“Does your child watch television?” one of the preschool applications asks. Yes, he does. Zachary gets twenty minutes of television a night – one program without commercials. He needs the downtime, I need to get supper on the table, and Benjamin needs to eat.
You see, Ben does not get excited for TV. He humors it for a few minutes, but, frankly, he thinks it is more fun to play with trucks than to watch cartoons of them. The only reason he sits still for the first five minutes is because he gets a little pre-dinner snack to hold him off. An appetizer, if you will, perchance an hors d’oeurve. I know, I know – it is a bad idea to teach kids to snack in front of the television. It leads to bad habits and greasy, vacuum-packed, processed potatoes. But, somehow I think even the most strident of nutritionists could not fault us for what our child eats in front of the television.
We give him vegetables. Some nights it is steamed broccoli, and I return to the room a few minutes later to find tiny little broccoli hairs and the discarded bits of stalks scattered about the living room floor. On nights that dinner will be short on protein, he likes to munch on kidney beans, and we forever finding bits of kidney bean stuck to the chairs, and then to our behinds. These nights, however, are a bit of a letdown for the child. Because all he really wants to eat are peas.
I used to give them to him in the pod, until I realized he was sitting there trying to pick the peas out with his chubby little toddler fingers. Fine motor skills are not his strong suit. Now, I just steam some shelled peas, and nothing warms the cockles of his heart more than to realize the evening’s entertainment includes peas. All he needs to see is a grown-up entering the room with a bowl and he lunges forward, screaming “PEAS!”
Needless to say, we cut him off at a certain point. We sort of want him to save room for supper.
Tonight was one of those sad nights when I was incorporating the vegetables into the main course, so there was no pre-dinner snack at all. A few minutes after the television program began, J entered the room to see if Benjamin had finished his cup of milk. (Zachary does not actually acknowledge our presence during the program, except now and then to ask us to leave the room, please.) Ben, ever the accommodating child, handed the cup to his father, then gave him a hopeful little smile.
“No, Benjamin, no peas tonight.”
A few minutes passed. Now I needed to go through the living room. Benjamin lit up at the sight of me. “Peas?”
“No, sweetie. I don’t have any peas tonight. I’ll make you some tomorrow.” Just so you do not think I was holding out on my son, let me point out that I have run out of peas. We are currently pea-less.
A few minutes later, Benjamin came waddling into the kitchen. “Peas?” We were starting to feel like pretty negligent parents, I must admit. “No, honey, no peas tonight.”
He tried a different tack: “Beans?”
“Ben, dinner is almost ready. It’s chicken. Just hold on a few minutes.”
Now he was not just hungry. Now his feelings were hurt. He began to cry. “Beans,” he sobbed. “Beans.” To my maternal eyes, he was truly disconsolate, although J contends it was mostly performance art. I caved, pulling out a can of kidney beans and shoving it into J’s hands. This made Benjamin progress from crying to weeping. He could see the beans. He could almost touch the beans. But he could not yet have the beans. Daddy took his sweet time, fumbling with the can opener, rinsing out a handful, searching for a small bowl. It was not until J set the bowl down on the floor, as though feeding a famished puppy, that Benjamin calmed down, seating himself with the bowl between his legs and tucking into a bowl of cold kidney beans.
You will be happy to know that this did not spoil his supper. He ate rice; he ate chicken, pausing every now and then to exclaim “Chi-en!” He had a second helping; he guzzled milk. He ate more rice, pushing it to the edges of the plate so he could admire Thomas the Tank Engine in the middle. Then, stuffed to the gills with beans and chicken and brown rice, he turned to me.
I think I need to stock up.