Ike the Mastermind
February 17, 2016
So if any of you are regular-ish readers of the Advice Smackdown, you'll appreciate this delicious slice of piping-hot irony:
Ike won't eat his dinner. Ever. A bite or two, at the most, followed by dramatic "yuck" faces, protests over non-existent spice levels, feigned gagging over textures, then a sustained and stubborn refusal to touch anything else on his plate. And whining. So much whining.
It's funny because oh ha ha, how many times have I told other parents EXACTLY how to handle this type of behavior, like we had it SOLVED FOREVER and LOCKED THE HELL UP.
Step One: Buy Ellyn Satter's book.
Step Two: Do whatever Ellyn Satter says to do.
Step Three: Be smug about it on the Internet.
Ike has never known anything BUT the Satter method. He has always eaten what we eat, he has always been offered a wide array of flavors and textures, he has two older brothers modeling damn near picture-perfect table manners and eating habits.
And he is not an unreasonably picky eater. At breakfast, lunch and snack time, he will eat anything and everything you put in front of him -- INCLUDING DINNER LEFTOVERS -- with minimal to zero protest. Sure, he'd probably live on pizza and PB&Js if we let him, but for 23 hours a day he is perfectly capable of eating a plethora of flavors and textures from across all major food groups.
But then dinnertime rolls around and suddenly everything is...well, a thing.
So...you know, FINE. He can go hungry. I'm a seasoned Satter-er and I know this game. You don't have to eat, but you have to at least sit here and not be a jerk about it. You won't starve, you're getting plenty of calories and nutrition every day so if you want to sit here pretending that spaghetti and meatballs are suddenly the most unpalatable food imaginable, go right ahead.
/MEANWHILE SO MUCH INTERNAL SCREAMING
After a few months (yes, months, and MONTHS) of this, we finally admitted that maybe we should possibly try something else.
We did the whole "more positive attention, zero negative attention" thing. He'd get praise for at least keeping his butt on the chair or holding a fork correctly. Tantrums meant he had to take his plate and eat alone in the kitchen. Oh, how he HATED that. Still wasn't gonna eat, though.
We involved him in meal preparations put him in charge of setting the table and assigning seats for everyone. Oh, how he LOVED that. Still wasn't gonna eat, though.
We went ahead and made dessert conditional on at least making at effort to eat some of your dinner. (This is totes-anti-Satter but it was admittedly unfair that his brothers would clean their plates night after night and then watch Ike take one bite and then just sit there, whining and waiting for the cookies to show up.) Oh, how he...totally did not care about that, and still wasn't gonna eat.
We went a step further and made watching a TV show before bed conditional. Tantrums or excessive whining at the table meant immediate banishment to bed, rather than the kitchen.
We experimented with his snack schedule, tried to find a link between days when he took a nap (which as you know, Ike is #NOTTIRED) and his dinnertime antics.
We finally hypothesized that he just eats so much during the day and naps so intermittently that he's a combo of #NOTHUNGRY and super-overtired on weeknights. And he is a little better about dinner on the weekends, when there's no mid-morning snack at school and I can move the afternoon snack forward. (He insists on waiting until his brothers get home from school during the week, and I've yet to find a compromise that doesn't involve a lot of tears and genuine upset from the baby brother feeling super left out.) But the weekends also usually involve eating off of restaurant kids' menus or frozen pizzas with a babysitter, so he can indulge his picky-ness a bit more.
We fell into a pattern of going through the motions at dinner. He gets the same food as everybody else in a super-modest serving size, but everybody sorta knows he's not gonna eat it, he'll eventually act out for attention, get sent to bed early, rinse and repeat.
At least, I told myself, I'm sticking to our expectation that dinnertime = family time, everybody at least needs to sit down and be pleasant for a bit...while also letting the kid get the extra sleep that he needs but refuses to take in consistent nap form.
And to be fair, Ike's protests over being sent to bed were...unconvincing. Like he was also just going through the motions. It almost seemed like he wanted to go to bed, most of the time, and was using the dinnertime battle to save face in front of his brothers.
Far from an ideal solution, but at least we seemed to be free of the full-on battle of wills we'd stupidly let ourselves get roped into. He's not starving, he's getting more sleep, he's also not driving me completely batshit bonkers at the dinner table because IT'S NOT SPICY. IT'S A CARROT.
(This post is possibly an M. Night Shyamalan movie in disguise.)
The other night was business as usual. We made a delicious yet perfectly-palatable-to-kids dinner, everybody dug in, Ike immediately started finding fault. He wasn't going to eat this and didn't like that. He dropped his fork. He crawled under the table to get it, then refused to get back in his seat.
His brothers tried encouraging him: This chicken is DELICIOUS, they assured him! You LIKE potatoes, they reminded him! This is the same leftover salad you ate at LUNCH, they reasoned with him! Noah even offered to let Ike select the night's TV show, daring to run the risk of getting stuck with Wild Kratts instead of Transformers.
I just ignored him, for the most part, before finally sighing and straight up asking him if he'd rather go to bed. Without a whiff of protest, he hopped off his seat and went up to his room. After making sure that he really was in PJs and had brushed his teeth, I tucked him in, kissed him goodnight and turned off the light. Then I went back to finish dinner in relative peace.
I saw him dash across the stairwell landing at one point, but assumed he was just up grabbing another book or something, and he quickly returned to his room.
A couple hours later, his brothers started their bedtime routine...this time with some bonus tattling.
"There are screen noises coming from Ike's room," they both breathlessly rushed to tell me, all that early #TEAMSTORCHBROS unity thrown by the wayside because #THISGONNABEGOOD.
"Screen noises" meant one thing: Ike was playing games on one of the many tablets/old phones we have, which we are incredibly strict and stingy about. We keep them in our room, in a drawer, and they are a Privilege with a Capital P.
By the time I got up to Ike's room, though, there was no screen to be seen or heard. He was awake but in bed with the lights off, blinking at me innocently.
I was just about to close the door when the visual image of that mountain of candy wrappers I found under Ezra's bed flashed through my brain.
"Ike, where's the screen?"
He sheepishly slid out of from under the covers and pulled his tablet from under his bed.
I contemplated leaving without a word (he knewwww he was in troubbbbble) but once again thought better of it.
"Ike, is there another screen under there?"
Out came Ezra's tablet.
Oh look, it's the Kindle.
He also had various charging cables and plugs. (I should also mention that all of the tablets have a parental time-limit control enabled, so in order to play for more than one hour, he needed to bounce from device to device.) I collected everything, told him to get back in bed and we would talk about consequences LATER, SNEAKY MCSNEAKERSON.
The next day, while he was at school, I went in his room for a secondary sweep for contraband. It did not disappoint, as tangled up in his sheets I found my headphones, which I've been missing for God...well over a month, maybe longer. And thus were the secret to:
1) How long this has been going on
2) How he's been able to not get caught by the "screen noises"
3) HOLY CRAP HE'S GETTING SENT TO BED ON PURPOSE BUT NOT BECAUSE HE'S TIRED. THE WHOLE DINNERTIME THING HAS BEEN ONE LONG CON AND I HAVE BEEN THOROUGHLY OWNED BY A FOUR YEAR OLD.
So. Great. Back to square one on the dinnertime antics. (At least I know which side of the whole "do your teens have any right to privacy or do parents have the right to search their rooms" debate I'm going with?)
I'm onto you, child. I have absolutely zero idea what I'm supposed to DO with you, but I am certainly onto you.