Archives for the month of: November, 2011

Cereal + milk = sadness

In a battle of wills, I will always lose. No, I exaggerate. I will lose 99 out of 100 times.

Her Daddy sat on the couch with a bowl of Frosted Flakes. (“Tie!” she would shout to the box, before she ever ate any. “Tony the Tiger,” my husband added. “Toe! Tie!” she now crows.) She came over to him, opening her mouth to him like a baby bird eagerly awaiting a worm. Arms resting on his knees in a pose of that mixed comfort with snuggling, she shared a bowl of cereal with him before he went to work. She should, I thought, have her own bowl so he could finish his cereal.

The flakes tinkled into a small bowl as I poured the box;  organic whole milk, the deep, rich white of Elmer’s glue, splashed over them. “Go to your chair!” I instructed cheerily. She did. I got her seated, clicked in, and bibbed up, and I loaded a spoon with a bite, just like Daddy had.

“Hole!” she demanded, arms outstretched.

“No, you can’t hold this. Mama will hold it,” I said calmly. I offered the bite again. The deep blue bowl was awash in milk which would end up on the table, the carpet, her bib, her pajamas, maybe even the bookcase, if she splashed or pushed the bowl far enough. She didn’t open her mouth. “Here!” I said more firmly. The proffered spoon filled the space between us.

She brushed at the spoon with her hand. “Hole!” she demanded.

“No!”

Suddenly, we were in it, the breakfast battle. I wanted her to eat cereal for me just like she did for her Daddy. I didn’t want to be stuck cleaning up a soggy, drippy mess. She wanted to be in charge of eating. She wanted to be her own food boss. “Hole!”

“No!” I shouted, frustrated. I held out the spoon again. She wouldn’t open her mouth; it was closed tighter than if she’d used Elmer’s – or even Gorilla – glue, and her lips began to quiver. Tears welled up and pooled in her lower eyelids, puddles after a strong rain, and some spilled over, making small sad rivulets.

Was my cereal attack worth her tears?

No.

As a way of making peace, I put some dry flakes on her tray. She dipped her head down extra low to see the cereal. With the tears still filling her eyelids, the tears that I’d brought on, she couldn’t see otherwise. Without any fuss, she overcame her blurry vision and popped a flake in her mouth, then smiled up at me.

Then – and this was the killer thing – she dipped her head down low again, like a cow searching for the clover, and picked up another flake and fed it to me. She did this again and again, until she’d fed me all of the flakes but the first one, the only one which she’d allotted for herself.

My sweet, sweet daughter. I’d yelled at her, and she still fed me her breakfast.

After this, she ate cereal off of the spoon and finished most of the bowl.

Why don’t I learn my lesson? By changing tactics, I’m not teaching her that she always gets what she wants. I am, however, teaching myself that I don’t always have to get my way.

It doesn’t matter so much that I’d lose in a battle of wills; what matters is that I learn not to enter the fray. As the adult, I might be the bigger person, but what my daughter shows me, over and over again, is that she clearly has the bigger heart.

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Cow, horse, dog, cat, chicken, sheep, bear, bird, rabbit. Children learn those early on. Goat, duck, tiger, lion, giraffe, zebra, frog, deer, mouse, owl, fish: even those are popular choices. Donkey, bat, ostrich, and alpaca are more back of the pack-a. And mole? Moles hardly jockey for position with the more popular animals. Their size, coupled with living underground, just doesn’t give them the same visibility as other animals. When does “mole” get added to the average child’s lexicon?

I can’t speak for the average child; I can only speak for my own, and she’s known the word “mole” for a long, long time now.

For her first Christmas, her aunties got her The Musical Life of Gustav Mole, illustrated by Kathryn Meyrick. Accompanying it were a CD, a game, and a puppet of Gustav, the violin-playing mole. The book was a little advanced for an eight-month-old, but now that she’s eighteen months, she enjoys it. She certainly enjoys the puppet.

Child's Play's Gustav Mole

She rediscovered it weeks ago, and it caught her fancy. He’s grey and adult-hand-sized – nothing like her wildly pink giant stuffed rabbit or her crazy striped monster Berger. Why this toy, then?

Her father had something – OK, everything – to do with it. He put the puppet on and talked for him, and he even had him play his stuffed violin! That’s all it took. Gustav became an object of fascination. He is easy to carry, and my daughter fell in love with him. She fell so in love, in fact, that she sucked, gnawed, and chewed the fur off of his nose. Poor Gustav!

He now has his own song, and she likes it best if we sing it over and over. “Tie!” she’ll say, as it comes to an end, holding up her index finger. And so, we begin again.

Oh, my name is Gustav Mole.
I like to dig a hole.
I burrow my nose into the ground,
and scratch my paws all around.
Dig, dig, diiiiig! Dig, dig, diiiig!

This, of course, is accompanied by nose burrowing and digging. Now, she delights in putting his nose to the ground and shouting “Dig!” herself.

But it’s not enough to know this one mole. Oh, no. She now recognizes – and points out with great delight – moles that show up in other books. Glory be to the mole!

I have to confess that she loved moles long before Gustav, although I don’t think that should take away anything from her love for him. Her first mole love was her mama.

Some babies love pacifiers, sucking on them to comfort themselves to sleep. Some babies suck their thumbs, finding comfort in connecting with themselves. At times, but not for long, my daughter has done both of these. She’s also pulled her ears. The thing she finds most comforting when she’s tired, however, nursing aside, is my mole. And in this case, no, I do not mean a pet mole or a stuffed mole; I mean the mole below my lip. When she’s tired or nearly asleep, her hand rises, like a helium balloon attached to her wrist and beyond her control. Like a heat-seeking missile, her aim is often good, finding her target directly. Mole! Other times, her hand pats around, sweeping my face and its familiar landmarks: Nose? No. Mouth? No. Teeth? Interesting, but not now. Cheek? Worth patting other times, but not now. Mole? Ahhhhh. I can feel her body sag with the relief of it. In the middle of the night, when she wakes up crying or talking in her sleep, wringing her hands with her sign for “book” and saying, “Tie! Tie!” (even in her sleep, she wants to be read to!), I work myself near her hand, and she gropes, not unlike a mole, in the dark for my mole, and, rubbing it like a sleep-inducing talisman (if only it were like the many talismans in Howard Pyle’s Twilight Land [our current read], bringing genies and wishes!), calms herself and often falls back asleep.

Thus, “mole” was an early word for her. “Mama,” she’d say, as she’d pat my cheek. “Mole,” she’d add, as she prodded and probed my protrusion. I have no doubt that, given ten or twenty or one hundred mamas, all lined up, my daughter could choose me, her one and only mama, out of a crowd. It might not be a glamorous reason – OK, so it’s not glamorous at all – but my daughter knows me.

Gustav’s reintroduction has had moles more firmly planted in her mind than ever. “Mole,” she’ll say as she touches my mole. “Mole,” she’ll say endearingly, as she touches the same mole-free place on my husband’s face. “Mole,” she’ll say as she looks in the mirror and touches the same mole-free place on her own face. Her reflection does not deter her. If Mama’s mole is there, just below her lip on the left side, well, then, so is hers.

Maybe her embracing of Gustav isn’t such a surprise, then. I’d already laid the groundwork for her love of moles, and he is awfully cute.  With a little luck, maybe she’ll find comfort in him the way she finds comfort in me.

Mama's Mole