Thursday, October 23, 2008

How to Eat Green Food When All Around Are Crunching Crisps.



Fin's been having a hard time of it lately. At home he oscillates between boisterous seven year old enthusiasm, petulant three year old stubbornness and astonishingly articulate and thoughtful supper companion of indeterminate age. At school it's any one's guess which of those he will be and I'm guessing that the three year old has been making quite a few appearances.

In the bubble of life with two adults Fin is protected from the unpredictability of other children. At school he can't always have a rational discussion about why he would like to do something a certain way or why he must have this pencil and not that one. School is smash and grab. School is, do it while the teacher's not looking with a smile on your face. School is learning to bend around other people and still manage to be yourself. School can be tough if you're a sensitive and impulsive only child like Fin, who wants to do everything right first time and won't be told.

I want to wrap him in cotton wool and yet I need him to find out how it is out there.

When he is painting up a big dream in the air with his hands and telling me how it will be this way and this friend will do that, and then, and then...... I want to intervene and soften somehow, the inevitable disappointment when he finds that this friend has other ideas and he can't find the crucial bit of Lego either. Without a sibling to box his ears and learn to give and take with, Fin is finding out later than most that you have to compromise nearly all the time to get what you want. You have to take other people into account, or just strike out on your own and carve a lonely, bright path of perfection unhindered.

I was making those bright green pea pikelets for his lunch the other morning, fragrant with fresh pesto and chunks of chorizo - just the way he likes them. As I tucked them into his lunch box with some crisp sweet lettuce and carrot sticks and a luscious dessert of goats yogurt, coconut and pink pomegranate seeds - he let out a long groan of anguish and lay his head down on the breakfast table.

He told me that the other children were making faces at his lunch and asking what it was. When he told him, they mouthed, 'Yuck!' loud enough to humiliate Fin, but not so loud as to draw the attention of the dinner ladies. They moved away a little and made sotto voce comments about the grossness of green food or soup or anything that wasn't white bread sandwiches. Fin felt like a pariah.

Trying to contain my outrage so that I could offer Fin some constructive advice, I told him that people react that way to things they don't know and that those kids would most likely grow up unhealthy and unhappy. They were just trying to maintain their view of the world and he should be proud that his lunches were so healthy and varied - not to mention darned tasty to boot! However, I did offer to make some white almond bread so that he could have sandwiches next week and keep the green pikelets for home consumption.

Finley sighed as he hoisted his lunch onto his back and secured his cycling helmet. Anticipation of the lunchtime to come - with the covert jeering, was written in every movement and I felt just awful at having sentenced him to another encounter with the food bigots.

At school, Nick had a word with Fin's new teacher who is still getting the measure of his sensitive nature. Today she plucked just the right note by telling Fin to tease the other kids back if he liked, by pointing out how unhealthy and unimaginative their food was and the possible effects of eating crisps and white bread every day.

It was just what he needed to hear.

When I picked him up in the afternoon he was full of stories and his lunchbox was empty.

'I told them that they would all be fat and have diabetes and I would be slim and healthy' he chirped with a self righteous glint in his clear blue eyes. 'Then I ate all my lunch and they didn't know what to say!'. I could give him all the green food I liked now, he knew just how to handle it.

That night I read to him about dragons and magic while he sucked his thumb and nestled piggy into the crook of his arm. When I came up later to turn off the fairy lights I stopped a while to look at him lying abandoned to sleep, arms thrown up above his head as though falling asleep had caught him unawares. I looked at those long eyelashes lying on those round pink cheeks and listened to the easy way his breath rushed in and out, peacefully, without a care in the world. It dawned on me that I didn't have to wrap him up at all. I just had to keep our little boat a float and provide a bit of steering now and again.