Leta is staying with my father for a couple of days, and the other night we drove out to his house to drop her off and have dinner together. My stepmother is a fabulous Southern cook and had prepared fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and corn. I thought we’d pour Leta a bowl of Cheerios and call her dinner a success when she suddenly asked for a piece of my stepmother’s fried chicken. I had little faith that she would even be able to look at a piece of that chicken and not immediately try to claw her face off as this chicken did not look at all similar to the chicken she has eaten before. Meaning it wasn’t in the shape of a dinosaur.
And it was made of actual chicken.
Whenever we eat dinner away from home and people ask what Leta would like to eat we usually say, well, do you have anything made out of a substance that doesn’t occur in nature? A bowl of that, please.
Everyone loaded up their plates and then we all bowed our heads to bless the food. I know that some of you will be totally surprised that I participate in this, that I willingly bow my head for a Mormon prayer instead of marching around the table with a picket sign, but I respect my family’s beliefs and they respect mine. I bow my head before meals at their houses, and they know that when they come to my house they aren’t allowed to come inside until after they have removed their pants.
While our heads were lowered that night, though, I looked up to see Leta making funny faces at me and then looking around to make sure everyone else had their eyes closed. I remember being just a little bit older than she is now, how uptight I was already about being righteous. And one time during a prayer I let my eyes slip open and was immediately struck with a panic that THE LORD WOULD KNOW. And he was right now sending my sleeping bag from the Celestial level of heaven all the way down to the Telestial level where I and all the rapists and murderers and women who wore revealing tank tops would spend the rest of our eternity.
Look at how my four-year-old is already more well-adjusted than I am.
And then she ate her piece of chicken. Every last bite of it. I have a theory about this: a couple of weeks ago Leta came home from preschool and asked if she could have a bowl of mac and cheese. Because I have seen Leta spit a new and unfamiliar food four feet across the room I ignored her requests thinking she had gone temporarily insane. But Jon is either less cynical than I am, or maybe it’s because all that ska music he played in the early 90’s rattled his already irregular brain, but he went out right then and bought a box of instant mac and cheese. I was all YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS, OUR DAUGHTER WILL NOT EVEN EAT BREAD. And he was all, woman, calm down, I am made of magic, and after waving his hand and chanting a hypnotizing spell, that kid put a noodle in her mouth, I WILL NEVER GET OVER IT.
And then she ate mac and cheese every night for a week.
We finally got it out of her that her friend at school always brings mac and cheese to lunch, and that’s when I drafted a letter to all the parents of the kids in her school: Hello! You don’t know me, but I was wondering if for a small fee you would be willing to pack sushi in your child’s lunch box. How about some Pad Thai? Or maybe a coconut curry. We could also start small with a peanut butter sandwich. I’m desperate. Please hold me.
After dinner Leta kept begging me and Jon to leave, so I quickly unpacked her STUFF into a heaping pile in my father’s guest bedroom and then gave him the rundown of her daily routine, including the part where he has to tell her a knock knock joke that ends with DONKEY BELLIES at bedtime or she won’t be able to sleep. Also, I warned, Leta may start bugging you to agree to to something RIGHT NOW, or SOON, or IN A MINUTE. And even though you know you aren’t going to be doing that particular thing until tomorrow it would behoove you to tell her that you agree to her timetable. You must say the words YES, IN A MINUTE. And resist following that with NOW SHUT UP.
My dad looked a little uncomfortable with this arrangement, and I was all, dude, this is not lying. This is called GETTING THROUGH YOUR DAY.
I called to check up on things last night, and my stepmother said that after her bath Leta jumped up, wrapped her arms around my stepmother’s neck and whispered I LOVE YOU. Which stunned her because Leta has been prickly once or twice or ALL THE TIME. I told her I think some chemical is released when kids turn four, something that makes them come to terms with the fact that THEY ARE LIVING and they might as well stop resisting it, and yeah, that kid can be wonderful like that.
And then my stepmother asked me what a donkey belly was because she had just spent 30 minutes of her life singing, “Row row row your DONKEY BELLIES! gently down the stream…”