This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

Mission accomplished

Earlier this month I mentioned that we had stopped giving Leta treats, and many readers wrote to inquire how we went about such warfare and whether or not there were any casualties. I’ll admit, I thought it was going to be the worst battle we had ever fought as parents, worse even than when we refused to let her inject Elmo into her forearm, but it actually turned out to be one of the easiest, for a couple of reasons. One, when your child is already complaining about everything, is already going around moaning COCO EXISTS! or BREATHING AIR IS SO EXHAUSTING! you don’t really notice it when she starts objecting to yet another unacceptable reality. Two, when she realized we weren’t giving in, she tried to seize control of the situation and started bragging about how she didn’t need treats, had never really wanted them in the first place. Oh, snap! Don’t we feel stupid NOW.

The upside is that we no longer spend our meals bargaining with each other. There is no more of this:

Leta: “How many bites do I have to eat before I get my treat?”

Me: “Leta, you’ve barely eaten anything all day. Don’t you want the whole thing?”

Leta: “How many bites?”

Me: “Fine… ten.”

Leta: “How about I eat nine?”

Me: “Ten.”

Leta: “How about eight?”

Me: “I said ten. End of discussion.”

Leta: “So, eight it is.”

Now she only gets treats on special occasions at school or when my mother WILLFULLY DISREGARDS ME. Last week while we were in Kansas City she stayed with my mother for a couple of nights, and when presented with an ice cream cone after dinner Leta didn’t know what to do. My mother assured her that it was perfectly okay, but Leta, not believing her for one second, asked, “Promise you won’t tell my Mama?”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s OH SO SAD. Mean mother denies child treats. What monster does this to her own daughter? ME. THAT’S WHAT MONSTER. I don’t mind the occasional treat, that’s not what this is about. This is about the constant negotiating during meals when I would much rather be enjoying my spaghetti. This is about teaching her to eat when she’s hungry and stopping when she’s full. This is also very much about making her suffer.

When I confronted Leta about the ice cream cone, something I found out about because my mother’s urge to rub it in my face far outweighed her loyalty to her grandchild, Leta didn’t say a word, she just looked up at me like a rabbit flipped over on its back by a wolf. I told her it was okay, not to worry, she’s allowed to have a treat now and then, and I asked her if she enjoyed it. “Yes, Mama,” she said, quickly regaining her footing. Smiling broadly she continued, “Does ‘now and then’ mean tonight?”

Earlier this week we got notice that her school Halloween party was going to be held today, and yesterday I found out that I needed to prepare a couple dozen cookies. This is one facet of parenthood that I have mastered, The Cookie Platter, and because of this I can forgive myself for all the other things I’m not so good at, like sewing clothes or building things out of Legos or pretending that Daddy has any idea what he’s talking about. Leta can always be confident in the fact that when I send of plate of cookies with her to school that she will walk in the door and all the kids will be nudging each other going DUDE. LETA’S MOM MADE COOKIES. Which will be a welcome change from DUDE. LETA’S MOM IS WEARING THE SAME SHIRT SHE WORE YESTERDAY.

My secret is easy: do not follow the instructions on the back of the package. Hell no, they’re not made from scratch, they’re just removed from the oven about five minutes before they’re fully-cooked and then left to finish cooking on the pan. Leta loves this recipe, and last night when I removed the first batch from the oven she was suddenly standing next to me in the kitchen having appeared out of nowhere. “What are those?” she asked, not knowing if she should beg for one or pretend that she didn’t need one. I told her they were cookies for her Halloween party, and because it was a special occasion we were all going to eat one after dinner. I got the feeling that she didn’t trust me, and in as calm and deliberate a tone as she could muster she said, “Well then, I think it would be a good idea if we all had dinner right now.”

Another upside of removing treats? Getting to see the glee in her face when she’s allowed to eat one. After dinner I handed her the biggest cookie from the batch, and she was so excited she couldn’t keep her fingers still. “Leta,” I said as she carefully balanced the cookie between two trembling hands, “do you know how much I love you?”

She nodded enthusiastically, took a bite full of chocolate chips and mumbled through a mouth full of crumbs, “Can you be quiet? I’m eating a cookie.”

  • Once my daughter told on me (because I am so mean). She told the police officer visiting her preschool that I was mean to her. So they came to our house to see how mean I was. When they asked my four year old what I did that was mean, she told them I put her in time out. Good Times.

  • Rootietoot

    You’ve learned a great truth of parenting: It’s not a treat if you get it all the time.

