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The night before the Boo’s last day of school, as I was leaving the house for book/wine/kvetching club, the hubs asked me, “Why is the ice cream so soft?” In a rush and already mentally out the door, I said, “I don’t know, it’s been in there since this morning.”

By the next morning, it was clear that is was time to call Ye Olde Sears Repair Service. They gave us the first available appointment. For the next day. So I spent days throwing food in the trash. Food I had just bought, food I had forgotten about, food I wasn’t crazy about but had kept anyway because, get this, I hate throwing food away. It makes me feel like a wasteful, overprivileged bourgeoisie. 

I was in such a black hole of a mood I snapped at a friend who asked if we wanted to join her at a super fun play place. 

And then we dusted off the coolers and bought a few perishables and ice, none of which is my idea of fun. It was, however, the Boo’s idea of fun. Ice! Bags and bags of it with no end! Coolers to use as a personal fridge, as step stools, as fun new chairs. It helped, somewhat, seeing him so entertained.

It also helped to remember a saying a friend had taught me: A problem that can be solved with money is not a big problem. I tried to lean on that thought as we plunked down a shocking amount of money for a basic fridge. A fridge that would be delivered in a week, because there is apparently no such thing as next-day fridge delivery (note to big-box stores: GOLD MINE!).

Faced with the prospect of a week of daily ice runs and cooler-draining, I put an appeal for a dorm fridge on Facebook, not really expecting much. But several friends said we were welcome to borrow one. And one friend offered to bring hers over. SOLD! 

So now, hours away from the arrival of the new fridge, we are plotting happier things, like what kind of cookies to make as a thank-you to the friends who brought us their mini fridge-freezer. 

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Last week as an old work buddy was doing me the tremendous favor of cutting apart the Boo’s school photos (seriously I would pay an extra five bucks for that because I canNOT cut a straight line) I said something misty about how much my kid has changed since September. My friend said something really smart in response: We all change all the time, but we don’t think we do. Well, that was the spirit of it. I don’t recall the precise words because Baby Ate My Brain. 

Anyway, it’s gotten me thinking about the changes I’ve undergone this school year, right along with my kid. 

He’s grown taller and gotten heavier, while I have grown wider. (Seriously, Mother Nature?!)

He’s gained confidence in his physical abilities by exploring the creek behind his school and pushing the playground to its limits. I’ve done the same by trying wacky fitness classes in order to write about them. 

He’s acquired a taste for Rush, ACDC and Ozzy Osbourne, and I’ve learned to tolerate them. 

He’s gained more sophisticated debate skills, and I’ve developed new parrying techniques that (mostly) don’t piss him off. 

He’s discovered the joys of extended day, and I’ve discovered I can get professional, paid writing done during those glorious additional kid-free hours. Or catch up on Call the Midwife (it takes hours for the Ugly Cry Face to dissipate).

He’s moved into the “I can do it/I know how/Let me try” phase, and I’ve learned to sit on my hands/say yes/not react to the appearance of a mess on the floor I JUST cleaned.

He’s learned how to write his name, and I’ve learned to decode his scrawl.

He’s made great strides in negotiating relationships with his peers, and I’ve learned how to negotiate Facebook troll attacks.

He started wearing glasses a few weeks after I started wearing stronger bifocals. 

You get the idea, but I’ve saved the best for last: At the beginning of the year, the Boo reported in horrified Junior Narc tones that some of his classmates used potty talk. Last week he told me, eyes a-twinkle, “I do potty talk at school now Mama!” Then he waited for a reaction. All I gave him was a bored, “Oh really?”

See, even a Mama-Come-Lately can learn new tricks. Happy Summer, everyone!

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A few times a month, the Boo is class leader. This involves perks such as ringing the bell for snack time and bringing a treasured object for show-n-share. He’s brought things like a book, a small fan, and an old cassette recorder. That last one got rave reviews from one teacher because the dual recording speed means you can play back at Chipmunk speed. 

I wasn’t sure the teachers would love what he selected for yesterday’s show-n-share, though. After some hemming and hawing shortly before we needed to walk out the door, he settled on this:

For the record, I am not the adult in the house who introduced him to this album. However, he LOVES it. I don’t know if it’s the strong beat or the guitar work, but he just can’t get enough of stuff like this (he also loves Rush). So my approach has been to balance it out with Prince and Aimee Mann, and be honest about the times I just can’t deal with the Young brothers. 

I was slightly nervous about how the CD would be received at school, but when I picked him up the extended day teachers (different from his usual set) told me they had played the CD for hours. And they were laughing about it. Hard.

