"Watch closely" said my husband, The Big G, as hit bit into a cheeseburger and stared at our 5 year old son, The Big A. "This is the only time that you will ever see your father eating fast food."
We were at Wendy's somewhere in northern Pennsylvania driving back from Niagara Falls this past weekend. Though it's strange, but true, I have known my husband 15 years and this was the first time I'd ever seen him eat fast food.
"Daddy," said The Big A, "can you please relax? Mommy says everything in mon-er-AY-shun"
"Yes!" I chorused as I dipped a fry in ketchup. "Everything in moderation! Now, are you gonna eat those fries?" I asked of my 2 year old, Little D. I took her silence for consent (she was busy with her straw wrapper) and went for it. A few minutes later she frowned at her empty container "Where my fry go?" she wondered. I unashamedly pointed to Big G as he polished off his burger.
"Honestly?" Big G mused "This was actually pretty good."
The menu on the 8 hour ride home was vastly different from the cuisine served on the 8 hour drive to our destination. For the ride up there I had packed a homemade tofu brown rice salad, raw carrots, strawberries, grapes, grilled chicken and a bunch of bananas along with some dark chocolate brownies. Having exhausted our rations on the trip up we knew we'd have to stop somewhere on the trip back. I just never thought it would be here.
My husband is VERY AGAINST fast food. It's gross. It's fattening. It's full of chemicals. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don't even need to make a case against fast food because it's too easy a target. There nothing I can write here that we don't all already know. But Big G is a man who drinks a scary concoction of something called Mighty Greens most mornings which bubbles up like thick green sludge. I drink it occasionally and I can assure you it tastes just as it looks -- like grass and soil mashed up in a blender.
Big G gets VERY UPSET when any of the grandparents or that super-indulgent Aunt V treats the kids to a Happy Meal. I have too many other things to get upset about besides my children being taken out for the occasional junk food, especially when it's not by me. They know it's a treat and their dad reminds them of how awful fast food is on a regular basis with flow charts drawing a parallel between quarter pounders and global warming.
So it was kind of surprising when we stopped at a Wendy's for a bathroom break, and my children, having been in the car for ages and being extremely hungry, looked around the brightly lit, welcoming space of the fast food place and asked "Can we please eat here?" and my husband said "Yes!" No one was more surprised than me. I almost ordered a Frosty Dairy Dessert on the spot to commemorate the monumental occasion.
Big A's eyes became more saucer-like than usual.
"Daddy just said we can eat fast food! I want a hamburger, a hot dog, fries, a chocolate milk and chicken nuggets!" he said excitedly, (obviously having no idea how this whole thing goes).
"They don't have hot dogs here," I corrected him. "And you can have a hamburger OR a chicken nuggets....not both."
And I had a rare, surprising moment of peace, happiness and clarity.
I know this may sound bizarre, considering the result was eating fast food, but I was really happy that Big G was stepping out of his comfort zone. He wasn't judging me or the kids but most importantly he wasn't judging himself. When you have clung onto a tightly-held assumption for (at least) 15 years, it can be very hard to let go. ( Perhaps, much like a comet, 15 more years will pass until I see him eating fast food again.)
Because it would seem in that moment Big G was willing to forgive himself for not making the perfect choice as a parent.
But he didn't torture himself that he was somehow lacking because he was letting his children eat grease and fat. He didn't suddenly announce "Now you can eat Wendy's once a week, kids!" and nor did he moan guiltily throughout the meal about what a bad parent he was for allowing such nutritional blasphemy to occur. We had a jovial meal that did not need to be eaten on a bench outside a rest stop.
We got back into the car until a half hour later when both of my children, their bodies not accustomed to this kind of food, had the runs.
Big G felt really bad about that and quite regretful about the french fry frenzy he had orchestrated and condoned but I hope it didn't detract from his ability to be spontaneous and forgive himself for making the wrong choice.
I have a lot of trouble forgiving myself when I make a misstep with the kids. I was rushing Big A out the house so quickly yesterday (he moving at the speed of a tortoise dripping in molasses) that I finally gave up, grabbed his arm and pulled him along with me.
"Mommy, that hurts!" he exclaimed.
I immediately felt awful, got out the boxing gloves and began going Floyd Mayweather all over myself. I shouldn't have been rushing. I should have budgeted more time. I should have been more patient. Big A is only five. I shouldn't have grabbed his arm. I should control my frustration more. After a few minutes, I was convinced that I was unfit to parent even a hermit crab.
I don't want to do this to myself anymore.
If a friend shared that story with me, putting herself in my place, I would have assured her that she is a wonderful mom. That she asked Big A FIVE TIMES to put on his shoes and walk into the garage before she blew her stack. That she's human and we all make mistakes.
So I'm trying to forgive myself for not being the perfect mom and not always making the right choices. And it's nice to see when my partner can do that also.
I believe a lot of the moms of our generation beat themselves up. For not being present enough. For being too present. For not being firm enough. For being too firm. I bought the organic milk, but not the eggs. I work too hard and don't spend enough time with my kids. I don't work hard enough and I'm setting a bad example for my daughters. I yelled too loud. I lost my temper too soon. I was just sick of going to the park and I kept them inside on a sunny day watching Finding Nemo. The self-doubt runs as rampant as a toddler with a kazoo. Please take your gloves off. Mine are taped on with duct tape but I am trying desperately hard to stop boxing myself into a nosebleed for not being perfect.
So if you're reading this blog and you occasionally give your children fast food (or do anything else that's not optimal parenting), I think you are a wonderful mother or father. Don't feel guilty. I'm sure you encourage them to eat their greens the rest of time.