May the Fork Be With You

9 10 2008

When Roo was a baby, her occupational therapist gave us some good advice: let her play with her food. Let her finger paint with pudding. Let her feed herself with her hands. Let her touch and squish and poke and prod and practice getting food in her mouth with her own two hands.  So we did just that, with her and Neener too. And it worked beautifully. It helped them develop better fine and gross motor control, encouraged a sense of independence, and may have spurred their creativity. By the age of two, these kids could turn a pile of mashed potatoes, green beans and tomatoes into a three dimensional crab scuttling through sandy sea grass. I kid you not. And while it was great for all these important skills, our little Fun With Food therapeutic approach to mealtimes did diddly squat for their table etiquette. I’ll never forget the look on my poor mother-in-law’s face the first time she saw them dig into a meal with their fat little, tremendously dexterous toddler fingers. She was appalled. I could tell she was appalled by her gigantic ear to ear grin. And by the way she asked in a high-pitched, sing songy, sugar-laden voice, ” So…when will they start using utensils?” The answer, three years later, is “Soon. I hope.”

Yes, my five and a half year olds can write and illustrate their own comics, but they still struggle with using utensils. For Neener, it’s a matter of reminding her to do it. And now that we’ve shown her how to hold and handle a fork or spoon so that food actually gets into her mouth, she’s really getting the hang on it. But for Roo, it’s tougher. While her fine motor control is great with a marker or pencil, she still struggles with one-handed manipulation of objects. Especially long, thin utensil shaped objects. Especially long, thin utensil shaped objects that must be held a certain way, and maneuvered a certain way, and kept steady enough to pick up other uncooperative objects of various sizes and consistencies. Especially when all she wants to do is fling that long, thin utensil shaped object across the room, so she can pick up those uncooperative but delicious looking other objects of various sizes and consistencies with her hands, and shove them in her mouth because she’s starving, dammit! And did I mention that Roo is not the most patient child in the world? And that sometimes you have to ask and remind her several dozen times to get her to do something? And that she really hates to be nagged? And that she loves to use her hands to get things – delicious or not -into her mouth? Clearly, this is going to require some strategic parenting, lest someone ends up with a long, thin utensil shaped object in their eye. And by someone, I mean me.

So, I’m thinking I’ll start simple, by introducing something called “Fancy Manners.” “Fancy Manners” consists, for the time being, of not touching your food with your hands. When I see an opportunity, we will practice “Fancy Manners” at home, which may or may not entail wearing fancy hats and speaking with fancy British accents. “Fancy Manners” will be in effect when we go out to a restaurant, or when we have company over for dinner. The rest of the time, we’ll encourage utensil use for Neener and Roo, but we won’t harp on it. We’ll harp on before-and-after-eating hand washing instead. Chances are, by the time they are adults, their “Fancy Manners” will be well honed enough to save them from any public embarrassment. I’m a firm believer that the ambiance of family meals affects how you eat, and how you relate to your family. If a child’s meal times are full of constant corrections and directions on how to consume their food, you can bet that the kid will eat as fast as possible to escape the stress and unpleasantness of having a parent nag the shit out of them about table manners. Meals are a time to enjoy food, and enjoy each others company. It’s great if they can work on their manners at the family table, and I’ll make sure they understand the importance of using those manners in the company of others, but I’m not going to get all Darth Vader-ish about it. No menacing threats or demands or heavy breathing. In fact, I’m going to take the opposite approach. The Obi-Wan Kenobi approach. The gentle Jedi coaching. The loving guidance of a whispered reminder when it really counts.“Use the fork, Roo. Use the fork.”

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3 responses

9 10 2008
Winston

Someone could use a little Darth Vader… “Roo, *I* am your father!”

9 10 2008
Mr. Blister

Keep dreaming Darth.

10 10 2008
nanny

I’ll bet my pension that before they go to college, they’ll know how to use the utensils. May the forks be with you all,especially if there is pie!

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