  • Leta is really onto something! I need a sign asking people to be quiet because I’m eating a cookie for the back of my office chair since everyone seems to need me at precisely the time I eat lunch at my desk.

  • Heather

    I have a 5 year old daughter and every story you tell of Leta makes me think of mine. She’s just as obstinate and so sarcastic at times that I wonder what she’ll be like in 8 or so years. In fact the other day my in-laws had both of my children and were bringing them home by truck (they live 45 minutes away) and my daughter announced to her nana “arms and legs fall asleep sometimes too you know” that is Roz speak for could you please move your seat up? I feel your pain Heather, I do.

  • People think we’re crazy for not giving our 18 month old treats, but then again, I had a mom grill me about if she was actually really truly eating broccoli, green beans and cauliflower for lunch one day. Muahahahah!

    I totally agree, cookies should be eaten in complete silence.

  • We’ve been this way from the start with our boys. Are we the meanest parents they know? Mmmmaybe. But when, out of the blue, I pull a bag of gummie bears out of the glove box and say, “Hey, anybody want a gummie bear?” I am the most astonishing creature that ever lived.

    Setting yourself up to be the person who says No all the time is a drag. It’s funner to be the occasional bestower of unexpected booty.

    This might work with men, come to think of it. But… no.

  • Nic

    Shes growing up quick! Great story 🙂

  • This has nothing to do with sweeties. For some really interesting conversations ask Leta if she remembers when she didn’t want to walk or if she remembers when she was born and ask her for details. Do it before she gets much older. It’s very enlightening.

  • Christie

    Dooce-

    I love your blog so much. Whenever I am online I check to see if you have updated (even if I know there is no way that you have, as I just closed your tab ten minutes earlier) and I look forward to reading your wonderful blog and looking at your amazing pictures. (I hope you read your comments, because here I am, writing to you!) I have been reading since last August and recently I’ve grown impatient waiting for updates (no pressure) and started reading your archives. Currently, I am stuck in the ‘parenthood’ file. I cannot tell you how much I admire you and really think you are a great person. Recently I have really begun to want children and reading your blog makes me believe that I can be a parent. I don’t know why I feel the need to tell you this, but I am gay, so I know that if I ever become a parent I’m going to have to try a little bit harder than most to acquire a kid, but I know that if I make that decision to love more than I will ever imagine, it is still going to be the greatest challenge and greatest joy of my life. I also know that when things get really hard and my partner has done all she can and my mom and sister have done all they can and I am at my wits end I will come to this site and read about your life and know that IT IS POSSIBLE and that I too can do it.

    Thank you for this post, the ones before it, and all of the ones to come. Thank you for your commitment to voicing your opinions and your truths and remaining totally honest in front of the whole world. I, and I know so many others, appreciate it.

    -Christie

  • What kind of cookies did you bake? We’ve cut cookies out altogether at our house. No treats of any kind right now. But, we don’t have kids and are doing a fitness challenge. Only four weeks left and then we can have a treat!

  • I find it so amusing that someone can get mad at you even when posting about your daughter eating cookies (anger reserved from the last post, but still).

    Anyway, good idea with the treats. My son had us down to three bites for a treat when we just stopped it all. Right now he is begging me for a cookie as he eats dinner, and I’m ignoring him and commenting on your page.

    I’m glad you are going to continue posting about politics or whatever else interests you. So creepy that anyone would tell you to do otherwise, or even think that they had that right.

  • When my kids call me ‘mean’, my response is, “I practice.” Treats are just exactly that, treats, not a daily indulgence. You go girl!

  • Heather, I love reading your blog so much. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.

    Leta is a trip.

  • that’s adorable! i love treats, too, but it’s not as treaty when you expect it all the time – sinking into the chocolate after not having any for so long is the best part!

    p.s. beautiful picture of her today!

  • dgm

    When my daughter used to ask, “how many bites …?” I’d reply along the order of “108,849, 532”. She learned to count really high, but never tasted true victory.

  • I am right there with you on the 4 year old eating struggles. I met with a pediatric nutritionist (for a different child) and she told me that you should not coax or beg or bribe (who knew? I thought that’s what dinner was for!). She said the only rule should be that he has to sit with us at the table for 20 minutes. He can eat whatever he wants….if it’s two bites than that’s it. whatever. mom get over it. then you are supposed to institute the no food between meals concept.
    yeah…..basically dinner is much nicer now but my kids eats nothing and wont put a vegetable in his mouth if his life depended on it!

  • Shannon

    I had to say the same thing to my mother tonight. Although it sounded more like….
    “Can you be quiet Mom? I’m drinking Bourbon.”

