Graham Cracker Life Lessons

My son’s deep-seated need for symmetry and consistency can really infuriate me.

I’m very messy. I understand why you’d think journalists are very detail-oriented people who sit in offices filled with color-coded and alphabetized file folders, but my desk is ridiculously cluttered. My office is littered with hundreds of small, thin notebooks full of my scribbles. Some of them are years old. Yellowing newspapers are stacked against every wall, some of them toppling over and leaking down to the floor when the piles get too high. AP Style books, source books, calendars and a bevy of public documents make up the rest my office’s interior design scheme. There’s no system or method to my madness. I just do what I do and find what I need. And I don’t make a big deal out of it.

But not Will. No sir.

If he’s playing with dinosaurs they all must be accounted for. T-Rex? Check. Stegosaurus? Check. Iguanodon? Iguanodon?? Oh shit. Where the fuck is that Iguanodon?! Hell, even when all the dinosaurs are present in the living room there are still rules. They have to be lined up in a row directly in front of him. The dog can’t be anywhere near him. His stuffed monkey has to be within arm’s reach, with its face directed towards the action so it doesn’t miss anything.

But as bad as the toys are, his OCD when it comes to food is exponentially worse.

Will likes chicken, never red meat. Chicken nuggets are his favorite (preferably McDonald’s), but they CANNOT be cut up into pieces. Chicken nuggets must be eaten whole. However, if I cook chicken tenders, those absolutely need to be cut up. I made the mistake one day of asking him about this double standard. He looked at me with his brow furrowed and his nose scrunched up in disgust, and simply said “Are you serious dad?” He made me feel like such an idiot, I never brought it up again.

He prefers his drinks in a sippy cup, but we’ve essentially nixed those at this point. So he’ll grudgingly accept a big boy cup. But you need to let him choose between blue and green. God help you if you make that decision for him. And when you present him with his food it can’t be touching on the plate. Chicken is separate from ketchup which is not touching the broccoli. Fork on the right side of the plate. Drink on the left. On a placemat.

This is diametrically opposed to my affinity for mixing everything on my plate together and shoveling it straight into my pie-hole.

But that’s fine. I get that kids are picky, especially when it comes to food. So I’m used to the routine by now. That’s really saying something because at first I refused to bend to my son’s rigid demands. But I’m better now. Except, of course, when it comes from out of the blue and results in whining.

A few days ago Will asked for a graham cracker. I obliged. And because I’m in the know, I gave him a whole cracker without any imperfections because I know he likes to break them perfectly in half along the designated lines on the cracker. But after I gave it to him and went back to the kitchen, he started screaming his face off.

He broke the cracker, but not in the right place. Instead of a smooth and even break down the middle, this was jagged and split the graham into unequal portions. And Will was not pleased. At all.

Not to mention it was the last cracker. Of course it was the last cracker.

I tried to tell him it still tastes the same and how you break the cracker is irrelevant. I attempted to calm him down and make him listen to reason. But in the end that proved about as ineffective as trying to wrestle a briefcase of cocaine away from Charlie Sheen. Eventually I lost my temper and told him to stop whining and toughen up.

A couple of hours later, after Will had gone to bed, I thought about what just happened. I was so frustrated by what I considered a very silly reason to be so upset. The damn graham cracker tastes the same whether you eat it whole, break in half or crush it up. His dinosaurs are still fun to play with even if they’re scattered all around the room and not lined up like prehistoric British soldiers gearing up for battle. His dinner gets mixed up together in his stomach after he eats it, so what’s the big deal about having it presented ever-so-precisely on the plate?

And then I realized I’m a cynical and jaded adult, and Will’s predilections are based on a child’s innocence.

He wants it to be perfect because perfection is still his norm. A collection of toys eternally at his disposal lined up as he sees fit. Three meals a day prepared by loving parents just the way he likes it. Graham cracker snacks neatly broken in half much to his delight. Some might say Will is spoiled, I don’t see it that way. In my mind, he’s just got two parents (and a network of friends and family) who love him like hell, and do whatever they can to make his life as perfect as possible.

