and a teacher.

You can take the same DNA pool, identical home environment, but when it comes to school, they can go in very diverse ways.

Because of a relocation, my children had to navigate their way into a new school community as they entered adolescence, a bigger challenge than I realized.

My daughter started high school in the 8th grade. She took up clarinet, joined marching band, participated in musical theater, joined the TV studio as news announcer. She had advanced college prep classes, took awards in art, music, journalism, creative writing, science fair, was voted into National Honor Society.

Her lunch table consisted of the “good kids”, the school leaders, achievers, teacher’s pets. Some of them were paired up, steadily dating others in their group, parting ways after graduation.

My son started here in middle school, the terror years; where the girls look 18, and the boys look 8. That creates conflict and a lot of challenge to self esteem. The silliness, sarcastic and joking nature that had gotten him through elementary school was no longer acceptable. He went silent.

By high school, it was evident in his choice of friends. His was the quiet table, the kids who were smart, but very private. They supported each other, developed lasting friendships, kept out of the spotlight. They turned to music, taught themselves guitar, formed bands that lasted into the early adult years.


Mean Girls table.

It led me to think about my own history, and that of my husband. We traveled in very different groups.

I would have been at the overachiever’s table, student government geeks, newspaper editors, glee club, orchestra, academic club leaders, but socially awkward, waiting to make our break to college, getting out of town.

My husband had a steady girlfriend from age 15. He was smart, creative, science-oriented,  college bound, but he was part of a couple. He was having sex.

We grew up 300 miles apart. That’s probably a good thing.

Our time would come a bit later.

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56 Responses to The Lunch Table

  1. It is interesting who we were back then and our choices and how we are now!! Nice post! like the title

  2. roweeee says:

    What a great post. My kids are still in primary school. Their school has a group called Catch where shy kids and the socially awkward can go at lunchtime and feel safe and they have fun activities like making popcorn. My son spent a bit of time there and my daughter went when she was having a rough spot and her brother was there. Some kids also help with having a bit of assistance with peer relationships and this program has been very successful.

    • That’s a very smart program, Rowena, it gives kids an option. It may even be a way to ward off, or at least identify the bullying that comes later in life. Brilliant. ☺️

      • roweeee says:

        My son’s teacher is behind it and it’s made such a difference…even just to me as the mother knowing he was okay and that the school was taking action. Negotiating groups of people is difficult for many people and the playground is quite a tricky place to negotiate for many kids so having that escape hatch and the teacher’s support can be critical.

      • A brilliant plan. That is a very insightful human being, be grateful for good teachers who make a difference. ☺

      • roweeee says:

        Towards the end of last year, I nervously approached her about who he might have this year and she made my day. She requested to have their class for another year, which is very exceptional. So, I have been dancing for joy for two years now and we’ve got him sorted for high school too. He got accepted into what’s called the AVID class and the teacher leading that up, is incredible as well. Now, I just have to think about my daughter. She sat for a test to get into the Opportunity Class. It’s very competitive but she’s bright so she’s in with a good chance. This would be good in many ways but means a new school and lots of change…for her and for me. I’ve been doing the publicity for the school for 5 years and photographing events etc. I also have my friends at the school! She’s also been part of a fabulous choir and sung all over the place. There are pluses and minuses either way but we find out fairly soon. I have faith that the right thing for her will come about either way.

      • Best of luck to you and your children as you move forward, Rowena. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. ❤️

      • roweeee says:

        Thank you for listening. I’d put that can of worms aside but obviously its still peculating around in my head.

      • I understand…this stuff matters. ☺

  3. Erika Kind says:

    Oh, that cool kids problem. I never heard my kids complaining. I think there simply is enough room or they don’t care that much…

  4. That was very insightful Van, and something that can have quite a lasting effect on a person. We all need to feel we ‘belong’ somewhere. 🙂

  5. It sounds like your kids found their niches, Van. A good thing however that looks. I was more like you. My husband was a jock. It’s a good thing we lived hundreds of miles apart during high school. I don’t think we would have noticed each other. 🙂

    • Yep, the jocks were in a group all by themselves, usually paired up with the homecoming queens. Some went on to great success, others peaked in high school and never made much of themselves as adults.

