Would Someone Please Sit with My Kid at Lunch?

posted Tuesday September 20th, 2016


The other night in the Target girls’ section, I noticed a campaign aimed at kindness. Tee shirts with sayings like “Come Sit With Us” and “Kind is Cool.”

I smirked. If only it was that easy.

In my world — rather, in my daughter Sophie’s world — too often it’s Homecoming Queen or nothing. This is the time of year that my Facebook feed fills up with feel-good stories about boys and girls with special needs winning titles and serving as royalty for a night. It’s a wonderful thing — don’t get me wrong — but we parents worry about the other 364 days a year. Such a discussion was taking place on my Facebook page yesterday afternoon after I posted a terrific piece by another mom who also grapples with such things, when the phone rang.

It was my mom.

“How was lunch?” I asked, not really paying attention, thinking I knew the answer. My mom had been once already this year, bringing Sophie Panda Express (half rice/half noodles and a small pink lemonade) and happily eavesdropping on junior high conversations.

“Well,” my mom said. “Not good.”

Turns out, the kid Sophie’s been eating with all year walked up to her in front of my mom and announced he won’t be sitting with her anymore. I get it. Really, I totally get it. I love this kid; he and Sophie have had their ups and downs and he’s been very patient with her. He had another guy in tow, and my guess is that like most eighth grade boys, he’d rather hang with the guys and he found one. Good for him.

That leaves Sophie with the rest of the entire school.

I asked my mom, did anyone else at lunch acknowledge Sophie? No. Only a cafeteria worker who noticed when Sophie tried to cut in line. (That part made me smile.) No kids.

Shit. Lunch has always been my biggest worry. In kindergarten, I worried that Sophie would be mowed over by the other kids as they rushed the playground. I hired babysitters to pose as volunteers and spy to make sure she was okay. A couple years later, we had an “incident” — older girls grabbed her lunch box and locked her in the bathroom (briefly, but still). Not long after that, we got a lawyer and the lawyer got Sophie an aide, an incredible woman who I’m convinced has paved the way for Sophie’s inclusion and success.

But (ironically) the aide is on break at lunchtime, the one unstructured period during the day. And really, I know that Sophie’s old enough, mature enough to eat lunch by herself.

Which is exactly my point: “by herself.”

I hung up with my mom and sat for a minute, staring at the floor, as the work emails stacked up in my in box. I reminded myself that I didn’t always have someone to sit with at lunch when I was in school. I spent most high school lunch hours hiding in the library. Those, of course, were the bad old days. I wouldn’t wish Hopi Elementary School in the 70s or Arcadia High School in the 80s on my worst enemy. (I think I’ve blanked out entirely on junior high, a good thing.) We wore band tee shirts, and tee shirts with sayings like “Do The Hustle.” There were no kids with intellectual disabilities, none that I saw anyway.

But this is 2016, this awesome time where a person with Down syndrome gets assigned a Best Buddy, competes in Special Olympics, and might just be elected Prom Queen. There’s a social skills club at lunch at Sophie’s school, I’ve been told several times. There’s a tee shirt campaign at Target, encouraging kindness! She’s a fucking cheerleader, okay?!?!

And yet, my kid has no one to sit with at lunch.

I get it, I suppose. Most kids’ goal in junior high (even in this allegedly enlightened age) is to emerge unscathed and unnoticed. Sophie demands attention — both because she’s half the size of the other kids, and because, well, she literally demands attention with her intentionally ratty hair, wedge sandals and eyeliner experiments. She still sucks her thumb on occasion. It’s not so easy to understand her when she talks. And her conversation abilities are not those of your average 13-year-old girl. But she’s trying. And of course trying is the kiss of death when you’re a 13-year-old girl.

Someday she’ll fully embrace punk rock and she’ll be set for life. But for now, I’ve got to figure things out.

I stopped staring at the floor and emailed Sophie’s team leader at school, her math teacher. He’s a nice man who wrote back immediately, reporting that last Friday he noticed Sophie eating lunch in the school office by herself.

When asked why she was in the office, she told me how that person did not want to eat with her anymore. I tried to encourage her to sit with other people, but she told me that [she'd only ever sat with that boy]. My next step involved bringing up her self-esteem and letting her know that plenty of people know who she is, and would love to sit with her. I also told her that other peers love to say hi to her in the halls. She still wasn’t ready to give the cafeteria another try.

