McCOOK, Nebraska -- Declan discovered water chestnuts last night. By discovered I mean he finally tried them, and as is usually the case, realized he liked them. He quickly snarfed up all of them included in his stir-fry dish and began pestering Casey and I for ours.
After being instructed he would need to finish the rest of his meal before he could have more, he slowly pecked away at his remaining dish. A few moments later Casey informed him that he didn't need to tear open the cooked pea pods as he was, "you are supposed to eat the whole thing," said Casey.
Declan shook his head in defiance, "No way."
"They are cooked Declan, the outside taste just as good as the inside, just try it," replied Casey.
Declan continued his refusal as I joined the conversation.
"You know, you have had those water chestnuts before."
"I have?" replied Declan to my comment.
"Yes. Several times over the last year and every time you have refused to even try them. Look what happened when you finally did. You are missing out on all kinds of good food just because you won't try it," I said.
Declan pondered the idea as he sifted through his dinner, certainly appearing to give it consideration, but in the end he still refused to eat the outside of his pea pods.
I made no further issue of it, even though Casey may have thought the topic warranted a firmer stance. Declan ended up eating a good dinner, complete with every trace of water chestnut that had been cooked and absolutely no pea pods.
It may have appeared to Casey that I was being soft on Declan but the mealtime patience and flexibility I granted the little guy was paid for many months ago.
It was a very similar scenario in which we had chef salad for dinner. Declan refused to take so much as a nibble of the cucumbers that were on his plate.
I was dumbfounded at the time, they were even skinned cucumbers, who doesn't like cucumbers? When I was a youngster I had witnessed several melodramatic scenarios unfold around my older sister's dread of eating cooked peas. Peas, broccoli, spinach, there were many vegetables that I could understand a child not enjoying, but having an issue with cucumbers was just a foreign concept to me. Also considering that Declan would eat the peas, broccoli and fresh baby spinach on his salad, I was convinced he simply needed to try the cucumbers.
I also knew that Declan had exhibited near limitless willpower when I had attempted to force the issue in similar scenarios, the only positive results ever came when the decision to try something new was his own. So I chose to lure him in by way of bribery.
I promised that if he ate his cucumbers I would allow him to watch a movie from his bed at bedtime. To Declan that was an unheard of luxury that he could not resist.
I watched closely, certain that he must be feigning his dislike of the cucumbers as he made several efforts to swallow one. Repeatedly he would get one in his month, hold it for 2-3 seconds and then spit it onto his plate with disgust.
I reapplied and modified my bribery slightly, still convinced that he was simply not allowing himself to taste the cucumbers and if he just got a good bite and chew, his disdain for them would be gone forever.
"OK Dec, if you can just take one big bite, chew it and swallow it without spitting any out, I will let you watch a movie."
Declan jumped down from his seat at the table, in what appeared to be a very cute attempt to muster up his strength. As he took a few deep breaths in preparation it occurred to me for the first time, that he might not be faking it.
I stabbed a cucumber slice on his plate and held it in front of Declan. He wrinkled his face in several looks of disgust before finally getting himself to take the bite in. You would not have believed it was a cucumber slice that he was attempting to chew as his face continued to shift from one look of disgust after another.
"Swallow it down now," I said encouragingly, to which Declan instantly responded by puking all over my right foot and the kitchen floor, much to both of our surprise. As I stood wide-eyed and frozen looking at the mess, Declan began apologizing. It was very clear to me, this was no acting job and I immediately felt horrible.
I snapped out of my daze and quickly followed his apologies with my own, as I cleaned the mess up and repeated over and over again to him how sorry I was. I even explained to him that I had thought he was faking it.
Declan was relieved, thinking initially he would be in trouble for getting sick on the kitchen floor, but he was certainly confused as to why anyone would fake their dislike for a food. His confusion was quickly overshadowed by his excitement at realizing he was going to be able to watch a movie in bed.
Someday I believe he will try cucumbers again and probably like them, but it will certainly not be at my request. It was not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that I have thought I was teaching my little man a lesson, only to be smacked with some revelation of my own. I have not reduced my encouragement of him trying new foods but I think I have a better appreciation for how very different we all are, even down to how certain foods taste or are received by our bodies.
If nothing else you can certainly understand where I get my patience from -- those times when his "picky-ness" is rampant.