I propped myself up on the couch, happily munching chips and dip when I heard footfalls on the stairs. Damn, I thought, as I stashed the chips and soda out of sight, no more chips until she’s gone. She entered quietly, busied herself about the room, flitting from one object to the other, until she laid her baby in its bassinet. “Baby need a blanket,” she said to me.
“Oh, better go get her one upstairs!” I answered, thinking about my next chip.
“I get a blanket” she said as she ran out of the room. I heard her clomping up the stairs and quickly picked up my chip bowl for a few more furtive bites.
I never thought it would come to this. I never thought I’d be the kind of parent who tiptoed around her kid – but I am. It’s not just the furtive eating. It’s all the things that I don’t do in front of Rose. All the ridiculous ways parents tiptoe around their kids – all the things I thought were ludicrous until I became a parent. Why would you go so far as to hide a snack from your kid? I used to think. Who’s in charge here? Aren’t YOU the parent? Shouldn’t YOU decide who eats what in front of whom?
But, like so many beliefs belied once I became the mommy, the question of “Who’s in charge?” wasn’t so simple. Rose does not rule this house. We just do a certain amount of tiptoeing because it yields a certain amount of peace. Take the furtive snacking, for example. Rose loves chips. If Rose sees a bowl of chips in my lap, it’s “I want a chip! Chip, Mommy, chip! Chip, chip. I want a chip!” And I’ll give her one. She’s allowed to eat them. But one crunch and it’s gone and then it’s, “I want more chip, Mommy. I want a chip. Chip, chip! Mommyyyy!” This chorus starts at the top of the bowl and continues through the last shard at the bottom. Ask yourself: Would it be possible for anyone to enjoy a bowl of chips like this? I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I am the adult and she’s the child and why not just discipline this behavior out of her and be done with it? Right?
The answer is complicated. Yes, I could reprimand her for begging for chips. Yes, I could refuse to feed her chips. Maybe I could put up with 30 minutes of crying every time I said no. The problem is that everything you do as a parent has multiple connotations. Here are a few: One, if I say no, I’m not sharing. Since we want to teach her to share, the lesson she learns if I refuse her chips is that we share some things but not others. Two, refusing would be denying her food. As a mom with deep-seated food issues, my goal is to ensure that my daughter doesn’t develop an eating disorder, so I don’t play food games with her. Three, as foodies, my husband and I encourage her to develop her palate. We wouldn’t do well with a kid who only ate macaroni and cheese. So if we pick and choose what foods she tries, we limit her experience and her enjoyment.
That’s not all, though. The biggest reason I don’t deny her chips from my plate is because the chip battle is one I choose not to fight. I pick my battles as a parent. Some are more important than others but the reason I’ve resurrected my childhood closet eating habit is because Rose is relentless. Let me clarify. Kids are relentless. They all are. Rose is just one example. If you don’t believe me, think about long childhood car trips and how many times you asked, “Are we there yet?”
If I denied Rose chips, I’d have to deny her everything I ate and I just do not have that kind of energy. If we fought the beggar battle every time I ate something we would never do anything else. We wouldn’t have time. The meltdowns would last hours, from the beginning of one snack to the end of the next. So if I eat chips in front of her I give her chips from the beginning of my bowl to the end. But if I want to eat in peace, I wait until someone else is home and I find someplace to eat in secret. And then and only then, can I truly relax and enjoy what I’m eating.
I know that everyone who has or remembers young children is nodding right now, saying “Yeah, I can relate,” and everyone who doesn’t is saying, “Oh please, how much more can she bow to that kid?” And that’s ok. Sometimes it seems like I bow to her but the thing is, she’s my kid and it’s my snack, and I have finally found a way to enjoy both.