I emailed him back and cc’ed several others at the school, reminding them that I’d expressed concern about lunch at the beginning of the school year. In part I wrote:

I’m not upset with the boy. I know their friendship has ebbed and flowed over the years. This boy shouldn’t be responsible for sitting with Sophie at lunch.
But that of course leaves the question — who, if anyone, should? 
There are lots of stories out there this time of year about all the kids with special needs being elected King and Queen of Homecoming. But what worries me more whether they have someone to eat lunch with on a typical day.
I’m honestly not sure what to do. Do I ignore this and let Sophie figure out her social life herself? I know she loves hanging out in the office. Is that the solution? If so, let’s discuss it. If not, let’s discuss it.
We love [this school] and we love all of you and I’m so sorry to take up your time….But….
Thanks. Amy  
I’ll let you know if I hear anything back.

Amy’s book, “My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome,” was published by Woodbine House this spring and is available through Amazon and Changing Hands Bookstore. For information about tour dates and other events visit myheartcantevenbelieveit.com and here’s a book trailer.

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10 Responses to “Would Someone Please Sit with My Kid at Lunch?”

  1. It is NOT easy to parent a jr high age child (or high school for that matter) , and with Sophie all the typical problems seem to be amplified- and then a few extra struggles thrown in. My heart hurts for Sophie and every other child that eats alone at school. I have a neighbor friend who is a 7th grader at Sophie’s school, I’ll ask her if she knows Sophie…and could keep an eye out for her.

    If you ever figure out the magic balance between how much interference kids need vs when to let them solve things on their own- please share!

  2. Oh, man. :( Keep us posted. Like you, I wouldn’t let her figure it out on her own. I know there are people who would say that’s the right thing to do. But I would have done what you are doing, which is reaching out to the school. Together you’ll all come up with something.

  3. Amy, yet again, you have taken me on an emotional roller coaster that honestly I wish I could have avoided. Yet, as I sit here, trying not to cry in public… Again… I recognize that the truth. I can’t.

    The journey Sophie and your family go through, shines a very harsh glaring light on ours, and some days I am weak. I don’t want to be strong, push through, alpha my way through life and smooth a path for my resplendent and sassy Princess Chloe because, it just hurts my damn soul sometimes. Just crushing.

    thank you for sharing your thought and experiences in this way, it gives some of us a safe place were, even for a few minutes, we don’t always have to be strong.

  4. I wish I’d had that problem when I was her age. On a regular basis, mostly because I was in trouble, I sat with a bully of a teachers aide. Good job keeping on top of the situation by trying to make sure she is included. As soon as the school year is over, you have an open invitation to come up to Washington state for a visit.

  5. I love your little daughter and I wish I could be there to eat with her. And I think you are a fantastic Mom. Not very helpful. But Junior High is the Pitts

  6. Ohhh if only Sophie and Abby were at school together. My heart hurts reading this. These are my fears as well. Abby eats too slow and often the last kid in the cafeteria with no recess time remaining. Hope the school starts a volunteer lunch bunch group! The school’s social worker should help (if they have one).

  7. Just home from an IEP mtg. In her Jr year, lunch still not to our satisfaction. I will now be coordinating (typical) peer lunch buddies. Will be using an app to allow anonymous communication with volunteers from a school club called Peer Leadership. I’ve asked for this since freshman year. Really shouldn’t be this hard. I don’t want her to be anyone’s headline. I want her to sit with age peers and see what other 16 year olds are like.

  8. It’s the sad sad truth. How DO we create opportunities for friendship, happily ever after, and just movie days . .I’ll be reading and watching for the answer . I’v waited, angsted, held my breath and been the car pool just hoping. xx

  9. yes!!!!! what DO we do???? I’ll be waiting for the answer . .I’ve hoped, begged, been the car pool and hid in the last row of the movies crossing my fingers for friendship. xx

  10. i was talking to my 4th grade daughter about this. She said “if she doesn’t mind eating with lower schoolers, she could visit in Colorado and I’d eat lunch with her at school.” Hope for the future!

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My Heart Can't Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome is available from Amazon and 
Changing Hands Bookstore
. For information about readings and other events, click here.


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