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Give me a pea!

January 17, 2007

Stepblog’s post about “>sweetness vs. badassness reminded me of a story about Myowndaughter.

Mod, every stinkin bit of 2, is a fairly decent eater, as they say. She likes spinach, broccoli, peas. She scarfs edamame. She’ll throw back fruit like a monkey. She just doesn’t always eat a lot, and sometimes hardly touches her dinner.

Being an ignorant first-time dad, this, of course, got to me. My default parental instincts are those forged by parents who lived through the Depression. After witnessing this behavior a couple of times I’d had enough. Dammit, I thought, I worked for that food, I paid for that food, she’d better eat it or … else. I thought of the “children are starving” speech but quickly dismissed it because when I was a kid the b-roll in those Sally Struthers commercials, where she shamed people into feeding children in Africa for only pennies a day, always freaked me out and I’d turn the dial from UHF to VHF as fast as I could.

So, ignorant first-time dad that I am, I tried to get Mod to eat by, of course, telling her to. It went like this:
“Eat!” says I.

“Hahahahahaha,” says she. She has a great laugh. Even a great sence of comedic timing. But that didn’t deter me.

“Come on, now, I’m serious!” (She’s supposed to know this because I’ve raised my voice.) “Eat!”

“Abbyabbyabbyabby?” says Mod, invoking the name of her favorite dog. Sometimes “Abby” has relevance, sometimes not.

“Eat!”

“Noooooooo,” lilting at the end.

I was getting nowhere, and I didn’t understand why. I would leave the house at 7 a.m. and come home at 6 at night, maybe 7 when the man put it to me extra hard. I would be hungry. Why wasn’t this ungrateful kid?

It’s too late, my fatalist voice would said, sadly shaking its metaphorical head. We’ve already started to indulge and pamper and encourage her to be a spoiled, insolent, unambitious louse who completes her life sponging off of honest taxpayers like me. That’s what happens. My dad told me so. I’d better nip this corrosive behavior in the bud.

Fortunately, the woman I sleep with, who happens to be Mod’s mother and my sexy wife, is more enlightened than I. And, more rational. And I know she objects to my behavior because she’s not saying anything. I think she secretly laughs at me. She’s with the kid all day and has to pull every trick in the book to get her to eat, nap, play nicely, don’t run out in the street naked, don’t catch the dog on fire. I get home and in 30 minutes I expect the kid to jump to attention. I expected to win a showdown with a 2-year-old when 2-year-olds live for showdowns. I lost professional show-down status decades ago. I was in over my head.

So when Sexymom got quiet I rethought my strategy. I remembered that even Ward Cleaver swallowed his words on occasion, when it was appropriate, when his own sexy wife (was she ever!) shone a light on the falicy of his logic. And, I’ve contemplated this parenting thing long enough to realize the way I was taught was really pretty crappy.

I’m mostly ignorant, but I’m not a total idiot. I see I’ve hit a brick wall — a 2-year-old brick wall who happens to be very cute. In one of those rare moments, I actually evaluate the situation and think of a solution, a complete change in course.

I wait until Mod takes a bite, on her own, then I cheer really loudly.

“Horaaaaaaaay! You did it! You took a bite!!!!! Yayyyyyyy, Mod!!!! Woohooooo!”

She’s startled. She’s baffled. Sexymom is startled, maybe a little scared.

I see my daughter’s brow wrinkle. What the hell’s gong on with the old man? He’s nuts. Let’s get him to do this again.

And she takes another bite.

“Hooraaaaaaaaay!” I cheer like I did at college football games, like the Houston Astros didn’t choke during the World Series (I know, it was two years ago, I’m still not over it), like I, myself, would have loved to have been cheered.

I actually get a positive response! She likes this craziness! She eats, I cheer. It’s fun! She takes another bite.

She pauses, looks at me, takes another bite …

I am not an idiot, but I am ignorant. I stop cheering. I figure a little applause has sent her on her way to a healthy meal.

“Dada! Hooraaaaay!”

“Oh, yeah! Hooraaaaaaay!” Phew. Nice recovery.

Mod remembers this little game the next night, and the next. For a couple of weeks, dinner resembles a political convention. Mod cheers when I eat. She cheers when Sexymom eats.

Health disclosure here — we’re not forcing our kid to eat eat eat eat. We tell her to eat when she’s hungry, and when she’s not, stop. Sometimes, though, she’d like a little encouragement, a little something to help her focus.

Now, we cheer less often. Sometimes I cheer and she doesn’t buy it, and that’s OK. But this exercise has carried over to other aspects of our daily lives — getting dressed, brushing teeth, not catching the dog on fire. There might still be children starving in Africa — we’ll tackle that topic another time — and I might still, occasionally, once in a while, maybe raise my voice. But I’ve emerged from the fog of doom — Mod isn’t going to be a louse because she doesn’t clean her plate. Foregoing second helpings doesn’t foreshadow life in a methlab.

Dinnertime is much more enjoyable, now that I’ve been ever-so-slightly more enlightened.

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