Give me ketchup or give me death


I often dreamed that once I packed my youngest child off to kindergarten, I would be free to indulge in some “me” time and become one of the much heralded “ladies who lunch.” I just never imagined it would be quite such a “give me condiments or give me death” proposition.
Join in. Let me state for the record that I am big on volunteering. If there was a committee to watch paint dry, I’d be on it. Moreover, within a year I’d run for president.
I am a “joiner,” he grown-up equivalent of AV helper, chess club president, or to put it more succinctly – nerd.
I am certain my children will die a slow social death, a literal agony of embarrassment, in later years because of me.
“Hey, wasn’t that your mom I saw polishing the flag pole out front of the school?”
Therefore, these early years are my time to build up their immunity. It was only natural that I would stalk the parent volunteer coordinator at our school until she caved and assigned me lunch duty.
How could I miss an opportunity to oversee my kindergartner’s lunch experience? What better way is there for me to take notes (and names) on which 5-year-old manipulator might shun my darling and thus need taken down in maternal retaliation?
“I have connections, cuties. Shove my child sweetie, and you’ll never birthday party in this town again!”
Prayers. Foremost, blessed are those who toil in the cafeteria. We know not their burden.
I have experience in trying to find nutritious foodstuffs that a total of three children will agree to eat.
I shudder to imagine trying to feed multiple hundreds of picky eaters, including but not limited to children who demand food “hot but not hot-hot, just kind of hot, but not mushy and not cold and not with stuff on it at all.” Or those who won’t eat any food group that doesn’t herald from the much beloved “fried” family.
Since the government is heavy handed and about 700 years behind the times (I mean where on the planet but in school does one find boiled peas anymore?) they won’t let school districts serve what the children would actually eat – mainly casseroles comprised of french fries and gummy bears.
Instead, your hard-working cafeteria staff is forced to serve things like meat, milk and – pray for them now – vegetables. Yeah, good luck with that one.
On watch. Comparatively, my mission as a volunteer was simple. I was to stand at the ready in the lunch room. Like a beacon of hope for the helpless young diners, endlessly on the watch for a recalcitrant bottle cap, ever ready to wrestle a snack bag into submission.
My chance to take notes on anyone who might snub one of my own children was just a bonus really.
I didn’t even have to dispense discipline. They have a lady who does that and she is wicked with that whistle. Three toots and even I was “zipping my lip.”
Never mind how one eats with zipped lips. They must teach that in first grade.
Ketchup. This is not to say that it’s a piece of cake for us hapless cafeteria volunteers. There were the tears (mostly the children’s); the child who stated calmly (and only after obediently raising a hand) “I’m gonna be sick”; and what can only be referred to as Black Monday – a.k.a. “great ketchup embargo of September 13.”
Catsup? Ketchup? You say “to-may-to” I say “to-mah-to” but who cares about that? What I say is you better keep a truckload of the stuff standing at the cafeteria doors ready to unload that glorious red elixir at all times!
Never saw it coming. Clearly, I was a rank amateur, just ripe for the picking. My mistake was in not realizing that for a cafeteria full of young children, to run out of ketchup is akin to running low on oxygen.
Unlike airliners, however, it is imperative that you see to the children’s oxygen masks – or ketchup as the case may be – before doing anything for yourself. If not, the children will band together and kill you.
I never saw the warning signs. The consternation when the flow of the red stuff slowed. No, the tide turned without warning.
Suddenly all the bottles – dozens – were dry, and my heretofore sweet natured charges were a band of savages bent on ketchup at any cost.
Those not already in tears over the loss were forming a small, but formidable, union ready to march for better condiment conditions when salvation swept down in the form of a cafeteria professional – an actual employee with the bucket load of ketchup.
I didn’t get her name, but she’s an angel. I firmly believe she saved my life.
Nonetheless, my injuries were minor and I’m looking forward to repeat duty next week. At that time, older and wiser, I’ll be armed and at the ready. My trusty ketchup bottles at my side.
Or maybe I’ll get lucky and it’ll be pizza day. How hard can that be?
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt says shoes are required to eat in the cafeteria. Socks can eat anywhere they wish. She welcomes comments c/o or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460 or visit her online at


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Kymberly Foster Seabolt lives in rural Appalachia with the always popular Mr. Wonderful, two small dogs, one large cat, two wandering goats, and a growing extended family.