So, I had this moment recently which was both an incredible moment of deja vu AND one of those brief and fairly rare instances in parenthood where I knew exactly what to do. Sure, it was just a momentary flash of wisdom, but I wrote it down anyway in my exceedingly thin book of parenting knowledge.
Here's the backstory: For those of you just tuning in, my oldest, Jordan, is 20 years old -- a daughter. Despite my ambitious-mommy intentions during her childhood to expose her to lots of tastes and textures and healthy foods, she was resistant to pretty much any form of nourishment except McDonald's chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese. I worked diligently to offer her healthy choices and avoid turning mealtime into a power struggle -- because that's what my parenting books told me to do. But, being the neurotic-type person that I am, I continued to try to get her to try new foods -- because, obviously, if she only ate chicken nuggets she would never grow to be a successful adult. Right?
"Hey! How about a vegetable?"
"Mommy is going to take a small time out in her bedroom."
Even though I rarely forced the issue (meaning I often walked away -- not that I continuously fed her chicken nuggets), there was the occasional "issue." For instance, when we would go out to eat, she would peruse the menu, and if there wasn't some form of chicken nugget, chicken finger, chicken strip, or popcorn chicken, she'd flat out refuse to order anything. And she'd pout. I'd cajole her.
"Hey! They have pasta. How about that?"
"Hey! You like quesadillas. We could get some of those."
"How about a plain hamburger patty?"
Essentially, she'd become very cross and hurt that we'd dared to venture into an eating establishment that denied her the inalienable right to consume only chicken nuggets. And so she'd set up a mini protest. I tried ordering FOR her. I tried insisting she try something new. Generally, there were tears (on both our parts).
Now, many years later, this darling girl is a twenty-year-old missionary living in France -- eating baguettes by the dozen I'm sure. The other day she reported that she'd recently come to love FRUIT. She craved fruit even. So, basically my work is done.
The end of the story is that she survived. I survived. And she seems relatively unharmed by her childhood love affair with fake chicken (and my anxiety over her absolute stubbornness).
Here's the crux -- even though Parker (my 4th kiddo) isn't quite as picky an eater as his sister, he does have whole groupings of foods that he refuses to try. Like sandwiches. The very idea of meat touching bread is utterly repulsive to him. (Unless it's a taco, and then he'll have nine. Thank you very much.)
On our Spring Break trip, we happened to be in Monticello, Utah during lunchtime. The only place even open was this tiny, new-age-y cafe, and we were all starving. Once inside we began perusing the menu board.
Sandwiches and salads.
I saw Parker's eyes narrow. He immediately piped up with, "I don't want anything."
Okay, except we were a couple of hours from the next possibility of a meal, so I went down the old cajoling road. "How about a hamburger? We could order it with no bun."
"Why not try a panini? It looks fantastic."
And then DING DING DING -- I was transported back in time to restaurants of yore with Jordan.
NO. CHICKEN. NUGGETS.
And then I collapsed on the floor.
Not really. Actually I had this relatively surreal moment of "Aha!" And then, "I've got this." I stepped up to the counter, ordered him a cookies and cream shake, and watched the dawning of approval pass over his face. His belly was filled for another couple of hours. I ate my panini in relative peace, and worried not even one little, tiny bit over his general health or potential of becoming a productive citizen in the face of one ice cream luncheon.
Guys! I'd done this before! And it all worked out fine! I guess what it boils down to is that I knew (because of my intense training) that this "sandwich standoff" was relatively inconsequential. So much of the uncertainty and unease of parenting is not knowing exactly what's important or what delimmas to address when. Should I force this issue and instill a strict sense of discipline? Or should I back off and let the situation breathe? Do I let child #3 sleep in my bed every night even though she's eight? Or is it okay to march her back to her own bed even though she's crying? There are hundreds upon hundreds of difficult decisions to be made in this process of parenting, and I guess I'm here today to tell you that it's going to be okay. Trust your gut. Go with your heart. Parent with love -- that's really all we can do. Also? Order ice cream.