The sad part is thinking of kids, even as young as Will, who wouldn’t bat an eyelash at these small flaws because they’ve never had anyone work to make their world perfect. They don’t complain about their toys being out of place because they only have one. Or none. And they’re certainly not whining about how their food is presented because maybe they’re lucky just to get food. Same with toys.

Eventually Will will learn, as we all have, that life is not perfect or symmetrical. He’ll be fully aware the pot of money isn’t always equal to the pile of bills. That life is messy and filled with jagged edges . He’ll be fully aware that’s the way the graham cracker crumbles.

But right now all he knows is perfection. How things should be. So the next time he’s crying about some little inconsistency in his life, I’ll be smiling. Because every time he gets upset about that stuff, it means he hasn’t yet succumbed to another one of life’s inevitable letdowns. It means he’s not yet used to disappointment as the norm. It means we’re still doing our job as parents.

Or he just really hates uneven graham crackers.

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14 thoughts on “Graham Cracker Life Lessons

  1. He’s not going to learn a god damn thing when you let him set all the rules. He demands everything and you give it. Screaming over graham crackers is not acceptable behavior and you should have put the proverbial foot down. Kids don’t learn the way the world is, they expect the world to change to fit them. They are kids. Its up to you to make him an adult.

  2. Usually I agree with you on many things, but not in this case. My daughter was very particular about her food when she was younger too. My son started to get the same way. It is honestly easier to nip it in the butt now instead of the overwhelming shock that he will get later in life. I had such cracker incidents amongst other foods. The best solution I found was to say,”that is the only cracker you’re getting and if you don’t want it, then throw it away.” Eventually, he’ll realize the taste of an even cracker is better than none at all. Yes, even at his age it’s possible.

  3. Lyn: Calm down there champ. He’s 3. He’s got plenty of time to learn how to be an adult.

    We do not give him everything he demands. Far from it. Screaming and whining in general is not acceptable and we let Will know that. But screaming and whining is absolutely a reality at this age. In the past I used to get too upset over his screaming and come down too hard on him. But I’ve learned it’s just not worth it. That doesn’t mean we just placate him. He has to calm down, say please/thank you, etc. But if he wants an evenly split graham cracker, I’m OK with that.

    MJ can’t watch TV unless the volume is on an even number. I can’t eat my cereal unless half of my cut-up banana is on at the bottom of the bowl and the rest on top of the cereal. We have all have our quirks. As long as he’s not being a total brat I’m fine with accommodating some of my son’s quirks.

    But thanks for the unsolicited and completely over-dramatic parenting advice. That’s always fun.

  4. I’m sorry. It just has to be said. The phrase is “nip it in the bud” – not butt. Pet peeve.

  5. Thank you Sarah. My New Year’s Resolution to my wife is to avoid correcting other people when it comes to grammar, spelling, etc. But I’m glad we share similar pet peeves. My other one is “for all intensive purposes.”

  6. “It’s up to you to make him an adult”.

    Yeah – but not yet! Geez, let him be a kid first! Watch out, you never know where that “proverbial foot” might wind up!

  7. Just tell him that the “point is mute.” 😉 P.S. Glad to see that Doc and Danny understand that with or without Perkins this season is over. 😉

  8. The groups of parents circulating this Facebook Floater (the re-posted article that is so full of crap that it just won’t go down) never mentioned the kid being 3. So I sincerely apologize. the way you were talking about him I guessed much older. I had no idea you were so terrified of your own kid you couldn’t handle any real set of rules. More of that beloved over-dramatic parenting advice of which you don’t want and therefore post complaints all over the Internet.

    Thanks for the laugh, buddy.

  9. What the hell are you talking about?

    I haven’t posted this article anywhere but here. And I haven’t complained all over the Internet either. So you’re talking out of your ass. Which is probably nothing new for you.