  • I’d be the one to need cut the cookies, but you won’t see me doing that anytime soon. Chocolate chip cookies should be its own food group.

    I gave my kids cake for dinner once to their eternal delight. I was beyond stressed, had a headache, and there was nothing in the house. They got cake. It was *awesome.*

  • Charity

    We have little to no treats in our house and we have no problems. The kids eat dinner and don’t ask for treats. It is nice and I enjoy not having candy around because then I would be forced to eat them to.

  • Sometimes holding a little back (or substitution with veggies) makes those treats better in the long run anyway. It’s only recently, you know, that Coke replaced water in the American diet…

  • Oh, jeez, why didn’t I think of that? Congratulations! We have been going through some of that, with the “How many bites, Mommy?” routine.

    We did manage to get her confused recently:

    “How many bites, Mommy?”
    “I’m not going to count, sweetie.”
    “How ’bout 5?”
    “5 is good, dear.”
    “No, Mommy! 10 bites!”
    “Ummm…okay?”

    She really put one over on us, I guess. Maybe she’s been learning from Leta!

  • Claire

    I’ve been reading your archives lately, and there is a constant evolution taking place in your writing.
    You were great then, but you are fantastic now.
    You have come a long way from “albino rain drops” thats for sure. Your growth is phenomenal! Oh, and a huge thanks for making my days a little less red.

    Claire.

  • I completely agree. We only give our kids treats on Fridays now. It was hard at first, but so worth it.

  • Caroline

    I’m 22 and I completely remember negotiating with my parents about dessert when I was really tiny. It went something like:

    “I’m full, can I have dessert now?”

    “Aren’t you too full for dessert?”

    “No, my dinner tummy is full, not my dessert tummy!”

    Surprisingly, I think it actually worked a few times.

  • bruyere_75

    My sister-in-law is fighting a never-ending battle with our mother-in-law about treats for her four-year-old daughter, S. She’s trying to instill healthy eating habits, but Grandma can’t stop giving her treats. S never even asks for them. This summer, we were out in the yard, watching S play. She went inside for a bit, and my SIL told S, “We’re having lunch in a few minutes, so no snacks!” She told Grandma, “Don’t feed her, we’re having lunch soon.”

    Five minutes later, S hadn’t come back, so my SIL went to investigate. She asked Grandma, “Are you feeding her?” Grandma answered, “No, I just gave her a couple of cookies.”

  • Anonymous

    I’m also a “sparse treater” as…well..pre-kids it isn’t like I ate a treat after every meal so why teach them to indulge?? But every once in awhile I do the same thing as my mom: SUNDAES FOR DINNER! The house goes nuts and since I made it out alive – I’m pretty sure they will too 🙂

  • Ha! And with an ending sweet as that cookie. I think the posturing that goes on between parent and child over eating habits is not unlike what I continue to see in boardroom negotiations in my adulthood. That’s funny, in a way, and also horribly not.

    Coincidentally, my latest eavesdrop involved a masterful little boy doing battle with his mother over broccoli. Lucky for him, he also had a coconspiring grandparent, like Leta has.

  • Jojo

    Dude! Don’t go giving away the secret behind baking good cookies. If my sister ever finds out that ALL I do is take them out of the oven early, I’m toast.

  • Sarah

    I totally imagined high school stoners when you said that Leta’s classmates would be all “Dude, Leta’s Mum made cookies” which totally changes what type of cookies they would be.

  • Gail

    So you are competing with me for “Meanest Mother In the
    World” award? You got a way to go, baby!o

  • Nina

    Terrible! just terrible! a mother trying to teach her child good eating habits and a healthy relationship with food?! you should be ashamed.

  • Kate

    I am living this right now.

  • C

    Awesome post (she says, grinning and biting into the brownie she just baked. oh, i love being an adult.)!

  • Sher

    I got rid of the desert/treat thing ages ago. Only once a week or on those special occassions.

    I think parents make it harder on themselves than it is for the child. Like getting rid of the binkie/pacifier…I mean just do it already!

  • anginak

    Pshaw. Try my mom’s 1970’s parenting trick of allowing the child to eat any and all ‘treats’ the child wants at one sitting.

    Worked on my sister one Halloween. I don’t think she touched chocolate for a few years afterward.

  • RzDrms

    oppositionally (or maybe tangentially?), this reminds me of my beloved (and, now, deceased) gramma, who was ill and on medication a few years before she died. she’d eat until she was “full,” which was not much food at ALL, and then she’d announce her extreme fullness (she’d had mini strokes). next, we’d ask if she’d like some dessert. her answer? “just a little,” with her thumbs and forefingers of each hand touching, indicating the quantity. still cracks me up.

    p.s. i adore the way you can read leta and then convey that to us. and your love for her is strikingly poignant. thanks.

