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I’ve got two options: chocolate milk or white milk. On one hand, the white milk is healthier. Healthy is good; society likes healthy. On the other hand, chocolate milk tastes better.
“Move!” someone yells in my ear.
I grab a milk cartons and head out into the cafeteria to find a seat. My favorite corner is occupied, but one of my friends waves me over to the seat she’s been saving for me on the other end of the table.
It is fifth grade. I am ten years old, and even though I’m totally a big girl and everyone, including me, knows how the world works, we are still woefully dependent on each other. It is up to our peers to let us know whether we’re cool or not. It’s a good thing everyone has seven BFFs and two BFFLs for back-up, right?
The lunch tables are all identical; long, and folding with twelve little seats on each side. Our class does not require use of more than three tables. The first table near the door is always the one that is completely packed. The third from the door is the emptiest table.
The cafeteria is big. You walk in through double doors and then you have to race to the other side of the room to get into the lunch line. Three of the walls are painted white. One wall has a mural on it. There are dragons, princesses, spotted mushrooms, and dwarves. Cool kids don’t care if there’s a painting there. Us fifth graders aren’t even fazed when we walk into the room every day.
There are bars over the clock on a second wall. I know why. I stay after school and go to Kidz Klub, so I’m in on the secret. It was a while ago, back when McKenzie’s big brother was still in elementary, too. Kidz Klub was supposed to go to the gym one day when I was in second grade, but there were old people dancing in there. So Miss Kristen took us to the cafeteria to play instead. We played kickball. McKenzie’s big brother, Peanut-Butter Boy (my friend named him that, but why? I have no idea), kicked the ball so hard; it soared high into the air. It flew all the way to the other side of the room, hit the clock on the wall, and made it fall to the ground.
Now there’s a cage over the clock.
Lunch is not as bad as people say it is. It never has been. We have Domino’s pizza every Thursday. I like school lunch. It tastes a lot better than food from home. Home food is healthier. Society likes healthy. But healthy doesn’t taste good.
Everyone looks around at each other expectantly. The cafeteria is crowded and noisy, but that’s okay; if you need to be heard, you can always scream into your neighbor’s ear and ask them to pass on the message to who it needs to be delivered to.
People eye each other’s trays and lunch bags cautiously. We aren’t like the little second graders who are always begging for each other’s food. We’re cool. We’re fifth graders; the kings and queens of the school.
I notice Gabby packed a bag of Goldfish for lunch.
Unfortunately, someone else has noticed, too.
“Hey Tabby, can I have your Goldfish?” Genardo asks, leaning over the table.
“S-sure,” Caught unaware, her answer is automatic. She is obliged to give him her snack.
With this exchange of food, the Trade blows into full force along the table. Everyone is looking for the highest bidder:
“Hey, do you want those grapes?”
“What, you want it?”
“Dude, I’ll give you these graham crackers for your milk”
“-No way! Give me three packs!”
“Three? Ugh, I’ll give you two…”
“Oh my gosh, I’ll give you both of my milks for your brownie.”
“I’ll give you my toast and some of my tater tots for your brownie!”
“Wait, no, I’ll give you my milk, my apple sauce, my”
“-How am I supposed to eat your apple sauce?”
“-I could just scoop it with my spoon and”
“-Ew, no way!”
“Oh my Gosh, did you just call her an elephant’s butt hair?”
“No, come on!”
“Dudette means ‘an elephant’s butt hair’. Like I’m going to give you my brownie now…”
“Hey, Andria, do you want your tater tots?” It is not often that I get asked for some of my food. Usually it’s gone before anyone can ask for it. I look around the table for the speaker.
It is Genardo. He’s munching messily on the Goldfish I wanted. He’s leaning over the table and pointing at my tray. His hand is hovering over my tots, ready to take them.
“Yeah!” I exclaim.
“I’ll give you my crackers,” he says.
“I don’t want your stupid crackers,” I retort.
“Can I just have one?”
“Eat your own!”
“But I don’t have any left!”
“So? Get your grubby little hand away from my food.”
A few people glance over and laugh; It’s cool to be snappish. I’m cool.
“Aw man…” He sits back.
“Now nobody ask for my tater tots, got it? They’re all mine!” I say loudly. There are no laughs for this. I look around.
No one is paying attention. Someone at the next table is auctioning off homemade banana bread with walnuts.
I don’t get a lot of customers, but each day, the Trade is a thrill; a time to grab everyone’s attention for a couple of seconds and be popular.
Tomorrow I’m going to bring something really yummy for lunch so everyone will try to give me food for it. I’ll bring something that everyone will want and I’ll be the queen of the Trade.
I take a sip of my chocolate milk. It isn’t as healthy as white milk is, but it sure tastes good.