How to Say No

We’ve encouraged our daughter to eat anything that pleases her. We never thought about how to set limits.
how to say no

About the only rule we have for feeding our two-year-old is that we won’t usually give her anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves. I learned long ago not to anticipate what she will and won’t like, since I’m always wrong. (Olives? She loves them. Shell beans? Bring ‘em on.) We’re not big on enforcing arbitrary rules, either. Yesterday she asked for lentils for breakfast, and this morning miso soup to go with her bagel and orange juice, and she said “please” so that’s what she had. Since we came back to New York she has been plowing through strawberries at a ferocious pace. Do I complain that getting Tristars from Rick Bishop is like pulling teeth, requiring careful advance planning, 8 am trips to the Greenmarket, gentle wheedling of the farmer, and extortionate amounts of money? I do not. I’m only sad that the season will be over any day now.

An aside – day-neutral strawberries are a freaking miracle of plant breeding. Most strawberries will set and ripen fruit when the days are long, which is why we think of June, the time of the summer solstice, as being strawberry season. But day-neutral strawberries have been bred to shrug off shorter days and yield berries all summer long. In years like this one, when the summer has been cool and wet, there are berries right up until the frost, dense with sour-sweet, complicated flavor. Squishy goes through a half-pint at a sitting. I’d eat them myself if I didn’t feel like I was taking food out of my daughter’s mouth.

As the supposed grown-up I know some things have to be off-limits, but being denied something she wants to eat confuses her. We had this conversation the other day:

“Squishy want daddy’s coffee.”

“No, love, coffee’s not for little kids.”

“Squishy want daddy’s coffee right now!”

“Listen, sweetie, there’s at least three things wrong here. #1, this is really hot. #2, it’s super-bitter. #3, it’s psychoactive. You can’t have any.”

“Daddy drinks daddy’s coffee. Daddy’s coffee good. Squishy want daddy’s coffee.”

I gave her the tiniest taste on the tip of my finger. She backed up, shook her head hard a few times, then came back for more. Only the promise of a trip to the park got me out of that situation.

Truth be told, about the only things we really don’t want her to have are caffeine and alcohol. Sometimes we can substitute apple juice in a fancy glass for wine, but two-year-olds are smart, and Squishy knows perfectly well that she’s just playing along. How are we going to explain to her that anything we can eat is hers, except for this, and maybe that? I still don’t know.

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