That night, we got the Boo talking about show-n-share. The conversation took place while he was dancing wildly to Back in Black, so it was, um, fragmented. But as he hopped around wailing on his mini-broom-guitar, we were able to put together that they did play the CD, at least a few kids danced to it, and a kid who cranked it up was asked to turn it down. When I asked if it was his best show-n-share ever, he shouted “yes!” And then he went back to rocking out. 

The next day, I checked in with the Boo’s teachers to ask how the songs went over with the kids — and them. Thankfully, “So fun!” was a typical comment. A teacher from another class came by to rock out a bit, and I learned that one of the Boo’s teachers taught the kids some leg guitar moves. Meanwhile, my kid had demonstrated the proper arm wave and “rock on” hand sign for concert-goers. (I taught it to him that morning in the car pool drop-off line, and I was pleased that the quick lesson had stuck.)

There were a few parents on the playground when I was chatting with the teachers, and they seemed to have no beef with the CD. The word “cool” was uttered more than once. 

Phew!

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  All parents have child care tasks they detest. Mine is brushing and flossing my kid’s teeth. I would seriously, honestly, rather wipe my kid’s butt ten times a day. And this week, I had an actual bona fide fight with my kid about the aformentioned and detested task.

The Boo has always been a bit silly about getting his teeth brushed, asking me to play the part of his dentist and demanding hugs when it’s my turn to brush. So I allow lots of time to get through the routine of letting him start, then hitting all the hidden spots before we take the same tack with flossing. It takes a while, but we get the job done and have a bit of fun along the way.

But this week was different. Maybe because he was home sick for two days, maybe because of the full moon, or maybe because he’s growing up a bit. Whatever the reason, he suddenly amped up the fake hug tactic, and it bugged me. I just wanted to get the job done and move on, but he wanted to make a never-ending story out of it. In frustration, I pushed him away mid-hug, and he pushed back. I made a speech in a loud voice, and he stuck his fingers in his ears. I yelled, and he yelled. Finally, I left the bathroom.

Eventually I got him to cooperate, but things were no better that night. After I blew him kisses and closed his door, words from a very wise parenting coach came back to me: You can’t have a tug of war if one person drops the rope.

The next morning, I dropped the rope – by telling him the truth.

Me: “Honey, can I tell you a secret?”

Boo, eyes wide: “Sure!”

Me: “I don’t like brushing your teeth. It’s not fun for me. I do it because it helps keep your teeth clean so you don’t have to get so much scraping done at the dentist. I don’t like the hugs you give me before I brush your teeth because they’re not real hugs. I prefer to have a real hug when we’re done.”

He was still listening, so I went on.

Me: “I’m done fighting with you about brushing your teeth. If you want me to help you, that’s great. But if you don’t want me to help you, that’s fine too. And that might mean more scraping and maybe a cavity.But it’s your choice. You get to decide.”

He thought about it, opened his mouth for flossing, and then started up the old games. I threw the flosser in the trash and walked out, saying I understood his choice. He protested and said he wanted me to floss, really, please floss.

I didn’t floss his teeth that morning. I reminded him of the choices again that night, and after reminding me that a cavity might be one of the consequences of not brushing, he opened his mouth like a baby bird. A baby bird that’s making his own choices.

And then the next day we were back to square one, or maybe square one and a half. So now I’m singing him a “mystery song” every time it’s my turn to brush or floss. It’s working, for now, and when it no longer works I’ll change my tactics again and cross my fingers. 

This, my friends, is life with a four-year-old. 

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 Boo, cradling stuffed animals: I had two babies!Me: Congratulations! What’s this one’s name?

Boo: Zinc lozenge. 

Me: What do you call the other one? 

Boo: Green dot.

Me: …
Later…

Boo: Zinc lozenge likes to play baseball.

Me: Oh, great!

Boo: Now he’s tired so I have to sit on him to keep him warm. 

Me: …

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  Lately the Boo has wanted a story after books at bedtime instead of a song. If I had a bigger ego this would upset me, because I was a teenage opera major after all. Mais non, I am happy to be spared another round of “birdhouse in your soul” — which is a great song, but tedious when you’ve been on duty for fourteen hours and long to collapse on the couch. 

Anyway. The first time he requested a story, I asked him what he wanted it to be about. He said he didn’t know, so I started talking about a guitar, since he’d been really into playing with mine. It was an electric guitar with about three strings who lived in a dusty, smelly junk shop with a bunch of other electric guitars and desperately wanted to be bought and played. Long story short, one day someone did buy him because they could see how fabulous he was under all the grime. And naturally, they gave him to a little boy as a birthday present, but not before cleaning him up and hiding him in a closet, which the guitar found terribly sad, disappointing and confusing. 

