My kids are delightful and amazing. They love reading, math, art, music, dance, hugs, and snuggles. They’re funny and loving. They eat fruits and vegetables. Their favorite TV shows right now are educational, Word World and Little Einsteins. (Side note, they also love Super Why. Am I the only one who hears “To the butt plug” when the Super Why kids say “To the book club?” Just me? Well, you’ll hear it now. You’re welcome.) Aaaaanyhoozle, what I’m saying is that my kids make me look good most of the time through relatively little effort on my part. I got super lucky, and I know it.
But there are two things at which they kind of suck: eating and sleeping. It’s funny, because I am awesome at both of those things. I mean, I love reading and music and dance too, and I eat fruits and vegetables, and any TV show that includes the words “butt plug” is probably something I would consider watching, but my real strengths… the areas in which I shine like a star… are eating and sleeping. I could sleep you under the table. I could win sleeping contests. I can drop my kids off at preschool 20+ minutes away, and after 45 minutes of driving, fall back asleep like the drive and drop-off never happened. And eating? Forget about it. I love to eat. I didn’t get this zaftig, juicy physique from wine alone. Sure, the wine calories contribute, but mostly I look the way I do because I love food. But my kids? No. Eating and sleeping are the two skills at which they really just suck.
Today, let’s talk about the eating. But wait, you might say, didn’t you say they ate fruits and vegetables? Yes, they do. My son might as well be a vegetarian. His preferred protein source is edamame. Or, you know, bacon or salami, but I think he might even choose edamame over bacon. Freak. Speaking of freak, he literally cheers when I tell him there is steamed cauliflower for dinner. “Cauliflower! Yay! My favorite!” My daughter, on the other hand, would be happy if we just had steak every night. She could live her entire life eating nothing but steak, apples, and grapes. Filet mignon, to be specific. She will eat New York strip if I buy it when it’s on sale, but she will give me dirty looks the whole time. Diva.
So why do they suck at eating? Well, I really shouldn’t lump them together on this. My daughter’s issue is that she won’t try new things. I make her try them, but she pretty much refuses to like anything that’s new. At one point, I forced her to taste whipped cream. Whipped cream! She gagged and gave it a “one,” one out of ten on our rating system that goes from 1-10 and also includes 10+ ratings such as 101, “bunny” (a number somewhere between 1,000 and 1,000,000), and infinity. My son, on the other hand, loves new foods, and really will eat almost anything. For him, the problem is not what he eats, it’s how he eats. He prefers a strategy he calls “Eat-play,” in which he continues his pre-dinner activities and just comes over periodically to pop a floret of steamed cauliflower in his mouth. He likes to ride his bike around the table, eating a bite on every third trip past his plate. He likes to just wander off mid-meal in search of a toy, and he generally forgets to come back. It makes mealtimes exhausting.
The good moms who write books about parenting would suggest just taking his plate away when he walks away from the table and not giving him anything to eat until the next meal. I know that. Please don’t leave me lots of comments suggesting that or judging me. I know that’s probably the fastest route out of eat-play land. I just don’t have the heart for it. I will not tell my crying hungry son that he can’t eat again for 14 hours (the time from dinner to breakfast). It’s not going to happen, so I don’t threaten it.
Here’s what I did instead: Saturday cocktail parties.
No, I don’t mean cocktails for me so that I don’t care whether my kid eats or not, although yeah, that would probably work too. But no, we do cocktail parties for the kids. It all started because I kept telling the kids to come back to the table, saying, “This isn’t a cocktail party. Come sit down and eat.” Because basically what my son wants is a cocktail party. You stand around, and talk, and play, and occasionally nibble on some food or take a drink. You can carry your plate of food to wherever you want to be. You can eat while you’re going about your life. That’s what he wants. So now he gets it, but only as a reward for a week of (relatively) sedentary eating.
So now instead of “Please come back to the table. Please come back to the table. Please come back to the table,” it’s “Please come back to the table so we can have a cocktail party on Saturday.” He comes back a lot faster now, and leaves the table less frequently. It’s working pretty well in terms of changing the habit. Plus it has the bonus of getting to hear four-year-olds talking about cocktail parties, which is just hilarious.
The cocktail party seems to be contagious. The first week we did it, my sister was here with her family. So now my niece has occasional cocktail parties. The second week, we were sleeping over a friend’s house. Her kids are now requesting cocktail parties. This brings me a weird twisted kind of joy. Today is week three. I didn’t realize it, but so far, it has always been an actual party, not just our family.
This morning my daughter asked what day it was. I told her it was Saturday, and she gleefully exclaimed, “Cocktail party!” Which is totally awesome. She then asked me who was coming over. Um, oops. No one. It’s just us today. A blissful day of doing absolutely f**k-all in our pajamas. I hadn’t realized that they thought that the weekly cocktail party would actually entail, you know, a party.
But even though it’s just us, it’s still a party. Any time you get to roller skate around the living room in your pajamas while you eat, that’s a party. Any time you get to play Mario Kart Wii while eating cut-up cheese on toothpicks, that’s a party. We don’t need anyone else, kids. It’s Saturday. Let’s blow up some balloons and party.