I’m staring at a little orange bucket.
It’s got huge black eyes and a gaping mouth etched on it. I think it’s supposed to be a Halloween pumpkin of sorts, but it’s weird.
Every feature looks slightly off-centre, and the mouth is formed into what I presume is supposed to be a fun and friendly, but still spooky, smile.
In truth, it looks like a surprised and confused tropical orange. Inside is a bunch of candy just begging to be munched. It’s literally overflowing.
My son dressed as a firefighter for Halloween. His grandmother even made a mock fire truck that hung to his waist, complete with flashing lights. He looked adorable, which was reflected in the amount of candy he received while trick-or-treating.
So here I am, reading the ingredients on his treats, sorting through what I want him to eat.
Sounds like something your average parent would do after their kids’ night of pillaging neighbours’ front porches right?
Problem is, Halloween was weeks ago and I’m still sorting through candy.
I’ve developed a reputation of sorts within my family. I’m apparently too strict when it comes to what my kid ingests.
I think I’m being a conscientious father, but others in my immediate family accuse me of being overprotective, or as one person so sweetly put it, a food nazi.
In the weeks since Halloween, he’s had maybe three pieces of chocolate from his haul, given to him by his mother.
Junk food frightens me. Specifically, the junk they put in the junk food. Sugar? Rots his teeth and gets him all hopped up. My kid on sugar makes people on crystal meth look lethargic.
They add colour to a lot of candy. Colour, I tell people, is just code for paint. We wouldn’t let Riley lick his fingers after finger painting, but hey, after he washes his hands, it’s fine if he downs all the blue M&Ms he can find.
He begs for McDonalds. How bad can chicken nuggets be, I’m asked. Well, I answer, I’m pretty sure the meat content is so low that part-time vegetarians don’t feel any moral qualms about eating them.
Make no mistake, making sure your toddler eats what he’s supposed to eat can be a gruelling fight. Check that. It can be all-out multi-front war.
Dinner often begins pleasantly enough, but tensions mount as the sliced cucumbers and tomato wedges come to the table. He likes cucumbers, I remind him. He informs me that today he doesn’t like them, but he will tomorrow. Maybe.
So I try to negotiate. Eat the cucumbers, and maybe I will give him some honey to dip his chicken in. Negotiations crumble when he tells me he doesn’t want chicken. The rebellion starts as soon as his plate is in front of him. He’s not eating tonight, or ever again.
I drop all guises of diplomacy. He is going to eat. Or else.
He glowers at me. Or else it is.
And like any war, the enemy is perpetually at the gates. After dinner one evening, my oldest sister Darlene whispered, “We have candy cane ice cream and strawberry ice cream. Which should I give him?”
Neither, I answer. She nodded her head, and said no problem.
A few moments later, she called over to my son and in her best Benedict Arnold voice, said “Hey buddy! Done? I have ice cream! Do you want strawberry or candy cane?”
It’s always those closest to you that you have to watch out for.
Fortunately, his grandmother has my back. She prepares the most delicious meals from scratch. Savoury sauces simmered in a Crock-Pot, hearty soups filled with flavour and vegetables. Roasts so moist you wouldn’t believe. And the desserts have to be eaten to be believed. Cakes and cookies made from her own recipes. And strawberry-rhubarb pie, with rhubarb harvested from her very backyard.
In the skirmishes that spawn from meals, his grandmother has been a steadfast ally. Ironically, she made me realize I might be a bit over the top when she gave me an itemized breakdown of all the food he ate while she babysat him, complete with a “See? I didn’t give him any junk,” disclaimer.
Or maybe I realized it when he asked for candy and added “Puhleeze Daddy! I never, ever had that chocolate before.” It was a mini Aero. I’m pretty sure the only ingredients in an Aero are chocolate and bubbles. How bad of a father am I that my son has lived his entire life without tasting delicious chocolate bubbles?
Am I causing him to miss out on some of the fun stuff every kid deserves to enjoy? Am I being a bad dad because I’m trying too hard to be a good one?
I’ve resolved to show a little less restraint in what he gets to eat. Today he can have the Aero I just fished out of the only Halloween decoration Salvador Dali would approve of because I want him to know it’s OK to indulge every now and then. And because I told him if he ate all of his vegetables at dinner, he could have it.
I ask him if he wants me to open it. He looks at me, eyes gleaming, and says, “Nah, I know how. You just pull here, like this.” And then he makes a ripping motion at the end of the wrapper. “Grandma showed me how to at her home.”