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.