Green Eggs & Ham
My love of books began at a young age when I received for my 6th birthday not one, but two! beautifully orange, pristine copies of Dr. Seuss's classic. I thought the story was great fun and quite silly, but could choose to read either copy to my Mom, Dad, baby Sister -- who was more interested in pulling at the pages! -- to anyone who would sit long enough to hear little me work through the story.
Adult me knows Green Eggs & Ham mirrors for a child her understanding of the lengths and effort required to not experience something she knows she does not like -- thank you, very much. Dr. Seuss's brilliance is the deftness with which he brings the little reader or listener along to the conclusion that trying something she knows she does not like is okay. Good, even. Dr. Seuss, simply and without any condescension, encourages kiddos to become more flexible in their thinking.
What is also brilliant is that we now know that rigid, inflexible thinking is harmful to our children's mental health and long-term emotional well-being. Children who are more psychologically inflexible experience more anxiety, depression, learning challenges, behavior problems and many other negative outcomes.
Now, it is highly unlikely reading Green Eggs & Ham to your toddler or young child will produce any significant change in her beliefs about what she does not like and it is definitely unlikely to change behavior immediately. But reading the story over and over and over -- listening to a young child read it over and over and over to you -- plants the seed, the idea that new experiences are okay.
Which brings us to Purple Sweet Potatoes
We purchase the produce we eat regularly -- tomatoes, cabbage, cukes, pineapple, papayas, apple bananas -- at a Farmer's Market near our home. The FM is also filled with unfamiliar fruit and vegetables which we adventurously bring home to learn to cook.
One vegetable which I have yet to see at the Farmers' Market is the brown potato. But there are many varieties of the sweet potato: we've brought home red ones which are called white sweet potatoes because they are white inside and white ones which are purple sweet potatoes because, you guessed it, they are purple beneath their white skin.
Being the Adventurous Guy He Is
The Boss -- being the adventurous guy he is -- recently suggested mashed purple sweet potatoes to go with our roast chicken. Preparing them was not any different than working with other tuberous vegetables -- they cut, boil and mash the same. But the purple intensifies as they cook! What begins as lavender streaked pieces quickly becomes deep purple while boiling. So purple you cannot see through the water to the vegetable pieces -- I felt sure there would be no color left in the tubers once they were done cooking!
There was plenty of color left, as well as good taste.
Unfortunately, this good taste was a challenge for me. I did not think it would matter, but eating a purple tuber which tastes like it should belong on the red or orange potato spectrum messed with my mind. I looked at it and thought, "I don't like mashed purple sweet potatoes Sam-I-Am."
The Boss -- again, being the adventurous guy he is -- suggested we make pancakes from the leftovers since it looked unlikely that I would eat them again in their mashed purple form.
I resisted. For as long as possible. But not so long that the leftovers would be inedible -- I am trying to be a better steward of food resources.
And the pancakes were quite good. Still purple. But eating hot purple pancakes with lots of fruit -- arranged to look like a friendly alien -- was a far yummier experience.
Purple Pancake Parenting: Stories, Play & Empathy
Dr. Seuss's green eggs and The Boss's purple potato pancakes collided in my thoughts about parenting -- I know, strange, right? The purple potatoes sparked the memory of receiving two copies of the Dr. Seuss book -- decades ago -- about beliefs and experiencing new things. Isn't it interesting that by allowing me to keep both copies of Green Eggs & Ham so long ago, my parents were encouraging not just reading but a way of approaching life where it's okay to eat purple food? Twice.
It is true that so much of what we do as parents does not come to fruition until long past the doing. It is also true that one of the more important parenting goals is to help a child develop psychological flexibility and emotional resilience - a healthy approach to life.
Whether by experience or not, children -- adults, too -- proclaim seemingly rock-solid, change-resistant beliefs about what they like or do not like. What they will or will not do. And these proclamations are accompanied by some very big emotions like anger, fear or sadness. Parenting around or through a child's unshakeable conviction towards a healthy way of responding or helping a child to navigate big emotions can feel like a daily uphill sprint.
But parenting is a marathon. A child's emotional and mental well-being are developed over the years with stories, play and empathy.
I hope there are stories, play and empathy in your life. And I hope you are encouraged daily in your parenting.