Ah, parenting… that stage of life where you not only have to force yourself to exercise and choke down vegetables, but also convince people far less rational than you to do the same.
Frankly, it’s hard not to give into peer pressure sometimes. Everyone in my house now campaigns for a steady diet of jellybeans and pizza… while I have to pretend that making yet another meal from scratch really does sound better than someone bringing melted cheese to my door.
But I figure the prevention of scurvy and colon cancer is part of my parenting duties, which means talking my kids into eating real food.
At first, I thought my older daughter Brontë was a tough sell. She could be defiant, especially around age 2, and would try refusing meals in favor of starchy snacks until we eventually starved her out…
But I was completely unprepared for Bridget.
We call her “Bridget the Viking.” She’s a blue-eyed blonde with a face so angelic that her cuteness made the doctors who delivered her gasp.
“I’ve delivered a lot of babies,” one told me, “And always say they’re lovely, even when they’re weird-looking, but she may honestly be the cutest baby I’ve ever seen.”
I was so flattered, having no idea I’d just birthed a Viking.
Bridget has a good heart and an overwhelming zest for living, but she was a lunatic from the start. She kept us up all hours with her berserker rage and was turning over furniture from the moment she started walking. There’s something about an angelic blonde baby throwing end tables across the room with freakish strength that just chills you to the bone.
Bridget’s independent streak borders on the self-destructive. She’ll refuse to do what you told her, simply because you told her to do it. She’d rather take the punishment than give up her options.
Bridget started drinking bottles of hot sauce just because she wasn’t supposed to. People were acting nervous about her tasting them, so her curiosity finally got the better of her… she once ate an entire packet of red peppers because her big sister yelled that she couldn’t do it, and she’s now turned drinking hot sauce into a party trick.
Don’t believe me? My cousin wasn’t sure. Knowing my penchant for hyperbole, she once dropped by my house armed with an extra-spicy bottle of habanero hot sauce covered in warning labels and just… casually… left it on a table to see what Bidgie would do.
Here’s the part we managed to capture:
I mean, what kind of thrill-seeking is this!? How will she keep topping this experience? She’ll be bungee-jumping while snorting moon rocks by the time she’s ten.
But while she’ll literally drink a cup of hot sauce, she won’t sit down to dinner for more than a few seconds before flipping around, impatiently yelling: “DONE!”
Because you’re supposed to sit down to dinner and Bridget’s chiefly motivated to do things she’s not supposed to do. Like work out elaborate schemes to stash chocolate chips in our couch cushions.
Well, having such a challenging kid has taught me a couple of essential truths about human nature. They are:
1) Having something taken away is more motivating than the opportunity to gain something of equal value
I learned this while attempting to manage Bridget’s constant bloodcurdling screaming in the car.
She doesn’t like being in the car, and sometimes we have to be in the car. So I had to listen to her unfettered Viking berserker screams for months on end. Sometimes, they scrambled my brain so hard that I’m surprised I never hit anything.
I tried everything to stop her: talking her out of it, soothing her, yelling at her, trying to figure out what was wrong, turning on music, giving her a toy… nothing worked.
Until the day I took her toy away and would only give it back when she stopped shrieking. That worked like a charm. The Bridget-screaming-in-the-car phenomenon disappeared for good.
So… the same toy that didn’t make her feel any better when I first offered it to her suddenly became vitally important to not lose. This is human nature: we are more motivated by losing things than gaining something of equal value.
2) We value things more when we have to work hard to get them
Bridget’s inherently suspicious of anything handed to her or expected of her, but loves anything she had to sneak.
I guess it makes sense… A guy who’d stalk a deer for days, in pounding rain and bitter cold, before stashing it’s trophy head above his sofa would probably be disgusted by finding that exact same deer carcass left on his doorstep.
And so it is with Bridget the Viking, who is such a walking embodiment of the forbidden-fruit-tasting-sweeter principle that I finally incorporated it into her training.
I started hiding fruit around the house:
Bananas on the counter where she could barely reach them.
Grapes on plates, just inside the bottom cupboards.
It worked. I’d hear her quietly scooting a step-stool into the kitchen, a muffled rifling through the cabinets, and wild giggling as she made off with a grape.
She’d keep this up for hours, sneaking away whole plates of grapes and bananas that she’d left touched when I’d offered them at breakfast.
And after weeks of all but refusing dinner, she was sneaking into the kitchen last night to swipe bite after bite of the pesto lasagna I left cooling on the counter:
She was desperate for those bites, straining on the highest tippy-toes she could manage to grab spoonfuls of pesto pasta above her head and balance them all the back to her face. She savored every last one of them as though she’d been starving, rolling her eyes back in her head for several moments before scrambling to nab the next.
Until dinner was finally brought to the table, whereupon she took a couple of bites of pesto pasta before dropping her fork like it was on fire: “DONE!”