Last night, good friends invited us for dinner at their home. Elizabeth was planning enchiladas, I made cookies, and the warm spring weather beckoned kids to frolic in the yard. It promised to be a fun evening. And it was. Six girls…swinging from trees, splashing in the hot tub, and giggling.
As mamas, though, you never know when the sweetness of a spring evening is going to plummet into ugliness. We can’t always predict what is going to tip our well-mannered giggle-boxes off the edge of reason into full-blown tantrum mode.
Last night, it was guacamole. A thin layer of sauce made from mild guacamole covered the chicken enchiladas. And I have one daughter (she’ll remain nameless) who does not care for avocados in any shape or form. I have to admit, I don’t like them either. The slimy texture and bland flavor kind of turn my stomach, too. But, Erik and I are firm believers that our little ones need to learn how to receive hospitality with graciousness. We want them, in every situation, to be able to eat whatever is put in front of them – even if their portion is small. I need to know that if I send a child to a friend’s for supper, and I am not there, they will eat the food provided with a grateful heart, even if it is unfamiliar or distasteful to them. It’s important. We have gone over those rules of manners and thankfulness often. And they understand our reasoning. The stakes get higher as they get older. It might be a meal offered in the context of a faraway culture, and the gracious enjoyment of it might open doors to share the gospel. It might be a formal dinner, where their manners make a lasting impression. It might even be the first meal with their future husband! Ya just open your mouth, take small bites, and ya swallow. It’s a simple way to honor the gift someone has given by preparing or providing a meal for you.
So, last night, a small piece of enchilada was placed on my daughter’s plate. She was asked to eat a few bites with a thankful heart and a cheerful attitude.
And she didn’t do it. Instead, she scowled and growled and made faces and grumbled rudely. She spent time upstairs, away from the other children, pondering how she could best honor and respect her kind host. How she could demonstrate love and thankfulness even over a plate of mashed avocados. After many minutes away from the table, she returned with even more scowling and rude comments. Another time-out upstairs, another soft-spoken admonition from her mama, and a less soft one from her daddy. Finally, she swallowed one measly bite. But because of her continued, wrong attitude as she choked it down, Erik removed her plate and would not allow her to eat any of the side dishes or dessert.
And then the wailing and screaming began. Erik took our daughter out to the car while I apologized to my friend and gathered our other three kiddos from the playroom.
As I told Elizabeth, we could have avoided the whole ugly scene by allowing her to skip the enchiladas and just eat a plate of salad. But, once the rule was set forth, our consistency was demanded. We had to follow through with gentle, but firm, resolve.
As I thought about it later, I realized, too, that it is good to have friends with whom you can practice these important life skills. Friends who will forgive rude behavior and a spoiled dinner, knowing that next time, it might be their child who needs some careful training in the midst of a social event. Friends who support the training you are trying to do with your kiddos – the raising up of godly men and women. Not everyone would agree, I am sure, but to us, this is a big enough issue to fight a gnarly battle over. That plate of guacamole is important.
The consequence: it will be a long while before this child can accept an invitation to dinner at a friend’s home without her mama or daddy. She lost our trust last night. She will have to show a renewed commitment to politeness and cheerful thankfulness in several supervised settings before we can allow her the privilege of enjoying a meal with friends unattended.
The grace: a bowl of chocolate malt-o-meal for breakfast. And a lunchbox full of things I know she will eat, including the oatmeal cookie she missed out on yesterday.
How do you handle these issues in your home?