“Feel my muscles everybody!” Maximus says victoriously from his highchair, arms up in the air, with his little fists clinched. This is after wolfing down broccoli, carrots, salad, and grilled chicken with a homemade yogurt smoothie on the side. During this meal, as with all others, we have been talking up the benefits of healthy eating, so that by now Maximus fully expects to be “big, strong, fast, & smart” simply by eating all the virtuous gifts Mother Nature has to offer. We figure that at 2½, it’s only a matter of time before he gets uppity and picky about his food, so we might as well pack in the goodness now. Maximus eats pretty much everything we eat, including kimchi that would make smoke come out of even my scalp, thus sparing us of the French fry/chicken nugget strikes that afflict many families.
This is why I am starting to dread eating dinner with other families. Maximus is in the “monkey see monkey do” phase, and all it takes is for another kid at the table to say “Yuck!” at anything that doesn’t look like a French fry. My healthy little eater then proclaims the same and pushes the virtuous yet offending food over to my plate. We don’t mind if he indulges when we’re out at a restaurant because he knows by now fries don’t come from our kitchen, but I can’t help but think this is the start of all kinds of influences that will slowly chip away at Mommy’s credibility. We also have a friend whose toddler runs away every time she lets go of his hand – as in literally flees like he has the Feds on his tail. Maximus almost always holds my hand and comes when he’s called, but not when we are with his friend The Fugitive. He thinks it’s a hilarious game and takes off without looking back or acknowledging my panicked calls.
A couple of months ago Maximus also learned from someone how to yell angrily if he doesn’t get his way. He still seems a little surprised about the high decibel outbursts that come out of his mouth, but mostly he seems to experience great pride and satisfaction. Today we had him in a hotel lobby and there he was, yelling as loud as he could to anyone in proximity “GO AWAY!”. This sweet, polite boy who normally shakes people’s hands when he meets them was somehow overtaken by an incredibly rude imp that I could hardly recognize.
I suppose this is one of the many reasons that being a parent is the most heartbreaking and rewarding thing anyone can ever take on. From here on out I suppose Maximus will be breaking away little by little every day, with the influence that my husband and I yield replaced by others and Maximus’ own judgment. Today I thought of this as I watched Maximus plunge into the pool into my waiting arms below. How wonderful to be a child and know that everything your parent does will always be in your best interest. But how frightening too, that for many years to come, Maximus will give others that same trust. My job is to teach my little monkey to think 1st vs do, but I always wonder how I will know how to do that as the monkeys around us become more influential and exciting. Can a monkey who stays in the tree all night be as exciting as the one who sneaks out of the tree? Can the monkey who eats the bananas be as exciting as the one who eats waffle fries and Twizzlers? What about the monkey who squawks rudely back to his mother vs the one who politely apologizes for sitting on her banana?
For now my strategy is to bury deep into his long term memory some lessons to live by and hope that they stick. Vegetables make you big, strong, fast, & smart. Big boys are careful. Share with your friends. Say you’re sorry when you’re mean. Water only in the tub. No toys in the potty. Be gentle to the dog. At some point I’m going to have to upgrade to the more life critical messaging around not doing drugs, working hard, doing unto others, etc, but for now I need to bask in the pride and joy of my little monkey demanding more broccoli and carrots.