Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / December 26, 1997 / 27 Kislev, 5758
Games Children Play
IT IS VERY DIFFICULT to maintain standards when you are blessed with children.
Take the matter of food. When I first got married, the very idea of eating processed, frozen or fast food was anathema. From beef stew (heavy on the vegetables and light on the beef) to fruit compote, nothing passed our lips that was not wholesome, vitamin-packed and low-fat.
I believed that when it comes to food and kids, it shouldn't be necessary to reward eating vegetables and other "good" foods with treats at the end of the meal. That would teach the utterly false lesson that lemon meringue pie is better than artichokes (which it isn't, in my scheme of things). I was certain that our children would adopt this point of view.
Our first son, Jonathan, proved my point. He took to broccoli, meatballs, carrots, whatever we gave him. When other mothers would notice his fine eating habits, I would say something modest about how he was just born that way (knowing that their kids were rejecting everything except animal crackers), but secretly, I did believe that our fine parenting was responsible.
Then, David was born. David's default setting for food is "I don't like it." My theory was being sorely tested. Surely, I continued to reason, children will grow to like anything they are given. How else do you explain little Japanese children swallowing sushi and little Ethiopians grinning as they munch hot peppers?
But I was not prepared for stubbornness on a David scale, nor for his capacity to rejoice at the advent of macaroni and cheese. Often, the "eat your vegetables or no dessert" ploy works pretty well since dessert is even more of a glorious epiphany than macaroni and cheese. But there are days, particularly if something new and exotic has been introduced, like a home-grown tomato, when David will set his jaw and declare "OK. I don't want dessert." And the kid goes without supper.
And so I say to myself what any worried mother, convinced her darling is secretly malnourished, would say. "McDonald's isn't so bad." French fries are potatoes, after all, though it seems that McDonald's has managed the difficult trick of leaving only enough potato molecules to carry the oil and salt to the mouth. And beef, however thin the sliver that sits between those air puffs called hamburger rolls, is still protein, right?
And while I don't go so far as to rate ketchup a vegetable, there is another consideration. It makes them so happy. Is there better music than three boys, ages 6, 4 and almost 2, chanting "Yea, Mommy, yea, Mommy" after one has agreed to go to McDonald's for lunch?
OK, I'm not such a sap as I make myself sound. Usually, I do hold the line and force nutritious food into their ungrateful mouths, and many is the meal that has been spent in armed truce between David and me.
Standards of cleanliness are harder to enforce, mostly because the cops are outnumbered.
Do we require children to wash with soap before meals? Of course. Does this not happen from time to time? Sure. Do we permit children to eat food that has dropped on the floor? Of course not! Except if it happens to be the very last of the potato chips (yes, they've infiltrated our house) that have been carefully divided among the three kids and one falls. The stricken child looks at his parents and asks, "May I eat it?" That's when the rule becomes: You can eat dry things that fall on the floor provided you blow on them first. And then there are times, like today, when the candy falls out of the mouth and onto the floor and is back in the mouth before Mommy is quick enough to intercept it.
None of the foregoing applies to baby Benjamin, though. Here is the child of my dreams who, given the choice between asparagus and a cookie, will not choose the cookie. Benjamin is 22 months old but will happily settle down, once his bib is in place, to a meal of salad and poached salmon. This is how it was meant to be! If I could only stop him from pitching his food off the tray when he's finished.