Nearly every family I know has at least one child who lives in fear of food. Are they frightened of highly over-processed, potentially toxic food-like substances, like hot dogs and gummy worms and cheese puffs? No.
But dig it out of the ground or pick it off a tree and my boy Rex (7) starts having heart palpitations (the exception would be french fries because he is convinced they “aren’t real”).
But, this year at school we lucked out. Rex’s first-grade teacher took it upon herself to insist that Rex eat his entire lunch. Early on, we nixed the safe brown -agged peanut butter sandwich and launched him into the wide world of cafeteria food. With the exception of the time he threw up the mashed potatoes, it’s been a successful endeavor.
The real payoff has been his self-esteem. Every day when I pick Rex up from the bus he tells me what he ate for lunch. Corn, cucumbers, beans, peas, lasagna and chicken sandwiches. Salad! When we sit down for dinner and Rex starts to throw a fit, all we have to do is suggest that we call Ms. Vohar and get her opinion on broccoli, and Rex practically chokes it down.
She has single-handedly gone where no parent in this house has been able to go before.
We don’t keep a lot of candy in the house but now and then we get a flock of grandparents who fly in with large quantities of American sweets. Our kids think this is great, but a few weeks of over-indulgent treats from grandparents mixed in with back-to-back vacations, and trying to get them back on whole foods is like convincing a lion to eat cole slaw.
The normal eaters are bad enough, but getting Rex to eat fruit and vegetables after a steady diet of non-food is miserable. I recently bought a honeydew melon. I know from past experience that Rex is willing to eat cantaloupe so I assumed melons were a safe bet. They’re super sweet and a great substitute for pixie stix.
Once the dishes, homework and piano were done, Rex came in for “a little treat.” I had managed to push the remaining candy out of the house earlier that day; there was nothing but melon.
“Sure!” I said, “I’ve got some super yummy melon for dessert—”
“Melon?!” he yelled, “Blech! Yuck! It’s icky! I hate it I hate it, it’s ewey and gross, melon is not dessert! I want CANDY!”
After a week of fighting over every green pea and every kernel of corn, I was done with catering to his cotton candy palate.
“That’s it, Mister, you are officially done with candy! We are taking a break from sugar so you can just march yourself up to bed right now and think about your attitude!”
He burst into tears and ran to his room. Since he was the third person to burst into tears in the previous half hour I wasn’t alarmed. We’re mostly numb to tears around here. Fire, flood or blood and we pay attention. But feelings? Meh.
I puttered around the kitchen and could hear Rex up in his room weeping like his world was ending. After five minutes without a significant decrease in volume I decided I’d better go up and see if I could smooth the frosting a little.
“Rexy,” I said sitting on the edge of his bed, “Just take a breath. It’s okay, we’re just going to have a little break from sugar around here and focus on being healthy,” he sobbed harder. “Look, why don’t you say your prayers and get some sleep? You’ll feel better in the morning.”
“Okay,” he wept, “Dear Heavenly Father, I’m so sad about the candy, there’s no more candy here, no more Christmas candy—” huh? “no more Halloween candy—” big sob, “no more Easter candy or, or birthday candy…No more homework treats and no more candy at the grocery store with Mom…it’s just so sad today!”
I’ll be honest, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe banishing candy eternally wasn’t such a bad idea. We have since reinstated peanut butter cups.
Annie Valentine grew up in the Satsop Valley. Her husband is assigned to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and they now live there with their four children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org