These are words not often uttered in my house, which isn't to imply that he's some kind of cartoon dad like Modern Family's Phil Dunphy. It's just that we don't go around proclaiming ourselves to be Einsteins. There was that brief two week period when Bean kept saying "My father's a genius," but that was only because she was repeating dialogue from Beauty and the Beast. And then the Little Mermaid usurped Beauty and the Beast for most watched movie so I haven't really heard it since. Today, however, I will say emphatically that my husband is indeed a genius and I'll tell you why.
I dominate the Bean-side of things here. I stay home with her. I pick her activities, her pre-school, her friends. J is very involved, but when it comes down to sheer manpower hours with Bean, I just win out because of our arrangement. J makes the money and I stay home and try not to make our kid into a sociopath. As a result of this, I often get stuck drowning myself in the small minutia of crazy parenting. It's hard for me to step back sometimes and view Bean objectively because I've literally been in the trenches (that may or may not be covered in poop and pee) with a three-year old talking about King Triton all day long. You can get a bit crazy.
The last few weeks have been torture getting Bean to eat. I know it's a common theme for parenting. I also logically know that it's cyclical. However, knowing one thing and facing your child at the table with pursed lips refusing meals that she previously ravenously enjoyed is a special kind of torture for a former chef turned Mamma. And what's worse is the back and forth fighting between us. I would take away a book at bedtime or withhold grapes as punishment, but nothing worked. I let her bring toys to the table which just made everything worse because then all she wanted to do was play. I envisioned glorious family dinners together with us discussing the world, politics, art and here I was with my head on the table glaring at my stubborn toddler. And then Mother's Day happened which was shit show by all accounts. We went to the restaurant where I used to work and Bean, my lovely, sweet, adorable child spit chewed up cauliflower at my face across the table. Like a slow motion sports reel, I saw the small particles of wet mushy food fly into the air and slap me in the face as violently as if she had slugged me one. I sat there with look of dumbfounded stupidity on my face wanting to be anywhere in the world (except maybe Syria) than where I was at that moment. She'd never spit food at me before, not as a baby and certainly not in a restaurant.
The next day was another slew of bad meals. J walked in while we were crawling through another awful dinner. He sat down next to her and tried to coax something in her mouth and I just got up exasperated, proclaiming rather dramatically, that I was done. I went into the other room and basked in the quiet. I'm sure that part of my stress these last few weeks is due in a large part to the baby I'm about to birth and the expectation of now feeding two beings daily. J finished dinner and took Bean to bed and I ferociously cleaned. Nothing makes me feel better than furiously scrubbing down my kitchen (an obvious leftover effect from my restaurant days).
J came down and hugged me, did his best to console me while I whined about how difficult it's been feeding her lately. And this is where his genius comes in. He said why don't you just set a timer and when the timer goes off, eating time is over and she can go back to play. I should say two things about timers; we use them regularity to limit iPad time, computer and potty time and Bean loves pressing the off buttons. She's familiar with it and she understands the time limit when it's linked to a timer. Applying the timer to mealtime was revolutionary to me, and also pretty obvious but I guess when you are wallowing in the trenches of tantrums and hysteria, you can't always see clearly. Thankfully, J can see clearly because he's not affected by hormones and a constant stream of Ariel conversations. And, I needed to be ready to listen to him, which admittedly is difficult for me. He saw the answer so clearly when I was struggling and he propped me up when I needed it most.
The next day I explained the parameters of our new mealtimes.
1. No toys or books at the table.
2. Potty before meal, not during (a classic stall technique).
3. Set the timer (25 minutes for lunch, 30 for dinner).
4. Talk and have fun.
Here's the rub, looking back over these past few weeks, I might not have wanted to eat either if I was Bean. I was short-tempered, wild-haired with angry eyes trying to force food down my child's throat. What's fun about that? Would I want eat with that crazy spoon-wielding lady? Probably not. I might have pulled a Ghandi too.
Since I enacted our new rules, meals have generally been a breeze. I set the timer. She eats her food herself. I eat my food and we talk. Yes, we still talk a lot about the Little Mermaid but we also talk about our day, her school, her teachers, her friends and we make up stories. It's SOOOOOO much better, and it's all because my husband is a genius and because I was ready to listen to him.