I should have known better.
I tried to sneak something into the recycling bin without my toddler’s notice. I try this maneuver often, but my success rate is abysmal. I’ve done it with Halloween candy and preschool crafts, coloring sheets from church and Happy Meal toys. On this particular occasion, it was a book.
Earlier that morning, we trekked out to an early childhood education fair. We were on the hunt for a preschool for our son, Ian, to enter that fall. When we entered the gymnasium, a woman at the registration table handed me a reusable grocery bag stamped with the school district’s logo and stuffed with promotional materials. Among them was a paperback book about the “My Plate” program. You know the one, right? It replaced the food pyramid I grew up with; a round plate is divided into colored sections, each of which represents a food group. It’s a visual that always makes me think, “Crap. I haven’t eaten enough vegetables today. Or ever.”
In this book, a mother cat encourages her son and daughter to go on a scavenger hunt for foods from each food group. The little girl cat, Anna, is nervous to try these unfamiliar foods, but her mom and brother admonish her to try just two bites. Two bites from each food group, they say, will land her in the “Two Bite Club.” Anna’s eagerness to be in included in the Two Bite Club is equivalent to how I would have felt to be in the Mickey Mouse Club circa 1994.
I stood in the kitchen, flipping through the pages. I imagined some poor intern at the Department of Agriculture tasked with creating this book. What good would this cheesy, pedantic story do for my picky eater, whose stubbornness manifests itself most prominently at the kitchen table? Nothing, I concluded, and pitched it into the recycling bin.
Mealtimes with Ian have been a struggle since the first time we tried to introduce baby cereal. He comes by this pickiness naturally, because I am certainly not a “foodie” and my husband’s pickiness is the stuff of legend in his family. His Uncle David tells a story of wrestling with him on Grandma Shannon’s dining room floor, trying to force him to swallow one bite of rice. My husband won that round. And because the proverbial apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Ian has been winning the food battles too. We don’t literally wrestle, but many tears have been shed around our kitchen table (only some of them were Ian’s).
I guess I didn’t hide the book well enough because a few hours later, Ian came up behind me and proclaimed, “Read this, Mama!” I turned to find Ian’s blue eyes and that flimsy purple book staring back at me. Despite my best efforts at distraction and sleight of hand, I read it aloud approximately one million times over the next several days.
Children’s books tend to work their way under my skin and into my brain just like the catchiest pop song. At dinner just a few days later, I heard myself saying, “Ian, you can be in the Two Bite Club! Just two bites of that broccoli, and you’re in!” Lo and behold, he took two bites. And then a few more. Abra Cadabra! The broccoli had vanished from his plate.
The next day at snack time, he was begging for a second helping of pretzels.
“How about strawberries?” I said.
“Strawberries are not a snack!” he protested.
“Well, you already had enough to eat from the grain group today. You need a fruit or a vegetable.” Did I just quote that book again?
Record scratch. Wait, what? I quoted that book again, and it worked? Again?
I couldn’t believe it. I had finally broken through the wall of my son’s pickiness, and I had that stupid book to thank for it. I was eating a big, giant piece of humble pie. (In which food group does humble pie belong? Can I call it a vegetable?)
We went on like this for weeks. When unsure about something on his plate, Ian could now be convinced to take two bites. Like Anna the Cat, he’d proclaim with surprise, “I like it!” and gobble it up. Needless to say, at this point, I could have been running seminars and writing parenting books. (I mean, I’m a writer. Surely I could do better than the Anna the Cat story, right? Right.) Ian’s sudden willingness to try new foods was a like shot in the arm; it buoyed me in all areas of my motherhood, but especially in the kitchen. Suddenly, I was winning the dinnertime wrestling match.
So, there we were a few weeks later at lunch time. Chicken nuggets and broccoli, warm from the microwave, with some apple slices on the side. (I do what I can. Mom Cat never really spelled out the recipes.) Shocked–and a bit satisfied–I watched Ian work his way around that plate.
“Ok, Mom!” he said. “I ate the vegetable group!”
“Great job, buddy,” I replied, more proud of my parenting than of his risk-taking. And then, Ian looked at me with the biggest smile, and in all seriousness, made a proclamation:
“Now, I need something from the cookie group.”
Somebody pass the humble pie.
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Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.