You know, pretty standard stuff.

I spun roughly the same story for about a week and I was getting bored with it. And then one night the Boo interrupted me. 

“No, Mama! The electric guitar has 18 strings! And it’s unpainted! And the junk shop is not so dusty.” He spoke with urgency, gesturing with spread fingers as he does when he’s serious. 

“Oh, okay,” I said, and incorporated his details, plus a few new ones of my own. A friendly doll to repaint the guitar, several people passing it by before it finally gets bought. High drama. 

Weeks later, we are still telling a version of this story together every night, and usually at rest time too. The Boo often takes over, so excited his words tumble out faster than logic, changing the guitar’s home to symphony hall or giving a new name to the doll who paints it or getting the grownup to hide the guitar under the bed because the boy is coming upstairs OH NO!

One thing never changes, though: the boy always gets the electric guitar for his birthday. 

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I’ll have one of each, please.

We have had some successes on this week’s Voyage to the Land of Rainbow Foods, but since the Boo started wearing glasses on Thursday (!) I’ve dialed down the food efforts a bit. He’s got a lot on his plate, so to speak.

So I’ve had some time to think about my role in all this. And I’ve realized something: My expectations are getting in the way of our process.

For example. I have this vision in my head: I lovingly prepare a gorgeous pizza from scratch. I take it from the oven, let it cool to the perfect temperature, cut it into kid-size slices, and put one on a bright purple plate. I turn, place the plate in front of him, and he takes a bite. And smiles. And says, “Mama, I love this!” And then he eats it! The whole slice!

And then I snap out of it. Ain’t gonna happen. My fantasy is getting in the way of the reality in front of me, tripping up the food journey before it even starts. How can I help the Boo get anywhere if I’m anchored to something that doesn’t exist? Deep, I know, but sometimes parenting is like that. Things just come up.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about my feelings of failure around his eating habits, and how that affects how I am with him. I feel guilty. I feel like it’s entirely my fault. And to an extent, it is. I’m the one putting the food in front of him. I’ve known he needed some serious guidance, but picture a little kid on the floor kicking and screaming, “I don’t wanna! I don’t wanna!” That kid is me. Or was. 

And the reality is, picky eaters just… are. And it’s no one’s fault, it just… is. But when you feel bad about yourself as you approach the task of getting your kid to open his mind and mouth to new foods, it ain’t great for either of you. I was getting impatient. Angry, even. Why do I have to deal with this? Why won’t my kid just eat pizza and hot dogs like every other kid on the planet? What the hell kind of kid won’t eat cheese?

Mine. 

Time to get over my issues so I can help him with his. 
 

 

 

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  We are lucky to have a world-class symphony orchestra in town, and they are smart enough to have a kid’s series. Last Sunday, we took the Boo to see an hour-long Dr. Seuss-themed program, preceded by an “instrument playground” with lots of very patient people helping kids try whatever instrument they wanted to. Herewith, the highlights.

– You went to the Symphony for the first time, with Mama and Daddy and Grammie. You had been excited about it for weeks, and got upset one day when you thought we had forgotten about going.

– You were lukewarm about trying out instruments, but made a beeline for a flute — and made a sound on it pretty quickly. We all thought you’d be really into the percussion options. You were not.

– You were enthralled by the size and beauty of the hall itself, and spent a lot of time going in and out of it through different doors, then down hallways and back into it. It seemed like you were trying to get a handle on how it all fit together. You said “ooh!” every time you went in.

– You sat in Mama’s lap for a good hunk of the show, but also sat in your seat, and stood, and stood on the seat. To be fair, you had had an early nap and the show took place on the first day of the time change. 

– You listened intently and clapped when you were supposed to. We explained that the different colors of shirts the players were wearing represented different sections — strings, brass, etc. — and you thought that was pretty cool.

– You needed to get up to pee once, and then to poop once, two minutes before the end of the show. 

– You said, “They said join us next time, can we go join them, Mama?” This was the day after the concert, during a quiet play time.

– You went to the symphony for the first time, and you will be going back. Mama bought the tickets yesterday. 

