Green Eggs and Ham

I hate for any meal to be a battle with my two-year old, but especially breakfast.  Mornings are crazy and chaotic at our house with everyone trying to get to work and school at various times and of course the house must always be immaculate in case someone (anyone!) decides to come look at it.  So the last thing I need is to spend an hour coaxing my son to eat something he’d really rather not.  Thus, although my primary goal with any meal is nutrition, at breakfast I try to let Aiden decide, from the options I give him of course, what he would like to eat.  This morning I ran the gambit of all the choices and each was answered with a resounding “NO!”  “Would you like oatmeal?” I asked.  Toast? Pancakes? Fruit salad? Cereal? Granola Bar?  No, no, no, no, no, and NO.  Finally, somewhat exasperated, I asked him, “What would you like to eat, Aiden?”  He answered with a challenging smirk in his eye, “Green eggs and ham!”  My first thought, as a tired, busy mom, was “Seriously, Aiden?!?  No . . . pick something else.”  But a quiet voice in my ear reminded me of one of my parenting goals – only say no if it’s absolutely necessary since there will be ample opportunity to do so.  And why not think outside the box?  So I pondered it for a second and stepped up to my little man’s challenge.  “OK!” I said, “I can do that.”

So I pulled some spinach out of the freezer and set it to boil while I cooked up some bacon (turkey for us, not ham . . . don’t tell Aiden).   When the spinach was finished, I drained it and put it in a blender with 4 eggs, about 2 servings of egg substitute (trying to curb cholesterol), 1% cheddar cheese, dill, garlic salt, and pepper.  I blended it till it was a slimy green mass of uncooked egg (yum, right?) and then put it in a skillet and scrambled it till it was well done.  Add to that some dark wheat toast and VOILA!  A balanced breakfast of green eggs and “ham”.

I asked Aiden if he liked it.  “Try it. Try it and you may, I say!”  His response: “It’s dewishous!”  To top it all off, we read the book while we ate and he kept proudly exclaiming, “Just like I have green eggs!”  It was delightful.  Proving once again that it always pays to be open-minded and stretch your boundaries a little.  And since children have very few boundaries as it is, they make outstanding coaches.  Bon Appetit!

Advertisements

Helping Hands

Have you ever noticed that children are extremely apt and ready to help one another when they are in need? They have not yet learned to be cynical and wary of others. They see a need that they can meet and they jump to fulfill it. For instance, if Aiden is at the park and unable, due to size or age, to overcome an obstacle, another child will, perhaps shyly, reach out his hand and offer assistance. I have seen this simple and beautiful gesture time and time again. And when it happens, Aiden will excitedly exclaim, “Mommy, he helped me!” On the other hand, if an older child, who has begun to learn that sense of self-righteousness that we all seem to attain as adults to varying degrees, refuses to help or turns his back, Aiden will look at me confused and almost hurt, not understanding that what is natural to him does not come naturally to everyone.

And it is not just other children that these little ones are prone to help. Their desire does not discriminate by age. Whenever there is something that needs doing, like the dishes or sweeping the floor, cooking supper or carrying groceries, I hear the constant refrain, “Mommy, I wanna help!” I must admit, I sometimes see this eager offer as an annoyance, knowing that his “help” will actually be more of a hinderance. It is sadly ironic that now, while he is extremely willing to help, he is not very capable and when he becomes capable, he might not be so willing. But I know that if I let my annoyance show, I will only aid in the development of his cynicism. So help me he does with undeterred enthusiasm.

As I have said many times before, children sometime make the best teachers. I count myself blessed to learn such wonderful lessons from my son on a regular basis. I am humbled by his simple, unassuming, and poignant nature that seeks out the positive and finds wonder in the smallest of things. And what a lesson this is! If we, as adults, had a fraction of the helpful attitude of children, how much happier would our lives become! Because rather than seeking to serve ourselves most of the time, we would be actively serving others and, in turn, countless people would be serving us, doing far more than we could ever do for ourselves. That is what communities are all about.

Are Your Crutches Disposable?

What is a crutch? It is something that holds us up when we cannot stand on our own. Physically, emotionally, mentally. We all have them. But a crutch can be a good thing or a bad thing. Where the line is drawn is often vague. A simple question to ask ourselves is, do our crutches help us get somewhere we could not otherwise get on our own? If we are able, but unwilling to move forward without them, then they are enabling our weakness. We would be stronger if we could let them go and walk on our own.

