Food, love and grand-parenting

There is a Romanian saying “love goes through the stomach”.

Allow me to elaborate: For hundreds of years in Europe, women have shown their love by cooking food for their families. The family gathered around the table and received the food, relished in communing. They received the love. They accepted the food with gratitude and joy, and thus received the love.The Romanian mothers would still urge you to “Eat! Eat!” much like a greek mother, or an Italian mother. It comes from great sentiment. To give nourishment, to share what you have.

There is as abundance of food spread on our holiday banquet table. Or weddings. It is shameful to leave guests look for more and find empty platers. But I find it disturbing that we think our stomachs don’t have a limit. I understand the excuse that is 3 decades old: “we finally have enough”.

I have the fondest memories as a child at my grandmother’s house. She became a widow in he thirties and raised five kids with hard work and wise management of resources. My favorite food was scrambled eggs with bits of pork sausage or home-cured-bacon mixed in. We ate from the same very large frying pan, Ethiopian style.

We had an abundance of fruit in season, which we picked ourselves. And on Sunday we would stop together at the store and she would buy a small handful of candy in a brown bag. There was chocolate candy covered in unsweetened cocoa, or sugar candy, white with random stripes of color. She would give us one. On Sunday. We would forget about them.

My grandmother was a woman of very few words. Soft spoken or simply just low soothing voice. That made us listen carefully to what she had to say. The only time I remember asking for money from her was also on Sunday, during Orthodox Church service. The ice-cream truck would park down the hill and kids would clutter. I still remember the taste of that ice-cream, though I had it only twice.

Money was scarce and grandma would buy occasionally 1 liter of sunflower oil and 1 kg of white sugar. The rest of the stuff she produced in her own garden or the five lots of farm land spread on the hills around. I’ve learned there what hard work and resilience means. She had a way of bringing out the best in us.

Also, when I was about J’s age, and my brother was L’s age, we used to go to the factory 15 km away, by bus, with large bags of pears or apples from grandma’s orchards, to sell them. We knew when workers would finish the morning shift. We would meticulously set our newspaper on the sidewalk, and arrange four apples, three at the base and on on top. We would sell them for 5 lei. It was a light in color and weight though large coin. I would be the first one to sell mine because I was younger and probably more endearing. The bags of fruit were heavy. And looking back, our traveling by bus was not a walk in the park. We knew the usual driver and we sat near him. But once, a new driver took my brothers 12 lei from his hand and sent us to the back of the bus. To this day I wonder if that guy felt good stealing from little children. My brother was so sad. That’s what made me most angry. Not the loss of money, but the fact that he treated us with such disdain.

We earned our independence and trust from the adults. They gave us ample opportunities to prove ourselves… often because they had no option for cuddling.

And now back to present day. This past week we’ve gone down a crazy spiral. It was grandparents week. There are things we’ve called out often and had many fights with my spouse about, but got tired to be dismissed. It’s called “candy at the grandparents”. We’ve heard the age old story: “all grandparents spoil their grandkids. It’s their prerogative.” We’ve joked with J that we will give candy to her kids, and she got quite possessive about her future kids and forbade us to give them candy. We laugh but it’s not our natural jolly laughter.
J discovered candy and sweets rather late. But teaming up with her older cousin, she learned new tricks of persuasion. J eats a diversity of food, tries anything new and she likes most of tastes, even lightly spicy foods. The one thing she has decided against is blue cheese. To her credit, she did try it… but it was rather tangy.

As of late, she started refusing any and all foods from Grammy and Grampa, out of principle, EXCEPT candy. Which she demands. My parents have given in once and it was downhill from there. My dad takes it quite personal when the kids refuse to eat the food they cook, with unmovable stubbornness.

The grandparents ask the grandkids what they would like to eat, they also take them shopping. When shopping they pick candy, soda, yogurt and always a new toy. It is enough to create a bad habit by doing something like this once… but when you do it with every visit, well, breaking the habit is painful.

One particular hard day, when they were both little hellions, high on sugar low on rest, at the end of the day, based on a half listened talk, my parents bought both of them toys and candy again. I seriously cautioned my mom about it, that it was a very bad idea, but she seemed to believe otherwise, because “they made-up by the end of the day”. Their little brains can not connect all the dots of that day. They acted poorly, spoke offensively, and at the end of the day they still got candy and toys. The in between talk it’s like it never happened.

And finally, on the last day of vacation, my parents reaped the fruit of their unfiltered generosity and lack of natural consequences.

My brother and I were too easy as kids, in a world that had very few childhood temptations. My parents are untrained in the ways of today’s child addictions. I’m sure that when we’ll be grandparents, our grandkids will play us like a fiddle. I hope we’ll have a bit of common sense and memory left to act and speak in love but with conviction and consistency.

J refused to eat a bowl of soup the one day she spent with my parents. She said “they don’t make good food”, according to her cousin. That L said it’s “fatty food” and she is “afraid” to eat it. We called her on mimicking her cousin, and she admitted it with pride. And that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mama is forgoing all candy. And no more shopping trips.

My parents giving in to all their whims and requests is directly proportional to their obvious lack of respect for them. It is sad to see it. We have a long road ahead to mend this. But my parents seeing the rotten fruit of their misguided love labour finally brought them on the same page. Candy is an occasional treat. Shopping is an ever rarer treat. And the natural consequences need to be imposed/allowed with consistency and the awareness that they are good and healthy.

I went shopping with J, for a gift for her daddy’s birthday. And she whined and demanded that we buy her something too, no matter what, but something. She claimed she needed something. That her grandparents buy her what she wants. She whined loudly in the board game isle that she doesn’t like me. That she doesn’t even like daddy. I asked casually: “what did daddy do to deserve her disliking”. She said she doesn’t like him because it’s HIS birthday. She only likes it when it’s her birthday so all the gifts are for her. I tuned out her new annoying whine, and kept my cool. I told her we don’t need to buy anything for her. Not one clip, not one candy. She will survive if we get nothing for her. We came to shop for daddy’s birthday and that’s what we’ll do. She tried to reach her purse to get her own money to buy herself something. It was like watching an edict reach for their fix. And I thought to myself: “what an opportunity to teach her, to remind her that she is ok without having to buy “just something”. She kept at it for almost an hour in two stores. And I kept telling her truths, spoken in kindness. I’m saying this because I would normally close the subject after a third reinforcement of how things are going to happen, and then remind her that mommy had a limit. Then leave the store, with or without anything purchased. I don’t even remember when she calmed down. She had one more attempt to persuade me at the checkout, showing me some candy that my mom had bought her …only alluding that she’d like it. Then dropped it quickly.

I love my mom. I think she and my dad did a fantastic job as parents. But as grandparents… they are pretty new at this game. They became full time grandparents only when they moved to Cluj, and soon after we adopted our daughter. They didn’t have time for practice, for trial and error …and they give one a lot of leeway. And they allowed natural consequences in our lives. And they were firm and true. There was no manipulation in their parenting style. None. What you saw was what we got… and sometimes I disliked the rawness of their faith and love and parenting. But it was effective and genuine. I wouldn’t trade it or change them in our past. I wonder if now they try too hard and thus get clumsy. Don’t we all.