  • A Preschool Teacher

    At the school where I work, we have to immediately quarantine all homemade treats in the staff room. For the protection of the children, of course. There could be allergies. Terrible allergies. (And we thank you for the ooey, chewy, goodness of your homemade cookies. Oh, yes, we do.)

  • Haley

    I don’t care what any says about your choice in politics I don’t think you need such jerks reading your cool site anyways. I give you kudos for the pro-choice post and your reply and extra kudos for your splendid parenting skills. You are a great person, a wise lady and a wonderful parent! Hoorah for you!! 🙂 Thanks for all the laughs!

  • Your kid cracks me up!

    And now I want a cookie. 🙂

  • Exactly the same here — if we don’t give our 5 year old a snack after school and she started eating dinner. As it turns out, she was getting a snack at school, another at daycare, and then one at home…

  • Donnell

    The same recipe works for brownies… undercook them and the kids will call them “magical” brownies. Of course, this is not the same kind of magical that us grown-ups are used to, but still good nonetheless!

  • Maren

    Heh. Reading this, I just now realized we did the same thing to our cat several years ago — it got to the point where she would only eat her dry food if we put cat treats on top, so we quit giving them to her altogether. Amazingly, she did not starve. *eyeroll*

  • Christina

    What happens at grandma’s stays at grandma’s.
    My friend has this hanging at her house.

  • Katie Kat

    It’s called “underdone chocolate chip cookie orgasm” if you want to know.

    Also, I may NEVER EVER EVER forgive you for not telling me you were going to be in Kansas City. I live in Lawrence, for God’s sake. I’d have made the 30 min. drive to stalk you.

    I’ve DREAMED about meeting you for God’s sake woman. Show some respect.

    You’re’s DOOCINGLY, Katie Kat. *kiss kiss*

  • Shenley

    I wasn’t allowed to eat sugar when I was a kid. Not at all. Not even one cookie. EVER. My mom thought she was saving me from growing up and being overweight and getting diabetes like most of my relatives, but really it just led to me hiding stolen candy bars in my room and eating them in the dark with my door locked. Ahh, memories.

  • karla

    I just…I simply LIKE you people. I think we would be friends.

  • What a kindness you are doing for Leta by breaking the treat cycle now. Kudos to you!

  • Helen

    I had no idea about the treats article when I hopped on here to leave you a comment, but it seems synchronistic (is that a word?). I just watched an interview of Karen Knowler, a raw foods coach, and I was pondering the whole thing and suddenly thought of you. I have this strong hunch about you and her. I think you need to ring her up in the UK and, I dunno, just have a chat. Maybe ask her to tell you a bit about what it is she does (you’ll think of something).

    I think maybe you two were meant to do something together, maybe something big. In any event, I’m sure you’d hit it off, and at the very least, you’d have a new best friend across the pond.

    And it also occurred to me…..I wonder if Heather is Oprah in her early years? You’ve developed this ginormous (yes, that’s *definitely* a word), trusting and open audience and, very soon, you’re going to take this huge leap into the next incredible, unforeseen, blindingly brilliant phase of your life, and you’ll bring everyone stumbling along with you. What a thought.

    Oh, and in support of the inimitable Leta:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1WC6hNTONg

    I got out of a warm bed to write this note. So I do hope you scroll down and read comment number 5,682,378.

  • Sandra

    Natalie said:
    “So my question is, if you don’t negotiate “how many bites” with a treat afterwards, does that mean that the negotiations just stopped? My DD is 6 and suprisingly is not a big sweets person but we still have the discussion of how many more bites does she have to take until she can be done. Do you just let Leta decide when to be done or does she just now finish a meal without question?”

    YOU decide what and when, THE KID decides if, and how much. There is no “x number of bites”. If they’re not hungry at dinner, they’ll be *really* hungry by breakfast!

    My son is a social diner. He likes to chatter, no time for putting food in his mouth! We’ve learned there is no point in trying to rush him thru a meal. Sometimes we give him the option of saving it for later, sometimes I’ll sit with him for 10 more minutes after everyone else leaves the table and he doesn’t have any distractions.

  • My mom was very strict on the treat front as well. Treats were for Fridays. Except for ice cream. Ice cream was for everyday. It’s her favorite food, so how could she deny us the same joy. Now ice cream is my favorite food, too. But my sister like veggies. My sister is very weird.