What’s for Dinner?

I came across a parenting article recently and even though my kids are older, with diapers and daily tantrums over “tie” vs “velcro” shoes a thing of the past, I was curious, so I took the time to check it out.  Actually, I found this particular piece of child-rearing commentary on the same mom advice blog that I’ve brought up before, the one that decries “mommy shaming” yet mom-shames religiously.

This new wave of helpful hints was about dealing with “picky eaters.” The writer’s solution? Let the kids choose. Sounds simple, right? Turns out it is simple. Basically, as the mother (or I guess, father…this article happened to be directed at moms), you fix whatever dinner you want and if the kids don’t want to eat it, fine. In fact, you start out the meal with the announcement that “eat or it not, it’s up to you.” Having no punishment for abstaining from any of the foods presented is the key here. Further, rejecting the main meal does not preclude being given dessert. Dessert is a given.

Now, this is all fine and good for kids who might eat “something.” But what about kids who won’t eat anything? My daughter is just that kind of kid. Not so much now that she’s older, but when she was little? Oh boy.  She took picky eating to a whole new level. There could have been a buffet in front of her – a veritable feast – and she would decide for whatever reason that she liked none of it and simply would not eat. No, that tastes funny. That’s brown or green or yellow. That’s slimy. It’s got onions in it. I don’t like gravy. Or my all-time favorite, a simplistic “Ewww.”

Or what about the kid who will eat dessert (since that can’t be withheld) and nothing else?  I can easily envision my kids, when they were young, having dessert every night for dinner – if it were available.  Hell, I would too if I had those rules. Come on! Who wouldn’t?

Force feeding kids by making them sit at the table until they eat something doesn’t work either. Been there, done that. On both sides of the table. I remember sitting at the table in an ever-escalating series of “battles of wills” with my mother over some vegetable or another. I recall a particularly long evening spent at the table brought about by Brussels sprouts. It wasn’t fun for me and I can’t imagine that it was a great time for my mother either. I’m sure she had better things to do than deal with my mulish dinner habits. Sorry, Mom. My kids inherited that same stubborn behavior willpower.

My son took it even further. I mean, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? The curse my mother flung at me all those years ago worked. Like gangbusters it worked. I now have kids who act just like I acted. In case I haven’t said it lately, thanks for that, Mom. When my handsome, intelligent, ever-so-charming son was about five or so, he threatened that if I insisted he “eat those stupid peas already,” he would throw them back up. And. He. Did. Ahhh…memories. Hey, he gave fair warning. He still won’t eat peas and the boy is 24 years old.

I suppose we could just live by the old adage “oh, they’ll eat when they’re hungry” as they forego their mid-day and evening meals night after night. Indeed, that’s what this suggested routine seems to be, just done in a nicer way. I imagine the success of such a campaign all depends on the temperament of the child and just how hungry they’re willing to be to prove a point.

The thing is, you can’t force kids to eat. You can’t force them to sleep. It’s the two things really, besides bathroom habits, that they ultimately do have control over. Unless you’re a monster who literally force feeds your kids as they’re tied to a chair. But if you’re a normal human being, you can lead them to the table, but you can’t make them eat.  Threaten, cajole, humor, and beg…but you can’t really MAKE them. They choose to give in, or not. Same with sleep – you can put them to bed and order them to sleep, but only they can really make that happen.

I guess I was never overly finicky about what we had for dinner…I didn’t care if my kids ate hotdogs with mac and cheese while I ate the eggplant parm that I liked. I didn’t mind if we had home-made chicken nuggets (à la Chick-Fi-La, but my own recipe, which is healthier) three times a week. That tuna casserole they both love? Sure! Why not?

It’s different now that I’ve cut out the majority of meat for myself, but hey, the kids are old enough to feed themselves now, so I don’t really care…they’re on their own. But when they were little, I decided after a while that dinner time was simply not a battle I particularly felt like fighting. Of course, this decision might’ve taken place right after the “peas fiasco of 1997,” but it’s a solid decision nonetheless.

