What do you do with all the leftover cake and cupcakes from a birthday party? You eat them in a weeklong slog through dessert every night. On Monday night Toddler Harbat was well aware that there was leftover cake just waiting for her. She made it through most of her dinner…except for some sautéed spinach. I grew up (apologies, Mom) thinking of cooked spinach as something that looked and tasted like it had already been through the chew-digest-excrete cycle at least once. So when I grew up and began to work in the kitchen I learned you can do fantastic things with spinach that impart all the nutrients and don’t taste like alien-egg drippings.
But then there’s the texture. No getting around it, whether you call it wilted, steamed, sautéed, or fricasseed, spinach turns into a flat mushy green mess. Which you can get past if it tastes good, but for toddlers this can be a challenge. Toddler Harbat was told she’d get her cake if she tried one forkful of spinach. And I mean a kiddie fork the size of those little shrimp tridents at the place setting of a meal that costs more than a car payment. She put it in her mouth, thought, then began a ten-minute ordeal I can only describe as Kabuki. There were melodramatic faces of disgust and fear, wails of despair, stylized body movements attempting to recreate, oh I don’t know, the agony of complete digestive rejection. She clawed at her tongue, tried to pack the spinach in between her gums and lip like chewing tobacco, then smiled to show us it was “all gone”. During this opera I got out the cake, served myself a piece, ate it, served her a piece, then hovered her plate over the cake box at an alarming angle.
“Look! If you don’t swallow that one bite, I’m going to put this back in the box.”
She pulled out soggy gobs of spinach and dropped them on her plate. Her piece of chocolate cake with pink strawberry frosting slid back into the cake box with a plop, the dishes were cleared, and she burst into tears.
It’s not often that you really see the face of pure misery. A toddler has an extremely myopic world view and for TH, getting her cake was the alpha and omega. When she cried and was taken away by my wife for bathtime, her face showed true sadness. Listening to her cry and seeing that face was arguably the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a parent. Funny, that. You deal with dirty diapers, volcanic tempers (yours and theirs), but nothing prepares you to cause such hurt and sadness in your child. To our credit, my wife and I didn’t give in, though the temptation was great. As a parent you want to love, protect, and soothe your child, so it’s a painful internal conflict to know that what’s good for them causes them to suffer.
For what it’s worth, on Tuesday night she was asked to finish her peas before cake. She gobbled them up like a hungry hungry hippo and was rewarded with her piece of cake. She licked the plate clean and at that moment all was right with the world.