We do celebrate a few Jewish holidays, and Chanukah is now one of them. Before we had kids, we didn't really pay much mind to the festival of lights. Our inability to schedule a Chanukah get-together with Ken's family, who all live nearby, inspired the self-styled, gift-giving holiday we do celebrate: Gift-X. But that is another story.
Enter kids into our lives, who turn into frustrated and disappointed kids because they are not in on the Christmas experience. So enter Chanukah, and, from time-to-time, service and volunteer activities on Christmas day, which is really the best thing any of us can do.
When we started celebrating Chanukah, we had to then address the present issue. Really, the best part about not celebrating Christmas (other than the self-righteous martyrdom in which we get to wallow) is not having to participate in the consumer frenzy of December. We have tried to minimize the gift-giving element of Chanukah. The motivation is two-fold: we want to retain our status as conscientious objectors to consumerism - mostly for our own stress levels, and our kids do not need more crap - er, stuff. Plus, Chanukah is really a war holiday anyway.
A few years ago we started giving the kids home-style gift certificates. Along the lines of "When Mama and Papa decide to go out to dinner you get to pick where we go," and, "You get to make the whole family go out for ice cream and Mama and Papa can't say no." The kids are sometimes a bit disappointed that there's no toy or thing on that particular night of Chanukah, but they've come to accept that some nights will be certificate nights, and that is just part of the deal. The kids also cope by muttering things to themselves about getting 8 nights to Christmas's 1. Standard.
Each certificate comes with rules, written and unwritten, and that's where the Spinach Incident comes in.
Trudy, my nearly 5 year old, announced before dinner last night that she was using her ice cream certificate, and we were all going out for ice cream after dinner. Dinner that night consisted of rice and beans with cheese, and sauteed spinach.
Kids are so weird about vegetables. My kids, like so many others I know, ate vegetables heartily and indiscriminately until they were 2 or 3. This is the age when parallel play usually tapers off and kids start paying more attention to what other kids do and say. Maybe the vegetable animosity is learned behavior, maybe it is a vestige of a Darwinian aversion to plants as they become more mobile and independent: you can't poison yourself by eating the wrong plant if you don't eat plants at all. Most likely is that it is a cyclical interaction of the two. Regardless, I'm a firm believer in making my kids eat some plant matter with most meals. It is a non-negotiable rule in our house, and hopefully the habit will become so rooted in their psyches and behavior patters that they will eat some nutritious food in their first years of college.
Not surprisingly, eating a good dinner, including that evening's vegetables, is an unwritten prerequisite for the kids to be allowed to use their ice cream certificates.
Trudy refused to eat her spinach last night. At other times, Trudy has proclaimed that she loves spinach. Both kids usually have some list of veggies that they'll eat willingly or enthusiastically, and apparently that changes without notice.
Last night's spinach - lightly sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic, fresh from our CSA farm - was sweet and tender. Huck, Trudy's older brother, was also being a bit of a spaz about the spinach - maybe he set the whole thing off - but, he is older, wiser, and really committed to sugar consumption, so he begrudgingly ate his greens. By his last bite he had almost forgotten to maintain his repulsed expression.
We made it clear that Trudy was going to have to eat her spinach if we were going to go out for ice cream. She panicked. Got kind of hysterical. Was nearly hyperventilating, almost. While we are pretty damn good about sticking to our guns and following through on the rules we set down, we did give her quite a few opportunities to follow the righteous path. We offered to feed her. We set the spinach out into four discrete bites. I even went so far as to chop the spinach up after Trudy insisted that she could not chew it - at that point she'd been simultaneously crying and attempting to chew the spinach without it touching her tongue.
Before we made the call that ice cream was not happening that evening, there were a few exasperated threats. We were both coming to terms with the fact that we weren't getting ice cream either, and poor Huck, who had eaten his spinach, was wimpering on the couch, pleading with his head-strong and misguided sister. (Don't worry, he secretly got a chocolate-covered mint a little later in the evening.)
The final verdict of NO ICE CREAM was announced, and Trudy took to her bed and cried. I felt for her, we all did. I have memories, somewhat fragmented, of being a child unable to swallow a bite of butternut squash, or crying and crying while kind of knowing somewhere deep in my developing brain that I was taking the longer, more difficult path.
As the spinach was transforming into the Spinach Incident I had a few moments of questioning my parenting decision. Was I turning food into a power-play? Was I setting the stage for an eating disorder or rebellious teen behavior or both? Was I being overly punitive? Maybe, but I don't think so.
Trudy cried in bed for a while. I spent a lot of the time with her, stroking her hair, feeling and being sympathetic. She was obviously out of control, because any logical person would have eaten the damn spinach and been halfway through a strawberry cone at that point. Being that out of control feels terrible, even worse than not getting ice cream when you want it.