I also knew my kids were stubborn assholes strong-willed individuals who would go without food long enough that eventually social services would be called. So, dinner often had a kid-friendly menu in our house. Why deliberately put food on the table that you know someone won’t eat while hoping for the best? I didn’t really see this as catering to them – and still don’t – I view it as a way of enjoying the time we had together at the table. Instead of arguing or long, sullen silences, we had rousing talks about everything under the sun, jokes, and laughter, and joy. And everyone ate. I still make their favorites when we’re all together for a visit. But then, food has always been a big deal in our house, a way of bringing the family together. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not fought over.

I figured – and rightly so – that they would branch out from hot dogs, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and French fries prior to getting to college. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. With the exception of very specific things like peas (go figure), mushrooms, onions, and sushi (can’t blame them there), they eat quite a variety of foodstuffs these days. Truth be told, they’re a lot more adventurous in trying new foods than me, I must say.

I suppose the idea presented in the article would work for some families…I mean hey, it worked for the writer, right? But if it were MY house? I would have had two children with amazingly high blood sugar from all the dessert they were stuffing themselves with and tons of uneaten leftovers cluttering up the fridge.

Meeting Place

When I was growing up, our house was the one where all the kids in the neighborhood would congregate. It was a meeting place, a drop off spot for bikes, a checkpoint for organizing the next set of adventures, and a lounge for just relaxing. If my mother ever had a problem with the steady stream of scraped-kneed kids filing in and out of the front and back doors, she never said anything. Or if she did, it was never loud enough for us to hear at any rate. We just lived in a time and place where you could literally yell out the window for someone to come over and they’d be skipping up to the porch 30 seconds later.

Not quite the case when my kids were growing up. Their friends weren’t always in shouting distance. Sometimes a car was necessary to get them where they needed to go. But they did have a few neighborhood friends in walking distance, and for those few, I kept the same policy as my mother. They were always welcome in the house and could always return there after their daily shenanigans through our unsuspecting neighborhood were done.

It was important to me to let them know their friends were always welcome. I mean, so long as their friends weren’t mini drug-dealers-in-training or something…which they weren’t as far as I know.

I will say that there were ulterior motives to letting my house be a meeting spot. I could eavesdrop on the latest juicy gossip. Not only is gossip just fun to listen to, but it also gave me important insights in to my kids’ lives that they might not be comfortable sharing with me directly. Then, I could use these slivers of information to better my parenting. I could support them in ways where I might otherwise be lacking. There are so many pros here and very few cons. It wasn’t always cost-effective having an extra mouth or two or three to feed, but hey, the local dollar store always had cheap snacks and these were passed around to the crew while they were visiting so that everyone had a little something to keep them from starving.  It’s not like they needed a full buffet or 7-course lunch platter.

Not everyone shares this parenting outlook. I recently found an article written by a mother who is simply tired-tired-tired of having her kid’s friend over every day in the summer. Apparently, she feels taken advantage of for the “free babysitting.” Now I’m assuming this kid is not a toddler, I mean, he shows up at her house on his own in the middle of the day, which means he has to be old enough to navigate the neighborhood on his own – so I’m not really sure how much “drop everything I’m doing and watch the kids like a hawk” kind of babysitting this mom is really forced into doing. Oh sure, the kid may be taking up space in her house, but is he really taking up that much more of her undivided time?

When the doorbell rings, this put-upon mom claims her son looks at her funny because his friend is there yet again. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the deer-in-the-headlights look from her son is because he knows his friend was just there and shouldn’t be there again today – I think it’s because he knows his mother is irritated because it’s likely she doesn’t hide her irritation well.  If you ask me, she’s the one feeding that energy, not the neighbor kid.  Or at least, that’s just my opinion (without knowing any of these people…just a wild guess, mind you).

And as the mother states herself, she wouldn’t even think of sending her kid to his friend’s house. My question is, why the hell not? I mean, flitting around the neighborhood, hitting up friends to see who is home, and hanging out is what summer vacation is all about. Plus, when he’s out of the house she would get a little time for R & R (which she so obviously needs if you ask me). Maybe when the friend comes over, she can say, hey, how about you guys go to YOUR house today? I bet they’d love that (so long as he’s not actually trying to escape his own house for some very real, very sad cause…in which case, all the more reason he should be allowed to hang out).

These kinds of spontaneous friendships are special. Instead of trying to squash them, we should be encouraging them.

