It was just after 8 a.m. and my 9-year-old son was placing three slices of pizza from the night before in the microwave. He was still in his Pokémon pj’s, his stout tummy peeking out as he reached up to set the timer.
I put my hands up. “Hold on now, buddy. Pizza is not a breakfast food.”
He started to push the buttons faster because he knew I was about to intervene. I’m not sure what he was hoping for. Perhaps he assumed that if he got the microwave started that I would just let it happen. But that wasn’t the case. I had to more or less wrestle the pizza from him. And I will admit, a month or so ago, I’d have let him have the pizza and then discussed with him why it was a bad idea while he ate it with a big greasy smile on his face. But Mel and I had recently started to push for healthy eating habits with our children because they eat like crap. Mel and I have known it for a long time, but haven’t really fought it because the fact is, we both eat like crap.
For the sake of transparency, I will just say this: Mel has a cookie problem, and I have a soda problem. I basically live on breakfast cereal, and not the healthy kind — the Lucky Charms kind. I will give Mel credit, however. She is good about eating fruits and veggies. She eats them every day. I, on the other hand, eat them sparingly (as in, only when they are forced upon me because the kids are looking).
I eat a very bland and boring diet because I was a picky eater as a child who never really grew out of it. This isn’t to say that I didn’t try new things. I did. I have. In fact, I eat way more kinds of food than what I did as a child. But I never really liked a lot of food. I don’t like a lot of flavor or spice. You get the idea. I was fine with this for a long time. I had accepted the fact that I was a picky eater and it really was my problem and no one else’s. But now I’m in my mid-30s and realizing that my children are picking up my bad habits, particularly my son.
I started to put the pizza back in the fridge, and my son looked at me like I was a total asshat. Or perhaps he was looking at me like I was a hypocrite. Or both. He was 9, almost 10, which made him, technically a preteen. As I was arguing with him about how he needs to eat better, I was holding an energy drink in my right hand. Sure, it was a breakfast energy drink — they make those now — and it had 5% juice. But ultimately, he saw right through my crap and said, “Can I have a soda for breakfast?”
I let out a sigh. There was a time when he’d never have made this connection. He’d have just accepted that he couldn’t eat pizza for breakfast because I was the boss. But in the past year or so, he’d become more opinionated and I’d started to realize that I was, in fact, a hypocrite. But ultimately, that’s the trouble with parenting. We are all hypocrites. But not in the way where you are trying to be an asshole. It’s the fact that you want your child to be better than you in all aspects of everything, from healthy eating to education to respect for others.
“No,” I said. “You can’t.”
Tristan got a spark in his eyes. He twisted his lips to the right and placed his fists at his sides, and said something that I always said to my parents in times like this, “Then why do you get one?”
I looked in my right hand, and thought about all the times I’d hidden snacks from my children. How many times I’d waited until they’d gone to bed and then binged on ice cream. I thought about how good I was at hiding my own bad habits in hopes of teaching my children to be better people. And I realized that it might not be all that easy anymore. I might not be as clever as I thought I was. This isn’t to say that I was going to make a 100% change. I wasn’t ready. But I was beginning to realize that I needed to up my game if I was going to get my kids to practice healthy eating.
But I wasn’t happy about it.
“All right! All right! All right!” I said. “I will put it in the fridge and save it for later. Okay?”
I thought for a moment that Tristan would go for that, but then he said, “Then do I get one later?”
His eyes were slightly slanted. He had me. He knew the rules as well as I did. He gets one soda a week. While I get, well, much more than that…a day. He’d already had his one soda that week. So I let out a long sigh and I did something I really, really, didn’t want to. I poured my energy drink down the drain.
And the funny thing is, Tristan didn’t look at me with respect. He didn’t look at me with admiration. He looked at me with a deep fear, because he realized that I meant business.
Then together, we both had a bowl of cereal. Not the sugary kind, but the whole grain kind. And as we sat eating, neither of us were all that happy, but it was clear that we both realized that this was for the best.
But that really is the challenge of parenting, isn’t it? In order to get your child to be better, you have to be better yourself. Sometimes that means making a change, which can sometimes suck.