I have decided to invent the Elementary Child Excuse Maker, a handheld device that will enable a child to choose among a number of practical, pre-recorded responses to any and all forms of adult inquiry.
With selections ranging from the traditional “I didn’t know any better,” to the contemporary “I need more reminders” and the ultra-hip “Maybe YOU need to work on your communication skills” — and boasting such features as Volume Control, Attitude Adjustment, and Nonverbal Effects (gagging noises and the like) — the Elementary Child Excuse Maker is the perfect gift for the sagacious child who is tired of having to repeat himself to those pesky adults in his life.
(To come in rude red and obnoxious orange. INVEST TODAY!)
My son’s grandmother did me the favor packing his lunch the other day. (In a nutshell, I’m sick.) All she required of me was his Monsters University lunch bag/box/whatever you want to call it (it’s one of those insulated softies), and I ended up throwing in a box of V8 Fusion. My mother was doing me a favor, so I wasn’t about to lecture her on the specifications of packing my preschooler’s lunch.
I go all out with my kid’s lunches. I like to be creative and make things fun. Bagged lunches can be boring, so I like to include variety. I also like to zazz things up with fun character or holiday-themed paper products (plate and napkin), colorful zip-lock bags (available at Target), and character-themed tupperware containers. I’ll periodically rotate in special food themes –– “China food” or “Mexico food,” or even “spooky food,” and on the rare occasions that I throw it a dessert, I’ll find some way to make it literacy based. (This used to be a major hobby of mine.)
I also make a point of including “love notes” in his lunches. Even on the day that Grandma packed it for me, I made a point of slipping a little heart-shaped sticky note into his lunch box with an excuse explanation as to why everything looked so dull different. (Wasn’t it NICE of Grandma to pack your lunch today?)
I’ll scribble down a few sentences worth of well-wishes, interesting facts, useful information, or suggest social prompts. Some notes will have it all. And every note contains an integrated “sight word”, which I also make a point of S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G O-U-T. It sounds crazy, but the kid loves it, and his teachers find it adorable. (There are only six other kids in his classroom, so they can afford to give him a little extra attention.)
So this got me thinking… what if I had left my mother an exacting set of instructions on how to prepare and pack my child’s lunch? There are plenty of parents out there who obsess over what they feed their kids, and god help you if you accidentally feed them inorganic produce. Some insist artificial dyes were responsible for their children’s behavior problems; others seek to “cure” their kids of autism Jenny McCarthy style (which evidently involves removing gluten and casein from their diets). More still have taken it upon themselves to “diagnose” their poor kids with multiple food allergies and intolerances before subjecting them to rigorous dietary restrictions. I can only imagine the enormity of the written instructions these parents must leave their child care providers, who may not even be able to make the distinction between quinoa and couscous.
Grandma ended up sending the boy in with beans, spaghetti, and the V8 juice I’d given her. Not quite the lunch I would have packed, but certainly delicious and nutritious enough to keep my child satiated and content.
But if I had left her a list of specifications for packing my kid’s lunch, here’s what it would have looked like:
I have a dream that one day the preschoolers of this nation will sit down and live out the true meaning of the phrase, “Sitting Down to Dinner.”
I have a dream that one day my son and the sons of others will be able to sit down with their families — AT THE DINNER TABLE — and remain seated for more than three minutes at a stretch.
I have a dream that one day even *my* child, sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be able to plant his little ass in his chair and eat whatever the hell I put in front of him.
I have a dream that my little child will one day judge his meals not by color and texture, but by their nutritional content and flavor.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, at a restaurant or at Grandma’s house — as Grandpa’s lips drip with soothing words of justification for outright defiant behavior — one day, right there at the table, my child will use a FORK to eat his fucking spaghetti and chocolate cake instead of his hands.
I have a dream today.
Select a delicious, nutritious meal to feed your child.
Sober up to the realization that there is no way in hell he would ever eat that.
Come up with a new meal featuring minimal (less than three) ingredients.
Assemble the meal. In many cases, cooking will not be required.
Present the meal in an attractive fashion (sandwiches shaped like zoo animals, pancakes decorated to resemble faces).
The sell. (“Oh WOW, these look sooo yummy! “ / “You’re a lucky [boy/girl] to get such a yummy [breakfast/lunch/dinner]!” / “OM NOM NOM!”)
Once the meal has been refused, stand firm in your resolve that THIS is [breakfast/lunch/dinner], there will not be an alternative [breakfast/lunch/dinner], and he will eat what you’ve made him.
The entire meal finds its way onto the floor. Luckily, you anticipated this, so there is an identical plate sitting right out on the counter. Clean up and replace lost meal.
Ignore your child’s frantic cries of hunger. You’ve already fulfilled your parental obligation to make [breakfast/lunch/dinner]. Go empty the dishwasher or read a magazine.
The cries get louder. Your child is clearly starving. Deny the pleas for Cheerios and Goldfish Crackers. He will eat what you made him or go hungry. You are strong. You are the one in charge.
Disregard the pity in your heart for your starving child. Ignore the guilt you feel for imposing such suffering upon a small, helpless creature. Go do some laundry.
The cries of your child become unbearable. Over the sound of the dryer, you think you hear Child Protective Services knocking at your door. Beg your child to sit down and eat his meal. Offer him cookies if he takes just two bites — no, one bite — of his damned [breakfast/lunch/dinner].
Your child is wasting away. You are a horrible [parent/grandparent] for abusing your child so. Fearing [loss of custody/incarceration/eternal damnation], you allow him a belly full of [Cheerios/Goldfish Crackers] for [breakfast/lunch/dinner].
Break down crying as your child happily eats his snacks. By this step, you should feel guilt for giving into the demands of a fussy toddler and denying your child a healhy, balanced diet — he would have certainly eaten the full meal if only you had held out a little longer.
Child learns to get what he wants through emotional blackmail. As you begin to plan the next meal, so does he.