 

Under the Big Top…or Not

I don’t think my mother gets nearly enough credit for her superhero powers of persuasion. She’s like Kayla Silverfox (aka Silver Fox) from X-Men (Wolverine – Origins) with a southern accent. I mean, to hear her tell it, she – my mother that is, not Silver Fox — single-handedly kept my father from selling my brother and me to the travelling circus for years…years, people! And apparently my father listened to her (I mean, here I am after all, with no trapeze skills or fire-breathing expertise to speak of, sooo…).  He could’ve made a pretty penny too, or so I was told growing up. A. Pretty. Penny.

Growing up ain’t all it’s cracked up to be – for the Mother

Getting old sucks. Can we all just agree on that? Joints get achier. Skin gets looser. Lines form. It’s just a big ol’ mess. Sure, it’d be tougher to run a mile now than when I was 18 (if I ran at all, that is), but getting older isn’t all bad. Whenever I get a little down about the sands of time slipping through the hourglass, I can always look at my children and know that I’ve helped mold two people I could not be more proud of. They’re tolerant, compassionate, empathetic, decent, and just all around good human beings. So at least there’s that, I say to myself as I find yet another grey hair. These two are my crowning achievements, my purpose in life.

And, goodness, how fast time does fly! My son graduated high school 7 years ago and it feels like yesterday. Now, just like that, my daughter is graduating this week. It feels like that time passed in the blink of an eye. If there’s one thing I can criticize both her and my son for (and trust me, I do), it’s that they can both be rather disobedient. I told them years ago to stop growing, to just stay little, but they refused to listen. So, here I am, once again at the threshold of another child receiving a diploma. If they would just listen to their wise ol’ mother, we wouldn’t be in this mess again. On the contrary, we’d still be happily shopping in the Garanimals section of the department store with nary an argument on color or style to be had. Alas, time waits for no man. Or mother.

my baby

On top of graduating, my daughter also turns 18 in a few days. I know, right!? How dare she!? It’s quite the milestone and I wish the world for her. Not just in a philosophical “best of luck” kind of a way. I mean literally, I want her to have the world. To explore. To see new things. To travel. To meet new people. To let life be an experience with the entire world as the garden she frolics through. She is no doubt destined for great things, but I want her to delight in the path she chooses, to walk it with a profound sense of joy as well as purpose. Neither she nor her brother have yet to disappoint. I don’t expect either to start now.

not such a baby any more…

So while it does suck getting old, it’s kind of worth it when you see what you’re letting loose on the world.

Celebrating the Love of My Life

It’s just past midnight, so technically it is now my son’s birthday. The love of my life is 25 years old today. And I remember him learning how to walk as if it was yesterday. I’m going to reiterate something I’ve written before — as it still holds the same meaning in my heart now as when I first put it down on paper a couple of years ago.

A carnival gypsy once told me that the love of my life would be tall, dark and handsome.  Somehow she failed to mention he would arrive on the waves of excruciating labor pains.  Now, 25 years later to the day, my son can legally buy alcohol, towers over me, and resembles Paul Bunyan.    He’s out on his own and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Still, whenever we talk, I oftentimes offer unsolicited advice.  No, really, I do.   Other mothers do this too, right?  Right??  Well of course Jake’s response is usually one borne of frustration because, according to him, I’ve not kept up with his birthdays all these years and therefore don’t know just how old he is.  My response is one he will never understand until he has kids of his own – he’s always my baby regardless of how old he may be.  Or how tall.  Or how thick a beard he decides to grow (I mean really, you do own a razor after all Jake!).

Yes, I do know he’s “all grown up.” But sometimes what I see in Jake’s face (despite his tall stature) is the same little boy who went out to play with me in the snow when we had a midnight storm, the small child whose laugh was forever a bright spot in my day.  He is still a bright spot in my day — our conversations always, but always, interesting and spirited with amazingly broad topics. He keeps me on my toes. Of course, I take credit for his love of Marvel Comics and the MCU, even though like Sarah, he knows more about the subject than I do. He has a strong work ethic, integrity, a desire to stand up for those he feels are maligned, and a good heart. In other words, everything a mother could hope for…and more. I could go on and on — but the point is very simple. I love my son. He makes my world a better place just by existing in it.

Perhaps his views will change when (and if) he has a child, but for now, Jake, as with most young people his age, doesn’t understand that when I look at him, I still see that wide-eyed, precocious boy who stole my heart the day he was born.