E Pluribus Unum

From five years ago today. My Virginia grandchildren attend four different schools now. I miss the lunches.

I had lunch yesterday with 1,000 children.

I decided to join The Sweeties for Thursday’s lunch. Four attend the same elementary school, so this is easier in some ways than it sounds. I drove over to the school just before 11, went through security (they take your ID and give you a badge with your photo on it), and walked across the hall to the cafeteria.

Kiley, second grade, doesn’t really have lunch at school; she has brunch. She and her class poured in at 11. Alex, her kindergarten-aged brother came next, at 11:25. Then cousins Mack, fourth grade, at 11:55, and Aidan, first grade, at 12:30. After Mack a cafeteria lady asked me how many grandchildren I had in the school. “Four,” I said, “but five next year” (if the district lines don’t change).*

This particular public school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., has over 1,000 students, grades kindergarten through fifth. The cafeteria seats 320 and it was close to capacity on each shift, so I got to see (AND HEAR!) most of the 1,000 as they ate (more or less) their lunches from home or the lasagna, corn dog nuggets, or vegetarian chik’n nuggets sold by the school for $2.10, including two sides and a milk. (I didn’t see anyone with the chicken fajita salad.) I understand more clearly now why most restaurants stun me with their noise. The people that manage those places and work there experienced public school cafeterias as kids and think their workplaces are relatively quiet.

A thousand children, ages 5 to 11; American youth in 2010. And they were amazing and beautiful in every shade known, unquestionably with parents or grandparents from all parts of the world — and in many instances with parents from two parts of the world. And, romantic patriot that I am, I couldn’t help but think, e pluribus unum (out of many, one). It was America, as she has always been, richly diverse— our greatest strength.

And it made me quit worrying about the Tea Party.

* In school year 2011-2012 all five Virginia grandchildren did attend the same elementary school.