The Kids' Menu
Updated: Nov 16, 2019
The 13-year-old was having none of it.
He and his mother were "discussing" an issue he was having at school (never mind what, because if his mother or I revealed any details we could be jailed for violating his privacy, or in middle school terms, “being annoying.”)
She was trying to make a point, and, desperate, resorted to metaphor. Always a risky move with children, especially if they’re old enough to understand them. She said, to the creature who once cried for her in the night and clung to her daily like a codependent marsupial, “You know how you go to a restaurant, and they ask you if they want the kid’s menu, or the regular menu?”
She waited for an answer that would never come, hearing the the eye roll as it enveloped the room like a muted tsunami of tween essence.
“You know how there’s not much on the kids’ menu?” she continued. “Chicken fingers, mac and cheese, a tiny hamburger, cheese pizza if you’re lucky?”
She was undeterred. “And then you have the regular menu. The real menu, that’s like, (perhaps using the word like could provide some common ground) four or five pages of different things. Choices. Options…”
He waited, thumbing through a video involving his peers making human pyramids to a song about rating people’s eyebrows (or something similarly important, she couldn’t be sure).
“Can you put that down? I’m trying to talk to you.”
“Which would you rather have, the kids menu or the regular menu?”
“The regular menu. Of course.”
The response was swift, almost as if he had normal working, firing synapses. He must have eaten real food at lunch, she mused… a parenting win, the first of the week. She stifled a tiny explosion of smug victory and the almost uncontrollable urge to fist pump.
“Well that’s life in a nutshell, sweetheart. Life - your life - can be the kids menu, or the regular menu, and what menu you get depends on the choices you make.”
Paging Confucius, motherfucker.
There was a pause. Had she gotten through?
“Mom, oh my God.”
No, then. Another attempt.
“I’m serious. You make good choices, you have better choices later. You have options. You make bad choices, like taping a chili pepper to the seat of Mr. Connelly’s chair, you’re going to have fewer options.”
“I told you, that wasn’t me.”
“At first the options will be small stuff and you’ll think it won’t matter. Missing recess, or where you get to sit in assembly…”
“Do you have to lecture me?”
“...whether you get to partner with your friends on solving climate change for science, or with kids you don’t know.
“But then,” she heaved, on a roll, “the choices get bigger. Slowly, they matter more. What classes you do or don’t get into. What college you can’t go to. When a coach wants to teach you a lesson about discipline and commitment (that you actually need but won’t get because you can’t be on the team because of the choice you made about blowing off algebra). What job you get. What manipulative misogynist ends up being your client, that you must pretend to like every day in order to pay for your mortgage on your shitty first apartment with weird roommates in a bad part of town…..what girl you don’t deserve who’s desperately in love with you and you won’t realize til it’s too late that she’s the one… whether you can afford the good champagne at your wedding or you have to buy discount cases of something no one’s ever heard of. or wants to drink. These things matter.”
“Mom. What are you talking about?” He actually looked alarmed.
It had happened again. She’d lost control of the narrative. Damnit.
“Just imagine that every move you make, like in a video game, or chess, or perfecting a back flip, leads to the next move, and the next, or... whether or not you even get a next move. You always want a next move. You never want to see “game over.” Right?”
“Whatever, Mom.” He left the room.
It wasn’t a no, exactly.
Fist pump. Like putting pennies in a jar, these parenting micro-wins, they slowly, glacially, add up. At least we hope they do.
Maybe someday he’d tell his wife, the girl of his dreams, the embarrassing story about his mom's desperate menu metaphor. Maybe they’d have a great belly laugh at her expense. She sincerely hoped so.
She went off to make dinner. Braised duck with fresh fig reduction and orange zest, or mac and cheese?