Breakfast time. I was doing a double play of coercion–trying to lure the one year old to eat some of the eggs I had made (from the palm of my hand, it must be said) while urging the five year old to dig into a plate of those same eggs (with a fork). My efforts were varied and not a total failure. But at some point in the process I became aware of the temptation to use guilt.
They are not picky eaters, these two, though the baby boy is, as my favorite sports announcer Marv Albert likes to say, “showing signs.” There has been a drift towards reluctance.
On this morning my nutritional arsenal consisted of onions fried in coconut oil with scrambled eggs with a lot of Feta cheese mixed in; a bowl of sliced cantaloupe, and individual slices of Whole Foods provolone cheese.
Somehow this abundance, and my slight indignation that my children were not appreciating it enough, or just eating enough of it, made me think of the orange Unicef Box. Did we take it with us on Halloween from door to door? I think so.
I remember that box, its impressively austere design, and the aura of virtue that attached to it. Somewhere far away there were children suffering, and the coins rattling in the box were going to help. A distant memory. It is from the lost era of Buc Wheats, the favorite cereal of my youth, now vanished. I suppose I will never again taste it. Unlike clothes, records, furniture, there is no such thing as vintage cereal.
The Buc Wheat/Unicef era of my childhood was when I was introduced to the idea that there were children somewhere, somewhere far away, that did not have enough to eat.
“Are you saying if I don’t finish this food we should put it in a box and ship it somewhere?” I think I said to my mother at one point.
To which she replied, “That’s not the point.”
We must have had this dialog a couple of times. But I usually ate everything. So there wasn’t much need for it.
Now I contemplated the guilt method. I don’t want to use it. For one thing, I am not sure it works. For another, I am ambivalent about introducing harsh realities any sooner than is needed. But it should also be said that I wouldn’t have to evoke some far away place like India or China. The hungry kids are right around the corner.
But I confess that now and then, while watching a movie or just observing life, I encounter some Nurse Ratchet like manipulation of children (I was going to link to some One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest video, but just glimpsing a scene from that movie out of context is so disturbing, I don’t want to inflict it on you), and I think, “How awful to do that to a child!” And beneath that a note of curiosity, even envy, at the notion that such techniques produce the desired behavior, at least in the short run. In the long run, it’s a different story.
When I asked some friends if they ever had the same temptation to use guilt to get their kids to eat a woman said. “Nah. And it wouldn’t work. I just use dessert.”