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  Hello friends! First let me thank you all for your comments and stories of your own picky eaters. Knowing I’m not in this alone makes me feel like less of a failure. Why does it feel like a failure? Is it the weird information-intensive parenting culture we have in this country right now? Maybe I need a post on that…

Anyway. Last week we began a voyage, as I like to think of it, into the Land of Rainbow Foods. I decided to shove off using a bit of guilt as an oar. Specifically, my kid’s promise to his doctor to try new foods.

When we got home from the Boo’s 4-year checkup, it was still early enough for some cartoons. I usually plunk down a bowl of apple slices next to him when he watches TV (partly because I cannot abide crumbs). This time I put a few rainbow baby carrots in the bowl. The Boo brought one to me, protesting, and I reminded him of his promise. He went away, took a minuscule bite, and brought the carrot back to me. Then he did the same with the other two carrots in the bowl. The bites were so comedically small it was hard to tell they were there at all, but they were. And he had fulfilled his end of the deal.

I believe they refer to this as baby steps. It’s also interesting to note that he did exactly what I asked, no more, no less. I believe they call that meeting expectations.

Meanwhile, I’ve been putting new or different foods on his plate, especially at snack time, with limited success. And I’ve eased off on the “you promised Dr. E” thing because frankly it feels weird to say that all the time. I want him to try new foods because he’s curious about what’s out there in the food universe, not because of a directive some middle-aged guy he sees once or twice a year.

Meanwhile, we had something of a breakthrough. The Boo and I were making chocolate snack balls the other day (mostly dates and oats and nuts*), which was a treat for him because a) food processor! and b) he gets to pour stuff in and push buttons. I had asked him to dump in the cashews, and out of the corner of my eye I saw him put one in his mouth. And chew it. And swallow it. I asked how he liked it, and he said, “It was yucky, Mama.”

Apparently I should have left well enough alone. But I learned, or rather remembered, something important about my kid: He doesn’t like an audience. Ask him to sing a song he knows and he’ll say he forgot how. Walk away and you’ll hear him singing it to himself five minutes later.

I reminded my husband of this tendency one night at dinner when we were both cajoling the Boo to try some roasted veggies I’d put on his plate. And as soon as the parental Eye of Sauron was off him, he tried the quinoa-farro salad I’d put on there. And declared it yummy.

I believe they call that “progress.”

 

*I adapted my recipe from this one at the excellent Minimalist Baker. All amounts approximate: 1 1/2 cups of oats, 12-14 medjool dates (I like the nice gooey ones from the produce section at Trader Joe’s, make sure to remove the pits), 1/2 cup cashews, 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, cinnamon to taste, maybe 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut, and 3-4 ounces good quality melted bittersweet chocolate. Whiz until pulverized, form into balls, store in fridge, don’t eat too many or your gut will yell at you. Sometimes it’s not sticky enough and I add some coconut oil, maple syrup, honey or a few more dates.

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Not shown: Cheerios, apples and chocolate milk.

As I reported in a previous post, the Boo recently gagged on half a teaspoon of tomato sauce. Which I had cajoled him into trying. I really thought he’d like it, or at least think it was okay, and then I really thought he was going to puke. It was astounding, and sobering, and it brought a big truth home to me: This kid needs to expand his food horizons. And I need to steer that ship. 

I don’t particularly want to steer the ship, and the reason is simple: I hate conflict. Being agreeable and saying yes as much as I can are two of my central parenting values. (Unless I’m short on sleep and then I’m… grumpy.) But clearly being agreeable is not serving me well in terms of raising a healthy eater. 

And here’s the funny thing: I don’t shy away from conflict when I’m limiting screen time or nudging the Boo to do things I know he can do but doesn’t want to. So I don’t really have that excuse. And now I’ve committed to more conflict in the name of my kid’s health. But, me being me, I’m going to minimize the conflict, and do what I can to make it fun. And I’m going to tell you all about it here. Which will also keep me accountable, because I’m not sure I could deal with publicly confessing to total failure. 

I’ve already begun on the conflict-limiting aspect by enlisting our pediatrician. At the Boo’s four-year checkup, when he asked if we had questions or issues, I brought up the Beige Diet (see photo above). The conversation went something like this:

Me: Blah blah terribly selective blah blah it’s at least partly my fault. 

Doc: So does he eat fruit?

Me: Yes, he loves apples.

Doc: What about bananas?

Me and hubs simultaneously: Sometimes. 

Doc: Giant Eye Roll, internal Oy Vey. 

We went on in that vein for a while, and the doctor gave Boo stern instructions to try new foods. Several times. Boo agreed, nodding solemnly. That agreement is what I’ve been leaning on to minimize conflict. 

Tune in next week to find out how that’s working out. 

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