How long do you spend packing a school lunch for your child? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Half an hour? (All right, all right, don’t brag)…
- Can you even imagine spending approximately 90 minutes creating a lunch for your child to take to kindergarten?
Kai Wilken, of Omaha, Nebraska, did just this, throughout an entire school year — but these were no ordinary lunches; they were edible pieces of art, each one entirely unique and centered around a superhero or cartoon character. Even better? They were healthy, well-balanced, and Kai’s son received them with as much gusto as was spent preparing them.
The questions you might ask yourself are, “Why?”, “How did he find the time?”, and, “What’s the point of spending this kind of time making something that’s going to be torn apart and then digested by a 5-year-old?”
“I realize now as I look back on the time I spent making all of his lunches,” Kai reflected, “that it was helping me work a couple things out. It was something I did for him, but was also cathartic for me. I had been, for all intents and purposes, a stay-at-home dad since he was born.”
During his son Laddie’s early childhood, Kai had a laser tag business. He worked evenings, while his wife worked during the day, so every day, all day, up until the first day of kindergarten, Laddie and his dad (and Laddie’s younger brother) were together.
“It was a little scary to have him begin kindergarten. I was entering the unknown, having to put him in someone else’s care. I was going from being with him all the time to being away from him all day,” Kai confessed.
Preparing the lunches was a labor of love, on many levels. Kai wanted his son to continue to feel that connection with him, even while he was away from home and at school. Laddie had become quite a fan of superheroes, and Kai himself is a big comic book reader, so that was the theme he fell into naturally with his lunch creations.
Now that Kai has two children of school age, he admits the lunch creations are not a regular event anymore. Even though he still makes the occasional superhero lunch for Laddie here and there as a special event, the daily lunch-creating ritual was something almost ritualistic that he felt “existed within its own time and space.”
Kai kept a blog during that year called “More Than I Can Chew,” and on that blog he says that when he was in college, Tibetan monks visited his campus and made mandalas, a form of art created out of sand that is ceremonially destroyed afterward. Kai writes, “My gut reaction was that it was a crazy way to spend time, but as I really thought about it, the zen started to seep in. If this thing was going to be gone forever in a few days, I was lucky to have seen it. Lucky to have been present at this tiny sliver of time when the fruits of these days of labor preceded by years of experience were borne. But that would make people who missed it unlucky, or me unlucky for missing something else to see the mandala. So, not so much fortunate to be at that particular place at that particular time as fortunate to appreciate it — to really be present in a moment. And sometimes it takes something dramatic to remind you that every experience is one that will soon be gone forever, to be replaced by another that will soon be gone forever.”
In the moments when Laddie opened his lunch box during his first year of school, he must’ve felt incredibly lucky as well. Having a dad who was thinking about and appreciating the time he spent with his son on this level makes him a profoundly lucky kid indeed.
And what can the rest of us take away from Kai’s example? Perhaps we could pour just a little more of ourselves into some of the little things we do for our kids, like making lunches or doing laundry or reading books at night. Maybe just taking an extra five minutes and allowing ourselves to “be present” as Kai said, could make a big difference. Knowing we do these things for them out of love, even if we’re not creating works of art as Kai did, means a great deal to our kids.