I am always struck by how often, when we tell stories about our “crazy” parents, they revolve around food. My own personal crazy story involves the time I was three and tried to pretend that I’d finished my dinner while my Mom was out of the room. On the one hand, it was precociously clever of me to leap into action and scrape my plate into the trash can in the two minutes it took her to answer the phone and return; on the other, it was appallingly stupid of me to think that anyone would believe I’d finished a full plate of food in so short a time, especially since part of my dinner had been a piece of chicken still on the (now missing) bone. It wasn’t long before the tell-tale drumstick was back in front of me, this time much the worse for wear: it seems that was the day when all of the ashtrays and hairbrushes in the entire house (to my three-year-old eyes, the entire world) had been cleaned. Needless to say, it was a meal that I did not soon forget; and a trick that I did not ever try again.
The stories I hear from other people all seem to play on the same theme: whether it’s the one about the uneaten food item making a surprise guest appearance at every meal until it is finally consumed, or the one about an entire meal being peremptorily withdrawn (and replaced with a big ol’ bowl of nothing) after a complaint had been lodged against it, all of the best stories of parents behaving madly seem to involve food.
I was reminded of this quite forcefully the other day as I stared at the unhappy faces in front of me eating pizza at a sleepover at my house. Now, normally, pizza and sleepover do not combine to equal unhappy, but on this occasion–when the pizza in question had been thrown around the yard as a not-so-damn-funny (at least to the person who had paid for the pizza)“joke” and was now covered in gravel and wood chips–unhappy was definitely the mot juste. There were some threats of imminent puking, and a near swoon or two, but I’m guessing that it will be a long time until any of those children confuse food with projectiles while spending the night at my house.
Sometimes I think that we as parents forget to play the crazy card–the one where we go completely off message, say “screw the time out”, and hand down a punishment worthy of Solomon. This is when you do something so completely over the top–like madly tossing every toy in sight into a big garbage bag–that you trump absolutely everything else that is occurring at the moment: temper tantrums, sibling rivalry, whining at a pitch only dogs can hear. There is nothing else quite like it in our arsenal. It is the moment when your children finally realize that yes, you can be driven over the edge, that for all they know there might be seven or eight of their older, unknown siblings– the ones who didn’t straighten up and fly right–buried in the back yard at this very moment, and by God they better watch their step around this woman, because she is absolutely, freakin’, nuts.
Crazy works. Just like having to eat that hairy, ashy chicken leg worked on me, and hopefully eating the extra piquant pizza worked on the kids at Clementine’s sleepover. Some would argue that I shouldn’t have taken it to the crazy level; that I should’ve started out smaller, like taking away their permission to play Game Cube for the night. Somehow though, I doubt that when they think back on that night any of them would ever remember the time they threw pizza at a sleepover, and the Mom got so mad she “took away their right to play Sonic for a day”.