He’s woken up from the afternoon nap and walked down the stairs. I’m in the kitchen with a tray of freshly-baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. The air in our kitchen is warm, the scent of melting dark brown sugar and cinnamon laces the air. He sits down at the red table and starts to eat.
“May I have some more?” he asks.
And I can see the sparkle in his sleepy eyes when his teeth first sink into the crunchy, soft pillow of oatmeal and flour while the melting flecks of chocolate smear on his hands.
I became a mother in the age of no sugar. We had Standards. It was avocados and broccoli and breakfast cereal made out of millet, buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth. I milled the grains myself in our Kenwood blender, and he was an easy baby to feed. I made a chocolate birthday cake in the shape of The Very Hungry Caterpillar for his first birthday. The adults ate it. The one-year-olds had an oat-flour muffin, made with sweet potatoes and a bit of apple juice, frosted with peanut butter. Unsweetened, naturally.
Sugar introductions came slowly as he neared two, and I flushed with pride when at a retreat he left half his cake uneaten for a third serving of peas. But he found out soon enough that the scoop of soft Italian gelato melting in the summer tastes like heaven and the silver-wrapped chocolate eggs at Easter are better than the plastic ones. He knows the difference between Mommy’s gluten-and-sugar-free squares and the cookies served at parties.
We go through seasons of green smoothies and a pantry full of dates, and then others of chocolate and muffins, but it is hard to do the latter without the guilt. “I’m ruining their teeth. They are spoiled. Why can’t I be a better planner?” It is easy to carry the burden of my children’s health on my shoulders, and I become the mother who stands over the table manipulating for each bite of salad. Denying them food they love, and making them choke down every drop of what’s on their plate.
If I want our table to be a place where all are welcome, it starts with them, the two little boys who call our house their home, the ones for whom I cook morning, noon and night. Are they welcome here? Are their desires and needs known?
There is something about being denied a treat all the time that starts to create rot in the soul of a child, the fertile ground where the lies grow, I am not known, I am not loved. It feels like scarcity and tastes like buckwheat, and my children know when I am withholding something from them. I am not talking about candy all day long or daily desserts (neither are a reality in our home). But at the right time, a sweet treat is an expression of generosity to little mouths and little hearts. The chocolate chip oatmeal cookie says, Your desires matter, your tastes are real, I know what you want. It is an open-hearted posture toward the desires of my children that welcomes them to our table, and every so often, it is fun to indulge.
Because sitting at the red table with my son, I can see the shine in his eyes. It’s not the look of a spoiled child who temper-tantrumed his way to yet another treat. It is joy, and his smile says, I am loved.