The Actual Motive I Need to Return to the Workplace: I Can Eat Lunch Alone
“Mom, are you going to eat this?”
“Can I have a drink?”
“Mom, I just want a small bite, please.”
“Is that the last cheese spread?”
“Mom, I’m still hungry. Can I have your slice of pizza? “
In the past 15 months, I can’t remember the last time I ate in peace. Without someone picking, touching or wiping what is on my plate, in my hand or sometimes even partially in my mouth.
I put cream cheese in the shower just to whack my daughter in and grab it before I could take a bite. I tucked Reese’s Pieces in my pocket just so little hands can pry them out one at a time. I tried to eat my favorite subway sandwich (with white bread, of course) under the covers in my bed, only to be interrupted by a soft but persistent knock.
“Mom, sharing is caring!” They shout, hurling my own words back. Like vultures, they tear up my sandwich, pick and choose the pieces they like. I’m staring at a pile of shredded lettuce and a couple of crushed black olives.
As I chew on the lettuce, I am transported back in time for a moment when I sipped a nice strawberry, mango and banana smoothie with two chicken tacos with hot sauce on the side. Back when I was sitting at a desk, in the office, all alone, scrolling through People.com for the latest Hollywood gossip during what was then the shortest lunch break ever. Thirty minutes for lunch seems too indulgent to me.
Undoubtedly there is a lot of fear and anxiety about going back to the office. Some say they don’t miss anything about the office. You don’t miss their long journeys or the overcrowded trains. You don’t miss getting sick. You do more at home without interruptions (note to yourself: must not have young children). And for the first time since the pandemic began, some people seem to feel completely rested (repeat note to yourself: must not have young children).
I currently do not share any of these fears or concerns. Because here’s the main reason I’m excited about going back to the office. It’s not because I look forward to adult interaction that isn’t with my husband. It’s not because I look forward to aimlessly scrolling my phone with my phone during my daily commute on crowded public transit. It’s not because I’m looking forward to working at a proper desk (FYI, I used my husband’s college beer pong table as my makeshift desk in the corner of my bedroom throughout the pandemic).
That’s because I can have lunch on my own. Without anyone beside me. All. By. Myself.
I’m not going to get snatched my thread cheese. I can eat a whole granola bar on my own. I don’t have to leave my hot cup of tea on the table to answer the incessant chants and complaints, MOMMY! I don’t let my colleagues pick bread and salami from their plates. I can eat for 30 minutes without having to share a piece of my meal. I will not limit myself to hiding and eating in my bedroom for fear that the vultures will come down. I can even go out to eat! This is a level of self-care that I didn’t know I needed.
I joined Carta, my employer, during the pandemic last October. I haven’t even been to our New York office in One World Trade Center. I sighed in relief when I heard that there were free tea and coffee available along with other caffeinated drinks. I shed a tear when I heard there were free snacks like granola bars and cheese wraps. And again, when I heard they offer a variety of frozen goodies, from Klondike bars to fancy popsicles, I’ve never heard of. I almost stopped breathing when I heard they were offering a free lunch at the office. I don’t care what it is – as long as it’s not a pile of shredded lettuce, I’ll be happy to eat it.
So I know I have a privileged position, but I am ready to return to the office. To enjoy at least one meal in peace. And I enjoy socializing and meeting my colleagues while we sip our lean chai lattes and eat our Greek salads with the dressing as a side dish. I just won’t share anything with anyone. To my new colleagues who are reading this: Please keep your hands off my plate.
Mita Mallick is Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta and loves living in Jersey City with her husband and two young children.