My son, at two and a quarter, decided, by himself, to give up his paci because pacis are for babies. This was something that he had leaned on for comfort and calm his entire life. He had never spent a night without one. But, realizing that he was big and strong and didn’t need it for the same reasons any longer, he let it go. Not entirely without struggle, but most things worth attaining do not come without struggle. Similarly, I, after ten years of relying on nicotine for stress relief and relaxation, have learned that I am capable of handling stress in different ways. Better ways that do not harm me physically. And I have let it go. Not perfectly, and again, not without struggle, but I now no longer lean on that crutch for stability.

There are so many things in our daily lives that serve as crutches to help us avoid the pain and struggle of learning to walk alone. Television, alcohol, video games, social networks, you name it. As infants, none of us can walk without a crutch or a prop of some kind until we learn to stand stably on our own two feet. This is true of emotional stability as well, but unfortunately we have many emotional infancies. Moments of rebirth or redefinition that require us to prop ourselves up till we regain our footing. And those props often become so familiar and comfotable that we have a difficult time letting them go and learning to be stable again. And then, sometimes, certain things happen that leave us crippled in such a way that we cannot stand on our own without the aid of something or someone else. And that is okay. Recognizing weakness that cannot be worked through alone is a brave and noble thing. One that we should never be ashamed of. On a recent trip to the zoo, my son saw a crippled man walking with braces because his legs were bent. And, in typical toddler fashion, he loudly exclaimed, “Mommy, what’s that?” Rather than shush him as many parents are apt to do, I told him openly and within earshot of the man that those were crutches that helped the man walk because his legs were hurt and he couldn’t walk on his own. Amazingly, the man smiled and the look in the his eyes could only be described as relief that someone had actually acknowledged him. And I found myself wondering how it must feel to walk through life with no one meeting your eye because they are ashamed to acknowledge your handicap. How often are we ashamed to acknowledge each others weaknesses. To look one another in the eye and affirm, non-verbally, that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

So which are you, the man walking with a cane not because he needs it but because he finds it debonaire while everyone else finds it ridiculous? Or the man who has a handicap he cannot overcome without the help of a crutch, but with which he can accomplish so much?

Compliments or Criticisms?

There is extraordinary power in the words we speak to one another. Be they negative or affirming, they are capable of completely making or breaking a moment, a day, a relationship. This, of course, is more true of some of us than others. I am a word person. I have never taken any of the “love languages” tests, but if I did, I feel fairly confident that ‘words of affirmation’ would be the primary vocabulary in which I speak. (‘Receiving gifts’ would be second, but that’s an entirely different blog post!) My husband, on the other hand, is an ‘acts of service’ kind of guy. He will do whatever needs doing without blinking an eye. He thrives on taking care of me and our son. Need groceries? He will go, after a long day at work, to get them in order to spare me the hassle of going with a toddler. Is there a huge mess after the elaborate supper I just created? He’ll clean it all up while Aiden and I play so that I don’t have to cook and clean. Getting behind on the laundry? He can do it while listening to a podcast (one of his favorite pastimes), so no biggie! I know that I am extremely lucky. Many women would kill for what I have. I recognize these things are a demonstration of love that I would never trade. Unfortunately, they just don’t speak to me as a gesture of affection. Whereas a note left by my coffee in the morning will make my entire day. Or an offhanded remark about my outfit will make me feel sexy for a week. Why is it that such seemingly frivolous things seem to speak so much more loudly to me than practical things that really matter? I think the answer lies in the availability, or lack thereof, of such affirming words. Not just between husbands and wives but in all types of relationships. We as a society are, unfortunatly, not in the practice of lifting one another up – being generally encouraging or even interested in others. And this lact of verbalizing about things we admire, makes the rare compliment seem so unusual and valuable. I want to change this aspect of society. Every time I think something nice about someone else, I want to have the nerve to speak it, knowing it will probably make their day.

