Gus sits perched on his throne, bib around his neck, maneuvering his last mouth full of apple-raspberry puree spoon fed by his mama from a translucent plastic rectangular cube. The little old man bangs his hand like a gavel occasionally on the tray, either to demonstrate his approval of the last spoonful, or possibly to cue his mommy who lost her rhythm while relating an anecdote from the past day’s activities.
I cheer my little prince on approvingly as he eagerly accepts another spoonful. My princess, perceptively, notices this sudden shift in my attention away from her to her brother, and calculates.
Moments before, Gigi was reluctantly chewing a bite of something she says she “can’t like” with her mouth wide open. She chomped obnoxiously to demonstrate her compliance with my request that she please “chew, chew, chew” so as not to choke. As is the case in any meal, I’ve begged, bribed, and pleaded that my daughter eat something, or at least anything not named ice cream, pretzel, Cheerio, or Goldfish. After she swallowed, I smiled towards her and nodded with a “Nice job.” But then my focus switched to her brother.
As THE WIFE and I attempt to resurrect a conversation already disjointed from interruptions while fielding requests for milk or retrieving spoons flung on the floor, we burst into applause after Gus’ latest gulp. It’s been twenty whole seconds since we last glanced in Greta’s direction. She’s been ignored long enough.
Gigi somehow plants a foot spitefully on the table edge, waiting and hoping for a reaction. We’ve been here before. The first time she pulled this stunt, I surprised myself by taking as strong a stand as I did. I actually raised my voice, which I hardly ever do, and spontaneously proclaimed the imposition of a new household edict while uttering the almost one-word: “GRETA-JANE- TERAVAINEN, DON’T-YOU-DARE-PUT-A-SINGLE-TOE-ON-THIS-KITCHEN-TABLE-AGAIN-OR-YOU-WILL-BE-IN-A-TIMEOUT-IMMEDITATELY!” as my eyes bulged and I breathed heavily. She sheepishly withdrew her foot, and I felt ashamed at what was probably an overreaction. Why was I getting so worked up?
On one hand, I of course know that I don’t want to be in a restaurant with Greta in ten years when she suddenly kicks back in the middle of an entrée with her Manolo Blahniks or Nikes (who the hell knows what’ll be in for twelve year-olds then) in my salad. But on the other hand, what probably bothered me more, was my imposition of a new rule that would compel enforcement with regular consistency or otherwise risk undermining my authority as co-CEO of the family henceforth. The prospect made me uncomfortable.
Since the time I was a teenager, I bristled whenever I sensed an adult’s imposition of an arbitrary or seemingly pointless rule. (The “no hat” in school bullshit, for example, always struck me as ludicrous.) College, therefore, was a most welcome emancipation. I spent the next decade and a half reveling in not being told what to do. No accountability to anyone but myself. Spontaneous drunken adventures with buddies that occurred without the need of four weeks’ notice and 57 e-mails debating over dates and locations. Entire Saturdays spent on a couch in my underwear recovering from the previous night’s follies.
Then I began dating THE WIFE and a new order of rules gradually ensnared me like a pumpkin’s ivy tentacles. By the time we were married, I was back to living under a Taliban-like rule. (Here’s one for you – we can’t listen to classical music because it reminds THE WIFE of horror movies and scares her – seriously.)
Fast forward back to today, and suddenly I’m yelling at Greta for putting her feet on the table. I feel like such a hypocrite. If this was ten years ago, we’d both place our feet in the pizza box we were eating around and pull cheese out from the cracks. But instead, I’m scanning the table like a hawk to ensure that no sparkly rhinestoned sneaker graze the vicinity of the Dora place mat. What has my world come to?
Gigi, I hope we can laugh about this twenty years from now. It’s just one of those things I have to do, which I swore I’d never do, but I feel compelled to make you suffer through it, as your loving father. Hopefully, we’ll clink our wine glasses and chuckle, which would be sweet – so long as your feet are not on the table.