'Scrunch lunch' is a fact of life for many working parents

May 18, 2000

Power lunching is a corporate term for cutting deals and networking over a midday meal. These lunches are big-time events with defined protocol and big-time pressure. I mean, it's a big no-no to be caught with a peppercorn wedged between your two front teeth during one of these eating events. But most importantly, a power lunch involves actual eating.

My husband and I have developed a term for the typical lunch that most working parents experience. We call our midday break the "scrunch lunch."

Like the power lunch, the scrunch lunch has its own set of rules and pressures. But the objective of a scrunch lunch is simple - get as many errands packed into one hour as possible. Eating is not part of the scrunch lunch ritual.

Here's how the scrunch lunch works.

First, keep a pair of pretied or slip-on tennis shoes - or comfortable running shoes - in your briefcase, car or desk. I like to tie the laces together and throw the shoes over my shoulder like a wet towel - just for effect. This visual cue lets everyone know that I am a scruncher.


Second, have your trip carefully mapped. Mapping is an essential part of a scruncher's lunch. I usually plan my lunchtime errands to specific areas of town. If I have an appointment with my family doctor in the north end of town on Monday, for example, then I use the dry cleaners that day because it is just down the street.

My husband and I became scrunchers when we had children. Once children entered our lives, we discovered how many stores and offices were not open after 5 p.m., much less at 1 a.m. when we were finally free to attend to the household errands and appointments.

My husband uses his lunch hour to tend to car maintenance like oil changes and minor repairs. He reports that he frequently sees colleagues at Lowe's, where men often scrunch-out.

We take turns using our lunchtime for bus stop duty where we make a mad dash from the office to the spot where the school bus drops off our 4-year-old from preschool. From there, our son is quickly fed and transported to day care. This maneuver is for advanced scrunchers only. You must be on time.

Groceries, banking, library

Sometimes I am able to pick up a few groceries - usually something I need for dinner. We have a small fridge at work, so I can stow small items that need refrigeration. Mind you, I have to stick a note on my computer monitor to remember to retrieve them at the end of the day. In the winter, I can leave the refrigerated food in my car.

I also do other things during the scrunch hour like get a new battery for my watch, buy birthday presents, have new heels put on my shoes, take film for developing, purchase makeup, do my banking, buy stamps, mail parcels, select eyeglasses, take blood tests, go to the library and visit my mother-in-law in the hospital.

With practice, advanced scrunching may lead to accomplishing some unusual things, like applying for a marriage license or signing divorce papers. My husband and I once bought a car during our scrunch hour.

My favorite scrunch time activity, however, remains dashing to my sons' elementary school where I can spend a few minutes in the school cafeteria at their lunch table, watching them eat.

Power lunchers beware, scrunchers may soon be at your table. You'll be able to identify them by the tennis shoes on their feet.

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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