Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dinner Lesson

Having three boys can be challenging, to say the least. Between refereeing fights (both staged and real), playing chauffeur to various events and trying to stave off their seemingly never-ending hunger, I don't have a lot of extra time in my day. What little time I do have I spend either sitting on the couch with an exhausted blank stare or running around trying to make my house look somewhat orderly. As a result, I've started to let certain behaviors slide with Jack that I wouldn't have with Max and Gus. Jack wants to do everything his brothers do and one thing they're always doing is snacking. (remember that never-ending hunger I just mentioned?) Whenever they have a bowl of something, Jack inevitably wants one too. I give him one, knowing full well what will happen. All those little bits of food, be they goldfish, cereal, apples, whatever, every one of them ends up thrown on the floor. By the end of the day there are crumbs all over the house from the various items Jack has chosen to hurl across the living room. I'm constantly telling him "no throw!", but honestly I'm not that consistent with it. It's just a little thing and I've let it slide enough times that he doesn't take me seriously when I tell him no.

Unfortunately that behavior has wandered into Jack's mealtime habits as well. He'll take a tiny bite of something, throw it on the floor and then beg for more. A few nights ago at dinner Jack was being his usual demanding self, throwing food around, begging for food off everyone else's plates and generally making dinner a loud, stressful event. My reaction was to take him out of his chair, sit him on my lap and let him pick off of my plate...anything to just keep the peace. It's worked a dozen times, even though it's not exactly enjoyable for me to eat a meal that has been handled by chubby little fingers. But that night was different. As I bent down to unstrap Jack and bring him to my lap Mark put his foot down. "No. He eats his food or nothing at all." I was taken back by the firmness of his voice, but I put him back in his seat and returned his tray of food in front of him. Jack immediately began crying out for different food and I instinctively reached for the bowl of fruit to give him a few more pieces. Again Mark spoke up. "No. He has fruit. He needs to eat what is on his tray first." I was upset. I wanted Jack to stop crying. I wanted him to eat. He hadn't really eaten a meal in days, just snacks here and there and things he'd gleaned off other people's plates. When Jack refused to eat, Mark picked him up and firmly but lovingly took him to his crib and left him there while we ate. I kept my eyes down on my plate, fighting the urge to rush in and "rescue" Jack. Sensing I was upset, Mark said to me, "If we keep letting this go, if we keep allowing this behavior it is only going to get worse and that isn't fair to us or Jack. He needs to know this isn't okay."
After a few minutes Mark brought Jack back to the table. I went to him and comforted him, putting a bite of pasta on his fork and gently trying to coax him to eat it. He took it from me and slowly ate it. He got another bite on his fork and ate that too. After awhile he had gobbled up nearly everything on his plate. It was the best meal he's eaten in a long time. After dinner I told Mark I was grateful that he'd been insistent and admitted that Jack hadn't been that well-behaved for a meal in a long time. It was hard to do, but I admitted, despite my good intentions, that my tendency to play to Jack's demands was wrong.

As I thought about the events of dinner that night in bed, I realized that Mark was demonstrating love in a very real way. He loves Jack so much that he desires for him to learn right from wrong, to be patient, to be grateful for what is in front of him rather than always wishing he had something else. Real love doesn't just let things go for the sake of peace, not when doing so can potentially lead someone down the wrong path. While my desire to comfort and calm Jack was loving, it was also selfish in that I just wanted a little peace at the dinner table. There's a reason love comes before peace in the list of the Fruit of the Spirit. I'm so grateful that Mark was able to teach both Jack and myself a lesson that night.

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