Even given the bastardly 5AM wakeups and non-verbal screaming / grunting / demanding spells that George is going through right now, Ron is currently the kid of mine who is most making me question my parenting skills.
He doesn’t like being home all day with the dayhome kids. He likes being home with me, when my focus isn’t split five ways, but unless Louis is having an unusually cheerful day there really isn’t anyone for him to play with for more than a few minutes.
He’s already reading easily and with comprehension. He gets along well with kids his own age and older. He’s got no fear of being away from me anymore.
He’s ready to go to school, but school won’t be ready for him until September.
So – he’s acting out, in the most predictable way possible.
He’s exerting extreme control over one of those areas that kids can control from a very young age – when and what he eats.
And like rookies, both Michael and I fell for it.
It started around his 3rd birthday, and I maintain that the first incident was legitimate. “I don’t like mushrooms” he announced at dinner one night, as he carefully ate his way around the offending fungi in a plate of homemade mac & cheese.
Fair enough. A lot of people don’t like mushrooms. He ate everything else on the plate. So we started telling him he could pick the mushrooms out of things (because the rest of us love mushrooms, we use them a lot).
Then it started being mushrooms and onions. Then mushrooms, onions, and celery. Then mushrooms, onions, celery, all kinds of soup because it’s “hard to eat with a spoon”, then the next thing we knew dinner was a nightly battle with our now almost-five-year-old.
Cajoling. Bargaining. Threatening. We did it all, because we are idiots.
We slipped so gradually into the trap that it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I realized I was the living embodiment of “do as I say, not as I do”.
It was their last night of winter swimming lessons. Dinner was spaghetti – something that used to be a favourite but was now cause for picking, taking tiny nibbles of plain noodles, stalling, loud talking, attempted milk guzzling, and generally doing whatever meal-disrupting goddamn fool thing he could do to get out of eating it.
I was not having a good day.
I watched him pick out the mushrooms. Then the onions. Then the red peppers (WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, YOU LOVE RED PEPPERS, YOU ATE THEM TWO DAYS AGO). It was getting closer and closer to the time when we had to leave for lessons.
“Listen up, kiddo”, I said, “if you don’t eat that delicious food we cooked for you – and I only gave you a little, by the way – you can’t go to swimming lessons tonight.”
He took another tiny bite.
Michael chimed in. “Dude. Take a bite. A real bite. Chew. Swallow. This is not hard.”
Ron scooped up a normal-sized bite. Stuck it in his mouth. Made himself gag it all back into his bowl, and then some.
So, he didn’t get to go to swimming lessons, because I couldn’t go back on what I said. That night they played games for the first half of the lesson and then started up the pool’s wave function for the last half.
He’d have loved it, and he missed out because I (stupidly) decided to try and make mealtimes a battle of wills.
I sat him down the next night at dinner and explained that we were not going to fight at the table anymore, because it was upsetting everyone. I explained – again – that our job as parents is to provide healthy food and his job as the kid is to eat it. I said that he was old enough to understand that he needs to eat to grow and have enough energy for play. And I set the new ground rules:
- use appropriate table manners – sitting in your chair properly, eating with your utensils, no shouting
- taste everything once
- if you don’t want to eat it, you must leave the table so the rest of us can enjoy our meal
- there will be no substitute meals or snacking between dinner and bedtime
The first couple of nights he ate nothing at all. And it was hard! It was hard for both of us, because like Louis CK said (I’m paraphrasing, not quoting) – that will fucking mess with your mind because you need to eat to live! And if you don’t eat, I’ll go to jail! SO EAT!!
Michael and I did a lot of reassuring leg-patting under the table.
But the last few nights, Ron has just… eaten. With a minimum of fuss. Dinnertime has become downright pleasant. It’s the first chance we have in the day to sit down as a family and just talk about whatever comes to mind.
I’m embarrassed to admit all of this, because I know what makes a so-called ‘good’ eater. I KNOW IT. I advise people all the time on how to get their kids eating more varied foods.
Time for me to sit down and eat. Please pass the humble pie. And I’ll have an extra helping of crow on the side.