On weekdays, the kids put pieces of leftover strudels in their school lunches. Gretta doesn't go to school yet, so she gets her piece at home as a mid-morning snack.
Gretta is three years old. She has a three year old's approach to table etiquette. So we have rules. One of these rules is: if she picks out the raisins or chocolate chips, and leaves the crusts behind, she can't have a second piece of the cake. It's wasteful; it's bad table manners; it's a rule.
She's consistent about asking; I'm consistent about refusing.
Today is Thursday. That means our leftover strudel is a week old. (Our lunch guests had to cancel last week, so I had a couple of extra strudels made) I plan on making fresh strudel tomorrow, as usual. Since it's getting a bit stale by now, I plan to toss the remnants this afternoon.
Thus, when Gretta asked for a second piece of strudel after picking out the raisins from the first piece, I shrugged and cut her another slice.
She looked at me quizzically, then bounced with delight as I placed the cake on her plate.
I shared her delight, musing to myself at how wonderful it is to be able to induce so much joy by allowing her a happy, cost-free, waste-reducing indulgence. I have to say 'no' so often, that I treasure getting to say, 'yes!"
She said, "I can have more only when it's bad, right Mommy?"
She picked out the raisins from the second piece, alighted from her seat, and went off to play with Legos, humming happily to herself.
And I'm left with her crusts, in the form of unanswered questions:
- When is it appropriate to grab the best part first? Where is the balance between 'life is short' and short-sighted?
- When is caving-in not a weakness, but a strength?
- Where would we (our family?, society?, the human race?) be, if we allowed ourselves to enjoy the parts we like most, while the loaf is fresh? Would we be living in a pile of stale strudel crusts, or would we just be happier, sooner?
- Is delaying gratification an end in itself?
- Why doesn't she enjoy the raisins as much when they're served separately? Why are they more enjoyable when picked out of a slice of cake?
- Which is worse: wasting stale strudel to maintain the consistency of legitimate rules, or laying waste to legitimate rules to indulge a three year old's simple request?
Given the same circumstances, I'd do it again. My working model is: indulging her isn't spoiling her if it gives us both joy.
I'm sure Gretta hasn't given it any further thought, and that this one incident doesn't really matter one way or the other. But I think this is a typical internal (maternal) monologue. There is meaning in the dirty dishes and stale crusts.
One of the benefits of being three years old is getting to leave the crusts on the table.
One of the benefits of being a mother, is nibbling on the questions the crusts represent.