Every weekday morning, I trudge downstairs and make school lunches for our twin daughters. One girl gets a sliced chicken breast sandwich with mayo. The other girl gets a sliced chicken breast sandwich with cheese, but no mayo. (The knife can't even touch mayo, or we'll have to have a serious discussion that evening.) Then each girl gets a cereal bar, a little bag of fruit snacks, and a banana. Sound boring? It's been the same menu, without exception, since the start of the school year. Pandas have more variety in their diets.
I'm not sure whether the girls actually like these lunches, or whether they toss them out the car window as they drive to school -- I know I would. But even if they're OK with it, the monotony was starting to drive me crazy -- the same sandwiches, cereal bars and fruit snacks every day.
Last Sunday, we were at a local super store where you can buy everything from lawnmowers to underpants to bananas at low, low prices. Suddenly, I realized we were low ourselves, on chicken, and wouldn't have time to stop by the grocery store. I went to the super mega deli counter and when I told the kid with the hairnet over his beard I wanted 2 pounds of chicken breast, he asked whether I wanted the Buffalo chicken, which was on sale. Sure, I thought. The girls love Buffalo chicken dip. Why not add a little variety to the old school lunches?
I walked away from the deli counter with a slight uneasy feeling. Something didn't seem right. First, I checked my shoes to make sure I hadn't tracked something in with me. Then I glared suspiciously at the old lady next to me, who looked like she didn't get out much, except to the super store. As I continued to shop, though, I kept noticing the weird, deathly smell. Once in a while I'd reach down and pull my sweater to my nose, wondering if I'd put on dirty clothes.
The next morning, making their lunches, I opened up the bag of Buffalo chicken and was hit with it full blast -- a stench so bad I stopped breathing and took a step back. I looked at the bag for a moment, then took another sniff. It was starting to dissipate in the open air. Maybe it was my imagination.
I pondered the full 2-pound bag which, while purchased at a low, low price, was still fairly expensive, and it was like an angel and devil appeared on my shoulders. The devil was saying, "You are not throwing away 2 pounds of perfectly good chicken! Maybe that's the way Buffalo chicken is supposed to smell! Besides, if it's bad, that's what a school nurse is for!" Meanwhile, the angel, who had given up years ago, just stood there with his head in his hands, muttering, "This is bad. ...This is bad."
I packed their sandwiches and made sure the bags were airtight, and told them to have a good day at school. That night, I asked them (completely innocently) how their lunches were. When they shrugged and said OK, I let it go. They didn't seem sick, and hadn't noticed anything.
Three days later, I came home from work to find both girls glaring at me.
"What's with that chicken?" one of them said.
"What chicken?" I said, in the most convincing voice I could muster.
Turns out the first day, they had the same reaction I did, a vague sense of unease. Kids looked at them funny, but didn't say anything. The second day, someone asked them to move to a different table. By the third day, they were hiding their lunches in the locker of one their friends, who happened to be out of town for the week, but still they had to air out their lunches before they took them into the lunch room.
"Really?" I said, so convincingly that the devil on one shoulder gave my ear a high five. "I had no idea!"
I was in the clear, until I started to walk away. One of the girls piped up.
"Wait a minute ...," one of them said. "You asked Monday night whether our lunches were OK! You ... knew!" I was faced with two angry, accusing girls. One of them went to the fridge, found the big bag of funky chicken, walked to the trash can, and slammed it in.
Having your daughters mad at you? Pretty bad, but they'll get over it. Having to throw away almost 2 pounds of perfectly good chicken? That's what really stinks.
Homemaking is a column about the people, projects and pride that make a house a home. Peter McKay, a Ben Avon resident, is a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate. To see past columns, go to www.post-gazette.com. Contact him at www.peter-mckay.com.