Yesterday after work, I took Little Boy to do our weekly grocery shopping at Whole Foods. Now that the days are short and cold, any après-school event is met with inordinate excitement by both of us. Since we can’t go to the library every night, stocking up on leeks, yogurt, and cheese becomes not a tedious errand but our Big Night Out. He gets to sit in a colossal carriage with race car stripes and a steering wheel, and I get to hanker over king crab legs and sushi-grade tuna before dutifully asking for the flounder on special.
When Little Boy was a newbie American, our supermarket trips were a struggle. Of course, it is very common for parents to have difficulties shopping with their toddlers because they demand, plead, and whine until desired foodstuff is placed in the cart. I used to have a very different problem with Little Boy; any food I put into the cart, he would demand, plead, and whine for me to remove it. (Quietly, almost politely, but firmly.) Swiss chard goes in the cart: “No, no good,” he would tell me. “It’s not for Little Boy, it’s for Mommy and Daddy,” I responded. “No good!” he would repeat, looking worriedly at the accumulating mound of green fresh food below him (a disadvantage of these child-friendly car carts is that he faces away from me). This would repeat for nearly everything I placed into the cart except for what were then his staples: granola bars, yogurt, peanut butter, and bread. So, for the duration of our grocery trip, he would look around, constantly anxious about what hated foodstuff Mommy was going to put in the cart.
But oh! How quickly Little Boy has assimilated. His attention has turned from what I put into the cart to what I’m not putting into the cart, and he’s realizing that I’m not buying anything with a brightly-colored cartoon on the label. For example, I always buy six-packs of the organic Stonyfield Farm Yo-kids yogurt, which has pictures of real kids (albeit really white kids) smiling amid images of berries and fruit. When he first started eating yogurt, these smiling kids seemed to reassure him that this was good stuff! and he would identify flavors as being “boy yogurt” and “girl yogurt.” But now, “Look!” he’ll exclaim, pointing at squeezable yogurt tubes featuring a cartoon cow wearing sunglasses. “Oh honey, I don’t think you’ll like that,” I’ll say, knowing he would probably love it but also knowing that Mr. P would express proper European horror at seeing his son eating yogurt from a tube. And, I also find it sort of disgusting. “Look!” he’ll exclaim, pointing at another brand with squiggly cartooned kids on the label. I ignore it. I do understand his need for variety, and once I caved into the demand for the kangaroo yogurt, but he didn’t like it and Mr. P wound up eating it.
We head into the tea aisle. “Look!” he exclaims, pointy to a box of vanilla chamomile tea with a cartoon bear wearing pajamas on the label. “I want it!”
“Look!” he says, spying a box of cereal with a gorilla on it. He hates cereal and won’t go near milk, and yet the gorilla is compelling enough that he covets it.
“Look!” he says, pointing to a box of frozen waffles with Cookie Monster on it. “I want Cook-Monster!”
Look! Look! Look! Since his demands are still made in a very controlled, quiet way, and since they are easy to fend off (the word “yucky” holds great sway), I actually find them to be cute. I love how he assumes that I’ll be just as excited by his discovery as he is. But I also worry about when he is older, exposed to more Americana, and afflicted by kiddie Afluenza. I know he may eventually not want the cartoon-cow-yogurt-tubes, but direly and ardently need it. And if I teach him that whining to Mommy works, pretty soon he’ll have a wheelie sneakers, an iPad, a cell phone, and an Xbox. Really, it all starts with the squeeze yogurt.