I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been the most diligent of mothers when it comes to the eat-all-your-veges fight that plagues mothers of toddlers everywhere. This is mothering confession number one.
And now that my sweet toddler has morphed into a three-and-a-half-year-old, full of gumption preschooler, I was worried that it might be too late.
She hates vegetables. I know, I know. It’s my fault.
My older daughter took to them easily. Maybe because I forced her to eat them early on (earlier than my necessity born “whatever works” mothering philosophy kicked in) or maybe because she simply likes them. Either way, she will eat them and my three-year-old will not.
Up to a couple months ago, I hadn’t wanted to deal with the ramifications of a screaming preschooler sitting for 90 minutes at the dinner table digging her heels in over a half of a baby carrot. Mothering confession number two: I was more concerned about peace in the home than what was best for her health. So I never made her eat them.
But one Saturday night we decided to make a war out of a baby carrot.
I’m sure some of you by now are slightly offended by my seeming laid-back parenting style, or will be offended by what happened next. The rest of you know exactly what I ‘m talking about.
We warned her at the beginning of dinner that she must, by the end of the meal, eat just one carrot.
Only one. A tiny carrot the size of her pinkie finger.
And she cried, and screamed. And the rest of us attempted to eat our own carrots and chicken in relative peace. She would not eat it.
We finished, but she did not. And she continued to cry.
The Five Stages of I-Don’t-Want-To-Eat-My-Vegetables:
Surprise: “You want me to eat WHAT?”
Pleading: “Please, someone save me from the evil carrot! Anyone…anyone?”
Sorrow: “If I eat this carrot I will never be happy again. Never laugh, never smile.”
Anger: “I will not. I CANNOT eat this carrot.”
Sleep: “I’m so sleepy that I can’t eat it.”
My heart ached for her. I did not force her to eat on a full stomach. In fact, she’d barely touched her dinner. Ninety minutes had passed of my husband and I switching off sitting with her, offering her various dips (ketchup and ranch) to help her stomach the taste, and disguising the carrot in things like bread and even a cookie (my husband, not me). But by this time, it was obvious that it was about something more than the now-cold vegetable on her plastic plate.
It was about obedience.
She simply did not want to obey.
I’d like to say that she ate the carrot, chewed it fully and swallowed it with a smile on her face. But she did not.
My own energy zapped, my husband held her on his lap while they talked and she cried, in one final attempt to get his baby to eat what was healthy for her. She finally began to fall asleep in his arms and I watched him carry her up the stairs to bed.
Later he asked, “Am I a bad father, for giving in like that?”
I think this is when I understood that this is how God treats us, his rebellious children. He is the perfect father and we are tired, angry babies sometimes. We kick and fight and make it about something else. We simply do not want to obey.
And it becomes not about the carrot.
And he reasons, and asks, and tells us what is expected. We still cry and whine.
Sometimes, he allows us to be disobedient and waits for another day when we might be more willing to be transformed to His likeness. He picks us up, exhausted from struggling, and carries us to our rooms. He smoothes our hair, tells us He loves us, and promises not to give up on us.
The next night, she ate the carrot. And has been eating (limited) vegetables ever since.
My husband wasn’t a bad father. In fact, maybe he was a better one for giving mercy in the same way God is merciful to us, his unwilling children.