I asked my son one night if he liked his dinner. He very politely replied, “Well, I am just trying to eat it as fast as I can, so I don’t have to taste it.”
Being a mother is nothing if not humbling.
While I admit that I am not the best cook, his comment seemed a little harsh reminding me of the one- word exclamation Emeril Lagasse uses when he adds spice to a dish — BAM!
Admonishments and ego aside, we as parents have an obligation to ensure our children learn the value of proper nutrition, a battle which sometimes feels as arduous as making Julia Child’s Beef Bourguignon – not that I have ever attempted the latter.
One way of performing the Spiritual Works of Mercy- instruct the uninformed, is parenting. We all know it’s work, but we don’t often think of it as a Work of Mercy. Yet, we have so much to teach our children, among which is respecting and nurturing our bodies. Good nutrition certainly falls within that realm.
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” Corinthians 6:19. We honor God when we care for our health, and we have to teach our children to do the same.
So when a fellow-parent suggested putting on a health fair at our school, I felt like Charlie must have when he won the last golden ticket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Of course I wasn’t rejoicing over chocolate rivers or lollipop flowers, but still I was as high as Veronica when she chewed a piece of experimental bubble gum, turned into a giant blueberry and floated away. Albeit, figuratively instead of literally.
You see, every night I single-handily host my own health fair when I explain to my children why they need to wash their hands, or eat their vegetables. Again, when they come and ask me if they can have their “candy of the day,” like it’s as much a part of their routine as bathing or sleeping, and I have to explain to them that actually — it’s not.
My oldest son intellectually knows that candy is not one of the food groups, yet he is so passionate about it, that quite honestly I can seem him lobbying in Washington someday for its inclusion on the food pyramid, MyPlate or whatever nutritional guide happens to be in vogue. He will represent the rights of the Oompa-Loompas, Cadbury eggs, and M & M’s of all colors.
Hoping to keep my son’s fate from being tied to an orange-skinned Oompa, I volunteered to help the organizer who was obviously quite brave to undertake this inaugural event, the point of which was to get our children excited about good nutrition.
Indeed, the event was reminiscent of a summer fair sans the rides – okay, without the cotton candy too. Still, the sun was shining, there were fun booths for the kids to enjoy and there were even farm animals!
Yes, we even had a prize hog. (I don’t really know if she was a prize, but there was a baby hog there that seemed to think she was mighty special.) Best of all, there were children laughing and running. They were spinning hula-hoops, and searching out clues in a scavenger hunt.
One of our local nurseries graciously donated plants so our school could start its own garden. Besides planting the beautiful vegetable plants that just made you want to have a V8, I helped the children plant seeds of their own to take home in plastic cups. They could choose between planting seeds for a butterfly plant, radish, basil or broccoli, and to my delight most of them chose broccoli!
I had wondered if we parent-volunteers would wander around the health-fair singing moralizing songs about vegetables to the steady beat of a drum like the Oompas did when one of the children were naughty, but instead we were enjoying farm animals, samples of tasty vegetables and refreshing juices extracted from carrots and beets.
Afterward, my children kept talking about how fun the health fair was, although for my eldest — the one who someday aspires to lobby on behalf of the Oompas, his joy came from stacking and un-stacking Solo cups at a freakishly-remarkable rate of speed. Still, I told him he was only a supersonic Solo-stacking superstar because he was privileged enough to have a mama that made him eat healthy.
Later that night my youngest son developed a croupy cough, so he stayed home from school the next day. Again, we were blessed with beautiful warm weather, so before lunch we went out to our own garden and planted the lettuce the nursery at the health fair had given us. I was startled to see the broccoli that was just in my garden last week had turned into some beautiful yellow flowers. Panicked I called the nursery and told them my broccoli had turned into a bouquet. They explained that broccoli blooms when you wait too long to harvest it.
Sigh. So, the garden grows…
At least my son was feeling better, and we decided we would take Fun Friday Treats for his class the following day. Because the health-fair had been that same week, we thought it would be appropriate to do something health-related.
We went to three different stores looking for inspiration. In the end, we decided to buy strawberry roots so each classmate could grow their own strawberry plant.
Once again I found myself sitting in the dirt, and I couldn’t have been happier. The three of us each had our own task. I planted the roots in individual cups, my youngest son put them in cellophane bags, and my eldest tied up the bags. 26 bags of strawberry plants later, my husband printed labels with growing instructions on each plant. Of course we included a picture of our son on the label, and gave him the title of “farmer” before his name.
Long after they went to bed, I stayed up gluing the labels onto construction paper, punching holes in them and using ribbon to tie them to the shiny blue bags. I had spent several hours on this project already and still had to wash and cut fresh strawberries so they could snack on them while they envisioned the harvest of their own plant a few months from now. That is what second-graders would be envisioning, right?
My husband mentioned how much simpler it would have been to just go to the store and buy some cookies for him to pass out. Of course this was true, and the same thought had crossed my own mind. Quite possibly, his classmates would have even preferred that I take the easier option.
Still, I thought back on my day which started with a sick child. I thought of the surprise bouquet in my garden, its wispy yellow flowers now sitting in a vase in the kitchen reminding me of sunshine and happy mistakes. I thought of the time spent with my boys as the sun began to set, planting and bagging the last of the strawberry plants, talking about nothing in particular but enjoying the company of another. I remembered my son’s proud smile when he saw his picture on the label, and how he laughed good-naturedly at his new moniker, farmer.
Certainly there are times for simple options, even when they involve store-bought cookies or the convenience of fast food. But today wasn’t that day. It was a day that we arrived at the dinner table late, happily weary from planting the last of the strawberries in our garden, a day where we spent time together and marveled at the miracle of mixing a tiny seed with soil, water and sun.
Certainly, the excitement of the health fair will fade, and at least in the near future my children are always going to choose candy over carrots. Yet, we as parents continue to toil, laying seeds of knowledge that teach them to honor and respect their bodies and our environment. So, years from now, when the beat of the drum sounds, it won’t signify the arrival of the Oompas, but the boom of a healthy adult who grew steadily from feeding on the knowledge of his roots.