February 23, 2011

Taco Tuesday, and Other Union-Related Issues

Picky eaters. I've got 'em, you've got 'em, everyone's got 'em.

I struggle daily with the question of whether or not my kids will ever willingly eat a vegetable or turn down a french fry. I want them to eat healthy, balanced meals, but these days, I'm lucky to sneak some corn past them and into their burritos.

Mealtimes at our house are no different than playing roulette. In the game of roulette, you pick a number, place your bet on the table, and cross your fingers and toes while rubbing your lucky rabbit's foot, hoping your number will hit. In the game of dinner, my wife and I pick a meal, place the plates on the table, and cross our fingers and toes while rubbing our lucky rabbit's foot, hoping the meal will be a hit. I'm not sure which game has lower odds; it's pretty close.

I was puzzled when this trend started, but recently, I learned that, in fact, neither luck nor my cooking has anything to do with it. What we're dealing with, parents, is a very strong and influential organization that lurks behind the scenes: the Union for the Undertall and Underaged.

When our kids were babies, we fed them with blissful ignorance of what was to come. We gave them a bottle four times a day, spooned out the obligatory peas, apricots, and rice cereal at mealtimes without a peep of complaint from them, and thought it would always be this way. Then, around the age of one, we started to notice some changes. For a while, we had a full week's worth of basic menu items that were a sure bet and could be repeated as necessary, but over time, the number of sure things has slowly dwindled to two: macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly. Everything else is guaranteed to bring about an impromptu protest from at least one of the kids, complete with picket signs and rhyming chants, like "Chicken and rice? Yuck!". OK, they're still working on the rhyming part.

But where do kids get picket signs that scream "Say NO to Vegetable Oppression!"? I mean, they can't even spell "vegetable". I started to wonder: are they backed by some kind of kids' union, one in which the collective bargaining agreement mandates a certain quota of mac-n-cheese and PB&J and allows kids to set their own bedtimes? These were my cynical and slightly exasperated thoughts as I slogged through another challenging meal last week, amused by the absurdity of the idea. But my amusement and perplexity were not to last for long.

All doubt and humor were removed when the lawyers showed up with shiny cease and desist orders and even shinier Armani suits and Gucci shoes. The cease and desist orders were to ensure we served no more broccoli or peas, and the shiny suits were to ensure our intimidation, no doubt. I'm proud to say it didn't work. We turned right around and served peas with grim resolve that very night, but the kids didn't budge. They just pointed to article twelve of the collective bargaining agreement (which I don't remember agreeing to, by the way), pushed their plates away, and started chanting, "Peas, peas, they make us wheeze, we'd rather eat some stinky cheese!" I'll give them credit for the creative rhyme, but it surely won't make me stop serving them green stuff. Let's just see if they can come up with a rhyme for "broccoli".

All kidding aside, there are some things you just can't force your kids to do before they're ready. This includes potty training, petting slobbery dogs, and yes, eating vegetables. They won't starve or have accidents in their pants forever, so we parents have to simply offer our best guidance with loving firmness and keep serving peas; they'll get it eventually.

Just ask my mom, who used to serve me lentils; the Union for the Undertall and Underaged can never stand for long against a determined and patient parent.

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