And The Winner Is…

When my oldest son was a little boy, I mastered the art of beef stew. I am an Irish cook, taught by an Irish cook, who was taught by the Irish cook before her. We do best with take out.

Even with my culturally-challenged culinary skills, I make an effort to prepare a meal each night, or most nights, and sit as a family for dinner. It is more important now than it was then, and so I am glad that I started this ritual long ago.

There are many nights when there is more eating done after dinner than during. Goldfish. Granola bars. But I have learned that the bringing of food to mouth is less important than the words spoken to each other at dinner time. Still. When a meal I prepare is enjoyed by all, there is no greater satisfaction. Or at least no greater satisfaction that doesn’t involve chocolate.

And so that fateful night in my son’s fourth year began innocently enough. It was winter. It was cold. We had had our share of chicken fingers and spaghetti. A friend shared a recipe. Why not beef stew? Why not? Well, because to a 3 year old, beef stew doesn’t look like something that humans should eat. Regardless of how nicely the smell emanates through the house. My son looked at the meal and shook his head. No.

My boy and I have similar personalities. Of this, I am very proud; he is a wonderful son. I am a wonderful mom.  But, with all admirable character traits, there are bound to be some weaknesses. We are terribly stubborn and determined. Miserably so. It makes for interesting arguments.

“Just taste it. You will like it.”

Head shake. No.

“If you don’t try it, you’ll have to go to your room.”

Head shake. Movement to leave the table.

“If you don’t eat, you will never grow.”

First words are spoken by the enemy army: “I don’t care.”

“If you don’t grow, you’ll get sick. You will have to go to the doctor. He will give you a shot.”

Yes, full blown crazy enters the room. My husband looks at me, hesitant to get in the line of fire. My son stands his ground. And stands up. Leaves the table. Goes to his room.

This probably should have ended the war. My spouse and I could have enjoyed the finely prepared stew. Maybe afterward, there would be chocolate. But no. I don’t lose, at least not easily. I rise from my seat, put on my virtual battle gear, and begin my march to his little boy room. Where he waits calmly, expecting my arrival.

“Put on your jacket. I need to take you to the hospital. You need a shot. Right now.”

(I am not proud of this moment. But let me remind you. I have a wonderful son. We have a fabulous relationship. DSS has never been called. Honest.)

My son stands and looks at me with those steely three year old eyes.  He zips up his baby blue jacket, the one with attached mittens. We take the stairs together, perfectly in step.

“Where are you going?” the boy’s father asks. There is some fear in his eyes, but more pity. I am feeling somewhat vulnerable.

I reveal our destination, our plight.

“No,” he says, confidently, emphatically. “You two need a break.”

And so it ends. We take a break. Later, we lie together and read a book. About fire trucks and race cars and other things that three year olds like better than dinner. I stay with him until he falls asleep. Or at least that is what I remember.

I have not made beef stew since. I have a feeling that even now it wouldn’t go over well.  The mention of this particular meal still makes my husband laugh. And until my decision to write it down, it was a nice little inside joke. As far as my son goes, I have asked him enough leading questions to know that the event has vanished from his long term memory. Or else he’s sparing me for now and preparing for his eventual tell-all best seller.

My little boy is 17. He is as stubborn and determined as he was at three. He has sat through more than one dinner silently sucking on a bottle of Mountain Dew. One that he has purchased, as I will not. My son no longer owns a baby blue winter jacket; he prefers a sweatshirt to a coat.  Without mittens attached. He rarely wears gloves, choosing to leave his hands unprotected from the winter cold. All of these things, and more, are infuriating to me. But I’ve learned to pick my fights.

Recently, my boy and I had a disagreement over something that he did. It doesn’t matter what it was. I was right. He was wrong. That’s all you need to know.

“How could you do that?” I ask. “This is a problem! Don’t you see that this is a problem?”

I stand in my corner, arms folded, steely 53 year old eyes unblinking, unwavering. As he delivers the final blow.

“Mom,” he replies. “I am fine. It is not an issue. But if it is a problem to you, it is a problem to me. I’m sorry.”

I am struck by the realization that he is my kryptonite, he has always been my kryptonite. And I am a pretty pathetic Superman.  Weakened by his words, I stand defeated, knowing his apology is careless, his agreement, disingenuous. I am unable to respond.  For he has become nothing but stronger, wiser. His combat skills, mature and well-honed.

The beef stew will be eaten when he chooses. The life will be lived as he plans. Suggestions are welcomed. But decisions are his alone.

I have faced the champion. And have lost.  Again.

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