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As we perform the morning routine, I cheerfully inquire, multiple times, “Want eggs?” I can’t hear the either mumbled or non-existent answer and finally declare, “I’m cooking eggs unless you shout ‘cereal’ in the next two seconds.” I’m mortified to admit how I recite menu options, because this exposes my poor boundaries. I’m hardly alone; though most of us thrived well enough on benign neglect, today’s parents too often enthrone their offspring.
I sauté up my sure winner, tofu and rice. My child doesn’t like the school’s GMO-, pesticide-, sugar-, trans-fat-laden, processed “food” served at lunchtime, right after Healthy Choices class, in which students are educated about the dangers of pesticide-, sugar-, trans-fat-laden, processed “food.” Of course, I’m eager to support any inclination toward the real thing, and hand off that beautiful hot lunch in an expensive stainless-steel thermos—no plastics leaching into my child’s bloodstream–but it elicits only, “That tofu thing doesn’t taste good.”
“What? It’s your favorite.”
“It’s gross lately.”
“I’m making it the way I have for years. What’s different?”
“I don’t know, but it’s bad.”
No matter how I ask, my child can’t say how I’ve ruined the beloved meal. “Too much tamari? Not enough?” When I hear myself offering various remedies while my offspring stonewalls each one, my mood plummets. How did I cultivate such entitlement?
Scientists and economists predict dramatic lifestyle shifts in our future due to climate change and unsustainable debt, among other things. How do I prepare my kids? How will entitled attitudes serve them if they lack the varied, affordable, and plentiful foods now available 24/7?
I stash the thermos for my own lunch later. Biting back comments about starving African children, I give my child a PBJ and a kiss. “Starting tomorrow, you’ll make your own lunch.”
My child, glum-faced, leaves and an insight arrives: We have entitled kids because we don’t model gratitude and reciprocity. Our civilization thrives on endlessly taking from Earth with little regard for the health of the soil, water, air, or future. Of course we raise people who disdain food gifts the way my child does this morning. If Earth really were a Mother, she’d probably feel as I do now—taken for granted, constantly offering what’s never tasty, entertaining, or profitable enough.
She has limits, too, and articulates them through crop failures and birth defects. My corn not good enough? You want to “improve” my wheat/chickens/soy beans to make more money? Fine. Engineer your own. Good luck with that.
In my now-quiet house, I catalog my riches: Full fridge. Toasty home. Close friends, parents still living, an easy-going husband, a self-healing body, rights to assembly I haven’t used lately. My friend Lucy displays an even broader view when she declares, “It’s miraculous to live on a planet with water at just the right temperature, frozen at each pole, but mostly liquid and available to us. We’re so lucky to be able to drink a glass of water that perfectly supports our bodies.”
At our family dinner tonight, I express gratitude for bountiful foods, for miraculous water coming from the heavens—and shower heads—and for everything else I take for granted.
And I’ll let you know how the “Make Your Own Lunch” experiment goes.
Two weeks later: When I offered to make meals again on a “let’s see how it goes” basis, there was jubilation and relief from my child. The next morning, watching me assemble the food, I received this comment, along with a shy smile: “Have I told you lately how much I appreciate all of the food you always make for me?”