It was about eight o’clock and I had retired to my room for the evening to watch a movie. My husband was out of town, dining with business partners. Since my sanity-saving act of disengaging over a year prior, I hadn’t once provided childcare for my step-children. But H agreed to parent his children until they were in bed, so it seemed a no-brainer to be left alone with them in the quiet, peaceful house.
An hour into my movie, a soft knock on my bedroom door alerted me that something was amiss. The only child who ever comes knocking is my teenaged daughter. I could tell from the timid-sounding knock that it wasn’t Birdie.
“Yes?” I said, pausing the movie. The door slowly opened.
The Darlings peered in through the dark doorway, Cat’s arm was around Blue Buddy’s shoulders. Cat does that sometimes; she is like his tiny mother. Cat explained that Blue Buddy had been crying. I thanked Cat for helping, and told her to go to bed. Cat sped off toward her room.
“What’s wrong, Blue Buddy?” I asked, forcing myself to put an arm around him. “What scared you?”
“Jurassic Park.” Blue Buddy said.
“Aw, that must have been scary. Do you want a hug?” I asked.
“Yes please,” said Blue Buddy.
I hugged him, mentally bracing for one of the stiff little hugs he usually reciprocates with, but the one he gave back was soft, and genuine. It seemed to me it had been a long time since I had hugged him.
We walked him back to his room. I pulled back his covers.
“What brought ‘Jurassic Park’ to mind tonight, Blue Buddy?” I was baffled. He was six. He surely could not have seen that movie.
He got into bed. “At my mom’s house, they were talking about ‘Jurassic Park’, and it was really scary.”
I tucked him in, reassuring him that he was safe, that ‘Jurassic Park’ was just pretend, which he knew. He wanted me to turn on his closet light. I planted a couple of kisses on his forehead and left the room.
Blue Buddy repeated that same behavior for the next several nights, convincing his dad that he was fairly disturbed by his mom and stepdad’s inappropriate discussion of “Jurassic Park.” I didn’t land at the same conclusion. My take is this “fear” and accusation of impropriety is simply Blue Buddy’s newest attention-seeking move. He needs more from us–at least that’s my gut reaction.
And it wasn’t lost on me that as a matter of fact, Blue Buddy came to me, first.
Cat was desperate for a solution that would get her exactly what she wanted, with absolutely no compromise on her part. She was 7 1/2 years old, and she wanted dessert. But she did not want to eat a single bite of her mashed potatoes. We were hosting a dinner party for the people who most enjoy dining with step-children: in-laws.
Throughout the meal, Cat shifted around in her seat, pouting, occasionally checking to see that people were noticing her misery. Her cruel father, clearly under the spell of Kiu, insisted that she “do a good job” on dinner before getting dessert. Cat sat there five minutes without picking up her fork. Her father prodded her twice to eat, something we generally avoid doing. We would prefer for The Darlings to eat, of course, but if they choose not to, we do not let it bother us. The natural consequence is they don’t get dessert. Daddy was really rooting for Cat, on this particular evening, however. His family (his mother in particular) was watching, judging him.
He looked at Cat with pleading eyes. Please, Cat. Just don’t embarrass me this once. Please. Work with me here.
Cat smelled his fear and began crying.
“Daddy, do I really have to eat all the mashed potatoes? How many bites do I have to take?” She touched the quarter cup sized serving of mashed potatoes with her fork, and shuddered, disgusted. She looked pleadingly at her father. He nodded.
“That’s enough, Cat, you need to take a bite, now.”
A single prong entered the mashed potatoes. With an anguished look, she slowly brought it to her lips, wincing as a sesame seed-sized dot of plain mashed potato, a form of potato that she was not particularly in the mood for that evening, registered on her tormented palate.
The in-laws, who have never insisted a child eat a single vegetable, who equate withholding dessert under any circumstances with child abuse, were visibly ruffled. They carefully trained their eyes on their plates, pretending not to notice the disturbing scene that was unfolding. “Take a bigger bite than that next time,” her father said, coldly. Obediently, Cat did so, and for a second I thought she was actually going to start behaving politely.
Instead we were treated to a very solid (but failed) attempt by Cat to vomit at the table. It was a bold performance, especially for someone who has been eating mashed potatoes without difficulty for years.
Later, Daddy took Cat aside and instructed her to write an apology to both of us for her rotten behavior.
He handed me the note when they were in bed that night. The note read:
“Sorry I had a tantrum and ruined dinner, but it’s not my fault that I’m a picky eater. -Cat”
“This is a terrible apology letter,” I said to my husband.
“We’ll work on it,” he agreed.
That was a year ago and a few things have improved since then. When dining with in-laws and stepkids, we simply order pizza.
How I hope you
Have enjoyed running wild.
You ate pizza while jumping on Mom’s couch,
Because your fun real Mom said rules aren’t allowed.
Welcome back to reality;
Wash your hands and set the table.