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...over-educated and under-experienced, or so they say...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dessert Is Not My Life

I'm sure everyone has a story or two about vegetables at the dinner table. Every person on the planet has fallen victim to the eat your vegetables lecture: both as children and parents. And I believe most of us would fall into the childhood category of non-vegetable eaters. And I know all non-vegetable eaters have stories about how they excused themselves to the toilet with a mouthful of peas, slipped it to the dog, spit them out in the napkin and run to the trash, or hide them under some random piece of meat on your plate and hope your mom doesn't notice. And at this moment I'm confident the majority of us have some "no vegetables no dessert" rule: we went through it and now we put our kids through it. It's "the sins of the father passed down unto the third and fourth generations..." Seriously... is there no end to the madness?

Though I never told her, I watched my daughter pull every vegetable dodging trick in the book. Though it was somewhat irritating to see some form of covert disobedience, I also found myself quietly laughing as I remembered doing all of those same things at her age. Keeping that in the back of my mind, we sat down to dinner one night and I said, "You're going to eat your vegetables tonight, for real... no emergency runs to the bathroom, no spitting them in your napkin... yes, I know you've been doing that because I did all of the same things. So, tonight you're eating your vegetables or no dessert."

Her eyes grew big with shocked amazement, and she nodded her head in agreement. She ate everything else on her plate, but for twenty long minutes she just sat there, telling me stories, and stirring the broccoli around on her plate. By this time it was cold and tough so I prompted her to eat them and get it over with. She reluctantly stabbed one with her fork, put it to her lips, looked at me and said, "I guess I don't want dessert."
"What did you say?"
"I don't want dessert. You said no vegetables no dessert and well, I guess I just don't care about dessert. Is that okay?" She put the broccoli down and silently waited for my response.

Long ago my mother said something very wise to me: you have to choose your battles... That was one of those odd adolescent occasions with my mother where all she had to do was say it once and I never forgot. And there I was, pinned by my daughter, faced with choosing a battle. Sure, I could have forced the issue, broken her spirit, and made her tearfully gnaw on some nasty broccoli "because I said so," but I didn't.

How could I not admire, at that moment, my daughter's sense of reasoning? She knows enough about the strength of my will to see that sitting endlessly at the table was futile. But even though I felt I had made a non-negotiable offer (an offer she couldn't refuse), she basically sat there long enough to find a loop-hole in the system -- an opportunity to negotiate, an opportunity to maybe bend her will a little but, none-the-less, an opportunity to exert it. I had to respect that, so we left the table and she went to bed with no dessert.

Some time after that, she came home from a visit with her dad. We were sitting in the living room when she said, "Dad doesn't get it sometimes." I asked what she meant and she said, "He kept trying to make me eat my vegetables. He told me no dessert and I said that was fine with me, but he still made me sit there after that, he still tried to force me to eat them." I asked her if she ate them and she said, "No, I just sat there. I was the last one at the table because everyone ate their vegetables and dessert and I was just sitting there. He finally let me leave the table after a long time. And then, after all of that, he slipped me a cookie when no one else was looking anyway." Surprisingly to me, she looked exasperated by this...definitely not impressed...the cookie meant nothing.

I stayed silent until she asked me why I let her leave the table and her dad didn't. My response to her was, "Well, I said no vegetables no dessert, you said no dessert, and, given the fact that you'd probably spit them out in the toilet anyway, I saw no real problem with that option. Every parent is different, but for me, if I have to argue with you over something, I'd rather save that energy for something more important than vegetables and dessert." She smiled a little and shook her head, "See, you get it. Dessert is NOT my life."

I laughed to myself as she said that, because it was true. Never underestimate the mind of an eight-year-old, apparently some of them value their sense of freedom and self-respect more than the sweetness of sitting up straight for a treat. And for those of you who are appalled that I allow my daughter to choose whether or not to eat the vegetables, know this: more often than not she eats her vegetables because she really wants dessert...

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