We tend to be so much better about doing this naturally with children. “Good job, sweetheart! What a beautiful picture you drew!” And yet, for some reason, we assume that, as adults, we just don’t need encouragement. We’ve all got this thing called life down pat by now, we shouldn’t need someone telling us what a good job we’re doing at it. But even if we don’t need the encouragement to succeed, it sure makes the path so much more rewarding! My husband recently went on a short business trip and when he returned, he seemed to be buzzing for days. When I asked him where all his positive energy was coming from, he said that he had met someone on his trip who was exceptionally good at being interested in and encouraging everyone that he met. And it was sincere and uplifting and inspiring. Why are people like this so rare? Why do we find it so hard to say nice things about and to one another? Shouldn’t this be the norm rather than the exception? I have a friend who taught me to fly a remote control helicopter. I was a natural, if I do say so myself, but I didn’t have to say so myself because he said it to me. As I was leaving, he kissed me on the head and said I did such a good job and that it was rare for someone so new to flying to do so well. Such a small and insignificant thing, but it made me feel good for days. I hope and pray we are training our son well in this aspect of life and relationships. And lately, he’s been complimenting me at such a rate, that I think we are succeeding. The other day as he was bent over for me to wipe his booty, he said, “Oooh, mama, I yuv your bootiful shoes!” I smiled all day. Later that week as I was trying on some clothes at a thrift store, he repeatedly told me, “I yike dat one! Dat one’s nice mama!” And these are not just the cute nothings of a two year old. They mean something! Perhaps we should all take note and learn to praise with the unreserved honesty of a child. If we complimented half as much as we criticized, we’d probably all feel a lot better about ourselves . . . or at least our footwear.

Stop Teaching And Listen

It is so easy to look at the behavior of a toddler and condescendingly shake your head and think how silly they are, when, in reality, many of their desires and actions mimic our own. We’ve just become better as masking the silliness of it. But it struck me the other day that maybe we’d all be a bit happier if we stopped trying to mask our own silliness and sought to learn in such an independent and experimental way.

Allow me to illustrate. Last weekend, I took Aiden to the pool on both Saturday and Sunday. The difference in him was so stunning and remarkable from one day to the next that it was hard to believe that Sunday’s child was even the same boy. Had I not witnessed it with my very own eyes, I would not have believed. Saturday’s child was anxiety ridden and whiny. He clung to me like a chimpanzee repeating the same constant refrain, “I wanna get out!” It wasn’t until we gave up and went to the baby pool that he finally began to relax and have a good time. Whereas Sunday’s child was jumping off the edge of the pool into my arms, getting fully submerged, and crying, “I do it again!” He never even mentioned the baby pool. But what was the difference? Had some magical developmental switch been flipped that suddenly bestowed bravery on him? I think not. The difference lied entirely in my approach to him. On Saturday I simply undressed him and brought him into the pool with me and went straight out toward the middle. And, because I had read in some parenting book or blog that it was wise to do so, I held his nose and dunked him completely underwater. He emerged coughing and sputtering and even more terrified than he had been previously. He had no control over the situation or what he did and how he felt about it. Whereas on Sunday, I listened to his ever-present mantra of, “I do it myself!” and let him take the lead. I got into the pool by the steps and never told him one way or another what he should do. I left him walking around the steps on the concrete (watching carefully of course) and let him see me enjoying myself. When he determined for himself that what he was watching looked like fun, he got into the pool on the first step. I proceeded to lure him with a ball, just out of his reach, till he was standing, of his own volition, on the “deep step” where the water reached up to his chin. Then he surprised even me by stepping off of that step and letting his feet dangle in the water while he held onto the edge. Later, after seeing the other kids do it, he decided he wanted to jump in, but absolutely could not do it without both of my fingers and “no dunk.” This quickly morphed into one finger and then no fingers, full dunk, followed immediately by “I do it again.” The whole way home from the pool all he could think about was sharing his accomplishment, “I tell Daddy I dunk!”

I didn’t just tell you all of this because it is cute, although it undeniably is. I told it as an illustration of behavior. Many parents would look as this situation and tell the child some version of, “See, I told you! If you had just listened to me on the first day, you could have had fun then too.” But I think it’s the other way around. If I had just listened to him on the first day, then we all could have had more fun. Instead of trying to force my knowledge on him, I should have allowed him to learn it in his own way, in his own time. I believe this principle is true in most of our relationships. We need to learn to meet people where they are and not expect them to meet us where we are. How many of our relationships could be improved if we learned to listen to the desires of others and better communicate our own learning desires to them? Spouses, Bosses, Friends, Coworkers, Parents, Teachers, Boyfriends. But, when asked to learn a new project at work, too many of us are afraid of looking silly by saying to our boss some version of, “I do it myself!” (That is: “I actually learn much better and will retain the information longer if I can just dive in and experience it for myself.”) And so we let them teach us in whatever way is most natural to them and we learn only half of what’s expected. We’re too afraid of sinking to learn how to swim. And we’ve lost the gumption of our toddler selves that approached every new situation head on with a drive to learn by experience. I think we all stand to learn quite a lot if we would stop teaching long enough to listen.