I can remember when my daughter was just starting to eat solid foods. I remember all the tricks and faces that I would pull trying to get her to open her mouth. No actor with any dinner theatre group worked harder than I did trying to get a 6 month old to try mashed peas. After a particularly long week in the trenches I decided to fall back on something tried and true to make things a little easier on both of us, but she was having none of it. She refused to even try it.
“But you like yogurt” I reminded her in a sing song voice.
I exaggerated my movements as I tried a mouth full myself, making over done sounds of enjoyment to traverse the language barrier. I employed reverse psychology pretending to eat the entire thing myself in an attempt to speed up the process. I even tried putting a little on her lips so she could lick them off and realize I was offering one of her favourites, but instead she smeared it across her face and through her hair. As I continue to wave the spoon around in forced cheerful determination, she began to bat away my advances and squirm in the high chair until I grabbed her chin just to try to get her to sit still. When she squawked her disapproval, I saw an opening and shoved the entire spoon full of yogurt right into her mouth!
The next few moments played out in slow motion. My self satisfied smile; her outrage. Me truly believing that at any moment she would recognize the sweet ambrosia on her tongue and thank me. Her, betrayed and furious, deciding to spew said ambrosia from her mouth with amazing accuracy and force. Both of us now covered in yogurt and crying.
Things got easier as time passed and everyone got better at communicating. Both sides made concessions. They agreed to let me use my words and I tried to use words that would appeal to them. Referring to a medical expert I would pull out Dr. Seuss and read Green Eggs and Ham with gleeful anticipation. By the end I was exuberant. Sam-I-am remained calm but dedicated to introducing his friend to a new food. Finally, the big guy tries it, even if it is just a way to get the rhyming rascal off his back, but lo and behold he likes it…HE DOES SO LIKE GREEN EGGS AND HAM! And then, oh this part is just so good, he thanks his determined little friend. “Thank you, thank you Sam-I-am”
They learned I wasn’t going to give up until they tried it. “You do not like them, so you say. Try them, try them and you may”. I learned that life rarely works out like it does in the fairy tale. After a teensy tiny bite, my recalcitrant little ones would look to me and say oh so politely, “I’m sorry Mummy, I just really don’t like this” and even though they didn’t even try to rhyme, what could I do? I had laid down the rules so now I had to play by them. Mummy-0, children- 1
Luckily literature bailed me out again. I read the most interesting study on the regeneration of taste buds. Taste buds start to die out and shrink as we age, thus changing the way we are able to distinguish flavours. Knowing that these cells regenerate every 2 weeks I now had a time line to reintroduce flavours based on the argument that what tasted bad before, might taste better today. I listened while they complained that they had already tried tomatoes. They listened as I explained that maybe the tomato tasting taste buds have given up for good and were now spending their eternity in taste bud heaven (with nary a tomato to be seen). They tried the food again, and more often than not, stubbornly shook their little heads. They learned that their taste buds were survivors. I learned that tomatoes were still on the no fly list but I had 2 weeks to learn a new recipe.
This general pattern of trying and testing and accepting certain foods were never going to be celebrated on the menu still seemed to be moving in the right direction until one of the little cractpots tried something new at a dinner party. When the hostess asked him if he liked it, he very politely and earnestly answered, “Oh, I’m sorry but not enough of my taste buds have died to really enjoy this”
I’m not sure who was more red. Myself, the hostess, or the poor rejected tomato.
Still, overall, I think the lessons I have taught the kids have been a success. These days my kids enjoy a wide variety of foods and flavours and I can tell you my pocket book almost misses the good ol days when hamburgers topped the list as haute cuisine. (read more about that here) More importantly, I think they understand that listening is an important part of communicating. Trying to understand someone else’s perspective is as important as getting them to understand yours. Patience and determination means that while sometimes reaching an agreement takes longer, at least each party has gotten there of their own free will. You cannot just force a Tomato supporter to change their ways, but you can calmly and respectfully teach someone a new Tomato fact everyday until they eventually come to see all the disadvantages Tomatoes bring to the table. Wait, I might be getting a little confused.
The point is, if we lose our patience, and try to use force we might just end up with a face full of yogurt. Any clearer? I guess all I’m trying to say is that the world would be a better place if everyone used their words, minded their manners and really listened to each other even when there were Tomatoes on the menu. And at no point should anyone mention anything about anyone dying. I can tell you from experience, that tends to ruin a party. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. ~James Baldwin