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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Pushing Peas

            At one time or another, every parent has held up a spoon holding some good-for-you, green, mashed-up food, zoomed it in the air complete with sound effects, all in hopes of charming their baby to open his mouth.
            “Here comes the airplane!”
            Right or wrong, bribery can continue to be an invaluable tactic throughout parenthood. At least it has been for me.
            My sixth grader recently had to take a break from his usual fantasy obsession and choose a book from the “realistic fiction” category. I suggested “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Big surprise.
            Truth be told, I wondered if he was old enough to process the adult themes of racism, family abuse, rape, but then again, when is anyone “old enough” to grapple with the darker things of life, things we wish didn’t even exist? It came down to the recognition that we, as parents, should be the ones to help him navigate such turbulent themes, to help him frame such issues in context. Besides, he’s twelve, the exact age of Jem when the story unfolds.
            He was less than thrilled with the suggestion. And the fact that he knew it was my favorite book didn’t help. I told him it was about a boy his age who had pesky little sister, and contained an edge of your seat courtroom scene, and a creepy recluse of a neighbor who just might, might, end up doing something heroic. But in the end, I resorted to bribery. “If you read it, I’ll take you to your favorite restaurant for a book discussion.”
            He took the bait.
            We ended up reading most of it out loud. (music to my ears) And although he’s an excellent reader/thinker much of the wit and humor proved to be not as forthright as, oh let’s say… Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
            His final assessment: “I didn’t like it that much.”
            Oh well. At least he didn’t hate it.
            He didn’t like peas the first time he tried them either. But I kept feeding them to him anyway. Kept scooping out spoonfuls and pressing it to his pursed lips and saying things like Mmmmmm and Yummy and Mamma loves peas. For his own good. Just like I didn’t let either of my kids survive solely on crackers and fruit snacks even though they at times wanted to, I don’t want them only to read easy to digest but non-nutritional fun stuff and miss out on some of the savory but chewy meat of great literature.
            I mean, even Curious George loses his charm after awhile. After a very short while, actually.
            Sometimes we gotta force the peas. Broaden our children’s tastes. Make them try things they don’t want to because the story will implant itself somewhere deep and hidden inside of them and sprout and grow and provide fodder for their very character.
            At least I hope so.