June 12, 2014 11:38 am For the Birds
“Children, if you eat anymore, you’re going to get chubby. Your friends will tease you and you’ll feel awful. So put that cheese down and let’s do some drawing.”
Margo walked past the plate that her mother, Mariel hadn’t finished at lunch and stuffed a leftover cracker in her mouth. Robby waited for his mother to walk away. Then he grabbed a piece of cheese before heading to the playroom.
Mariel saw Robby chewing. “Robby, your shorts barely button and your stomach is beginning to hang over! I said no more food!”
Mariel was a slim woman who prided herself on her figure. She loved spinning and running and weighed herself every morning. It made her day when someone said, “Mariel, you’ve never looked better. How do you stay so fit?”
Margo and Robby loved to play, draw, listen to stories and play board games. They enjoyed dancing wildly to fast music. They weren’t so interested in organized sports, but both loved to swim and could spend hours in a pool or at the beach. They adored food and were very happy to cook and bake with their parents. Steve, their father, was a sports lover who played squash whenever he could. He knew the children’s snacking bugged Mariel and felt he needed to support his wife. He often chimed in.
“Really, more guacamole? I’d say you’ve both had enough. I’m putting it away. You’re both starting to look a little chubby.” Steve immediately wished he hadn’t said that.
“We only hear that from you,” protested Margo. “No one else talks about eating all the time. Mrs. Bridge offers us snacks when we go to their house.”
“When Timmy’s mother bakes cookies, she likes that we love them,” Robby added.
“Big deal! Everyone knows kids like sweets,” Mariel told them. “But Daddy and I are in charge of what you eat.”
Steve tried to cheer up the conversation. “I love that you both just start drawing and pretty things appear. You can draw birds now! How great!”
The children went back to their pictures. “What’s for dinner?” Robby asked quietly.
“Baked fish, broccoli, maybe salad,” Mariel answered.
“Ice cream for dessert?” asked Margo hopefully.
“You had dessert this week already,” her mother replied sharply. “Maybe a slice of cantaloupe.”
The children exchanged dismal glances.
“Thinking about dinner already?” Steve chimed in. “That’s hours away. After you finish drawing, let’s walk into town. I have to go to the hardware store for picture hooks. Then we can go to the pocket park and try the new rope swings.”
“Yeah, let’s go!” The children put their crayons away and gave their drawings to their father.
“Mariel, are you up for a little adventure?”
Looking at herself in the mirror, sideways, she said, “I never turn down a chance to get some exercise.”
The children were eager to get to town. When they ran ahead, Mariel turned to Steve. “The children are becoming real snackers. No one in our family has ever had an ounce of extra flesh on them. It would be disappointing if we were the ones to start a trend.”
“A little roundness is okay, don’t you think, honey? They’re little kids.”
Robby stopped to look at a bird nibbling on a little crust. “Margo, look at this cute bird. “He found a little piece of toast. I wish we had something else for him.”
Icily, Mariel said, “Another good reason for you to not pig out all of the time. Next time, remember the bird and bring him something instead of eating it all yourself.”
Looking at the bird’s little turning all around face, both children wished they had brought some crackers. Margo was delighted to see another little piece of bread. She went to pick it up.
Mariel said, “You’re not going to eat that dirty piece of whatever it is, are you?”
“No, Mommy, I’m getting it for the bird.”
“Let’s get to the hardware store and then to the big swings,” Steve said with a little smile.
“Okay, Daddy.” Robby said, “The birds are cool. Do they always have to hope people drop little things?”
“They find things on their own, too,” his father told him.
A few minutes later, they were outside the hardware store. “Steve, we’ll wait out here while you run in,” Mariel announced.
“I’m happy we took this walk. If we hadn’t we never would have seen the birds.” Robby said. “Look, Margo, a robin!”
Steve came out holding a brown paper bag. “To the park we go!”
The children were eager to try out the rope swings. They ran through the shaded pocket park to the big oak tree. Two swings seemed to be waiting for them. As they sat on the big knots, their mother and father pushed them until they were able to pump well enough and go high. Then the parents retreated to sit on a green bench in the sun.
“I forgot to tell you, Steve. Robby’s teacher said he’s been sneaking graham crackers in class. He tries to get more than the number the children are allowed for snack. They asked if there was pressure at home to not eat too much.”
“Well, let’s face it, there is, Mariel. We seem to be always talking to them about what they’re eating and telling them to stay thin. And I see the children sneaking food at home, too, when they think we’re not looking.”
“I know.” Mariel turned to Steve. “Do you think we should stop mentioning food as much? Maybe I’m being too harsh. I’m realizing that I’m always on them about eating. It’s become a habit with me. The minute one of them eats something, I start thinking about how much I’m going to let them have.”
“Good idea,” Steve replied. “If we aren’t always talking about how much they eat, maybe they won’t always be plotting how to get more food.” He looked over at the children. “They are really fine. Anyway, children slim down as they grow.”
“Mommy and Daddy will you push us again?”
Steve and Mariel seemed to leap up from the bench. The parents felt lighter, somehow and as they looked at their children, they felt closer and luckier than before.
Later, walking home, they passed Lulu’s tiny candy store. The children looked, but didn’t say anything.
“Want something from Lulu’s?” Mariel asked them.
“Mommy, what? Are you kidding?” Margo thought she must be hearing wrong.
“For real life, Mommy?” asked Robby.
“Yes, for real life.” Steve gave them each a quarter and they opened the old wooden screen door. A gentle bell chimed and Lulu appeared.
“Two 25 cent specials please,” the children said in unison. Their eyes got bigger as Lulu filled each bag with a lollipop, some candy corn, a little Milky Way, and three candy kisses.
“Thank you, Lulu,” Margo said.
“Yeah, thanks a lot,” echoed Robby.
They came out of the shop and immediately showed the contents of their bags to Mariel and Steve.
“Just one now, and save the rest for another time.” Mariel heard the words come out of her mouth, and looked guiltily at Steve. “Habit,” she muttered to him.
“One, or maybe two pieces now,” he amended.
Margot chose the lollipop while Robby chewed blissfully on the Milky Way as they all walked happily home.
“When we get home, we can give some bread and crackers to the birds, right?” Robbie asked.
“Yes,” Steve answered quickly. “Let’s see what we can find.”
In the kitchen they found crackers and some pieces of bread. The children scattered them in the back yard for the birds. They set aside a few treats for the birds for tomorrow. Neither child even thought of eating one of the crackers.
After dinner, Mariel smiled at the children. “This was a very nice day. It was a little surprise of a time.”
Robby and Margot smiled back at her. They talked about their afternoon and what they would do the next day. When it was time for bed, they got into their pajamas quickly.
Later that evening, when the children were asleep, Steve was surprised to find that their brown bags still had candy in them. “Funny they didn’t finish their candy,” he said to Mariel.
“Maybe they forgot about it because I wasn’t talking about it every minute,” she replied.
Things changed after that day. As the parents realized there was no need to control their children and monitor their every mouthful, the children relaxed and stopped sneaking food. Food was no longer an automatic subject, so it stopped being the main thing in everyone’s mind. The whole family was more able to feel the happiness of the time they were in together.
Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.
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