  6. Van, I think this is pretty telling as to why we grow up and become who we are as adults.

  7. Himali Shah says:

    What an interesting analogy ! Perfect !!

  8. A great synopsis of lunch table politics.

  9. LaVagabonde says:

    It’s good that they weren’t outside in the stoner’s corner. That’s where I was. 😉

    • Funny enough to mention that, Julie, I found out many years later that my daughter was sort of a “narc” among her friends. She took the D.A.R.E. program very seriously. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) It was put on by local police. Who knew that I didn’t need to worry about that one?…at least in high school. ☺ Now, she campaigns for legalization.

  10. C.E.Robinson says:

    Great post, Van! Pause for thought! Lunch room doesn’t stand out in my mind, nor my grown kids either. But, the groups we belonged to were very real. And how things changed over the years. Reunions are a big eye-opener! A few years back I went to my 50th! Talk about changes! Glad I went! Chryssa

    • I went to my 30th. The only ones there were those who never left town, with very few exceptions. They had kept in touch locally over the years, I had become an outsider. I never went back. Thanks, Chryssa. 💕

      • C.E.Robinson says:

        Same here! Not going to any others. It would be too depressing…so many have died! And the medical problems are grueling to hear. Such saddness!

      • I walk through a market that is a senior gathering place, I’m always shocked by all the medical issues discussed. Grueling, for sure. Be grateful for good health, Chryssa. 😷

  11. Just Plain Ol' Vic says:

    I think that is one of the reasons why I did not go to my high school reunion. Most of the “relationships” there were so superficial.

  12. Overachiever. I can see that…

  13. amommasview says:

    Something I’ve never experienced as we always were sent home for lunch… And interesting part of growing up for sure, hearing all the stories and watching all the movies and TV Shows where the lunch table in school is a big part of.

  14. George says:

    Funny how you can walk into a school cafeteria, look around for a few moments and without a word being spoken, understand where everyone lives. Great post, cool title.

    • That was especially true in a small town, George. We had certain privileges living “upscale” in the South. I didn’t want them growing up expecting that, so when we came to PA.,I avoided that kind of area, and it leveled the playing field for them. I don’t regret the decision. They learned humility, and diversity. ☺

  15. Oh, the lunch table thing! Memories….

  16. It must be so strange to see your kids go through something like that, that you can remember going through yourself. I went to 3 different high schools, and definitely ended up in different groups in each one!

    • Strange and fascinating. They were welcomed into groups I’d not had access to growing up on the poor side of town. I made my mark through academics, never socially. Leaving town for college was a chance to start fresh. Thanks. ☺

  17. What memories! I spent high school lunches either in the library, or in a back corridor by myself-reading. I was at three different high schools, and never really bonded with anyone. I’ll have to do some “lunchroom study” at the little school I work at!

  18. markbialczak says:

    Yes. Indeed, Van. I moved from one part of Long Island to another the summer of 1969 — oh, what a year for exploring — and started in that strange new place for eighth grade, the middle year of junior high in the new district. My previous school had sent we seventh-graders to the high school, 7 to 12. What a difference. I recall they put all of us new kids in the same homeroom while others were segmented merely by the alphabet. Looking back, I see that was wise in one way, giving us people to sit with in the cafeteria, talk to in the halls, make friends with over our common newness. On the other hand, I also feel it segregated us from the cliques and mainstream. Oh, the next year, for ninth grade, I was in the A-B-C homeroom, and made new friends. I still felt attached to the newbies from eighth, too. We all found our way, me to the sports lovers group. I got way cooler and more well-rounded when I went away to college. Thanks for making me think about the lunch table of my past, Van. Great post.

    • Happened to me in 9th..all the Catholic school transfers were put into the same section, regardless of academics. Strange year, leveled out in 10-12th, but the cliques were set long before. We all survived it, though. Thanks for sharing, Mark.

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