Sunday, April 3, 2011

If You Give A Kid A Pancake

One of the most dangerous aspects of the adolescent brain is its inability to consider potential consequences before acting or making decisions. It's dangerous because adolescents are often presented with situations in which lack of forethought can have life-long effects. Sex, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, driving too fast, missing the deadline for scholarship applications, etc. have caused many a sleepless night for loving parents.

This is why many school programs focus on pre-teens' and teens' planning abilities. But I discovered today that this problem of lack of forethought isn't restricted to teens. My eight-year-old suffers from it as well. And while he's not in potentially life-threatening situations on a regular basis, today was an exception.

When Ben gets hungry, if he doesn't eat something and instead lets the hunger get out of control, he becomes (as my family used to call it) EVIL. That means, in essence, that he is cranky, angry, loud and obnoxious toward everyone. He cannot be reasoned with, talked down or placated, making him pretty much miserable for anyone to be around. This happens primarily on the weekends, when he gets too absorbed in a video game or cartoon and doesn't heed his grumbling stomach until it's too late.

This morning, I figured we'd be able to avoid the problem by attending the Lion's Club pancake breakfast at the high school. We'd eat all the pancakes, sausage and bagels we wanted, pick up Ben's baseball uniform and be a happy bunch of campers. Plus, I wouldn't have to cook or clean up. It was a win-win plan. Unfortunately, I failed to execute it before Ben had crossed over into "the evil zone."

By the time I had gotten him dressed and dragged him to the high school, he was yelling, lashing out and dangerously close to being left in the parking lot. (I'd have strangled him, but there were too many other families around as witnesses). Instead, I stayed calm, we made our way to the mercifully fast-moving line, and got our trays of yummies. Ben was off like a shot to find a seat, and was already unwrapping his plasticware by the time I found him and got my coat off. I offered him some antibacterial cleaner for his hands before he dug in, and he put out his palm to accept it. But he pulled away too fast, and a blob of it went into his orange juice. Acting quickly to avert a crisis, I handed him my orange juice and took the ruined cup away. Whew.

Then he reached for the red bottle on the table labeled "Syrup" and gave a squirt over his plate. At that moment, someone's belated April Fool's joke culminated in a big pile of ketchup landing on Ben's pancake. And just like that, the tears began to flow.

I know it was partly my fault for not getting up earlier and making sure he at least ate a banana to hold him, or reminded him what happens when he gets too hungry. But I had also hoped that, now that he's eight, he'd be getting the hang of that thought process on his own.

Sadly, that is not the case. And considering this type of problem continues into children's early- to mid-twenties--until their brains are fully developed--all my nagging probably isn't going to be able to change it. The best I can do is leave cereal bowls and boxes on the table at night, and a note on his door for the morning that suggests he start with breakfast before anything else.

Because after I pulled away the ketchup-laden pancake and gave Ben one of my own, he chowed down two of them along with sausage and orange juice without even pausing to wipe his tears. And just like that, he was transformed back into the boy I love. Such a simple solution, such a miserable reminder.

What I learned today is, If You Give A Kid A Pancake, And You Do It Soon Enough, You'll Save Yourself And Your Family A Lot of Unnecessary Aggravation.*

Oh, and always, always, use the pre-packaged syrup containers.

*With apologies to Laura Joffe Numeroff.

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