    But you’re right. I’m just so terrified of my child & he’s obviously not growing up with any rules or morals. Next time my TODDLER cries I’ll take him out back & beat him. Or lock him in the attic. That’ll show him. And then you, Lyn the anonymous Internet troll, will finally bestow upon me your approval. Which of course I’m oh-so-desperate to achieve.


  10. I disagree that giving into a child’s tantrums is “supportive”. Adaptability is one of the most important lessons we can impart on our children. Toeing the line to avoid meltdowns may come back to bite you later. From the perspective of someone raising 3 boys, I’d have to say, support him when HE achieves the perfection and he will strive to maintain that in most other areas. Support him in expecting perfection from everyone else and he’ll develop an unhealthy sense of entitlement that may or may not get his ass kicked later in life.

    Now…having said all that. NEVER believe any other parent that tells you how your child will turn out based on your actions, lol. We don’t know. Don’t trust people who claim they do. Every single child develops differently. A child that grows up with an abusive alcoholic parent may become an alcoholic themselves. Or they may never take a drink. Or they may be normally adjusted social drinkers.

    The only thing I can say, with anything approaching certainty, is that if you love your child and parent with as much patience and common sense as possible, everything else will fall into place.

  11. JEE: That I agree with. To an extent.

    Basically what I’m saying is I’m picking my battles. If he wants to play with his toys lined up a in a row, fine. If he wants a cracker evenly split, I’m ok with it. What I should have made more clear is that the crying/whining isn’t tolerated. Even if I do give him another cracker it’s only after he’s calmed down and asked politely. Sometimes that necessitates a timeout. If he settles down, then I relent. If not, screw him.

    I think my original post made it seem like we give him whatever he wants whenever he wants. Not the case. He has to earn it.

  12. I think I’m raising the female version of Will. And I react in much the same way as you, Aaron. I help her search for that one teeny tiny missing plastic piece that acts as a saddle for her miniature ponies…and heaven forbid if I was to put the blue saddle on the pink pony when it CLEARLY came with the white pony with blue flowers, therefore can ONLY go on the white pony with blue flowers. We also search for the dinosaurs…and it’s a complete meltdown if the dinosaurs are put away BEFORE she takes her bath, because we don’t clean up until AFTER the bath…But, I’m sure you know how it all goes. 😉

    I’ve convinced myself that because she is particular about her habits, where things belong, etc that so long as I nurture these traits now maybe in 3 years, when she’s 6, I won’t have quite the same number of battles as I do with her 8 year old brother when it comes to cleaning up and putting things away… I’m dreaming, because my 3 year old son was MUCH the same way, if not worse, I’d say he outgrew that by age 6.

    You’ve taught him organizational and sorting skills and if it means he’ll eat his dinner does it really matter if his food is or isn’t cut up?

  13. I see I’m late for this post but I just found your site. As for kids who don’t have as much not complaining because they only have one toy, ha. That’s funny. Toddlers who don’t have much are not grateful for what they have. They just want more. That’s were we come in, to let them know that you don’t always get more. We are talking about children and I am often surprised at how many adults have trouble understanding that kids don’t reason like us. If I had a nickle for every time I heard “I just don’t understand why he/she is like this…”

    As for the graham cracker incident this is what I do when faced with a similar situation. If the last cracker were to split in an undesirable way and my kid is crying and won’t eat it I will tell her it’s ok and give her a chance to eat it. If she still cries, I tell her that she can either eat the broken cracker or not eat any cracker at all. If she still cries then I take it away and let her cry.

    Now I don’t tolerate whining either. We like to say that we don’t speak whinease but in this case I’ll let her cry to her hearts content because this is when they are learning to deal with their emotions. I have been doing this pretty much since infancy. I have heard a lot of crying but I’ll tell you this, after 3 years of it now, if the cracker spits in an undesirable way, I have a kid who may be sad and cry for about 30 seconds, but she will eat that cracker.

    With that said, I have another kid on the way and who knows if this style will work on him/her.

    Again, that’s just me and my style, I’m not trying to tell you how to raise your kid, I’m sure you are doing a fine job.

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