Last Wednesday I sneaked into Diane Harris’ kindergarten. She asked if I would like to tell a story. I settled myself in her rocking chair and told about the baby born on the Mayflower. He was named Oceanus because he had eyes as blue as the Ocean.
The Pilgrims had a hard year and would not have survived without the help of the Native Americans. To acknowledge this they had a feast of Thanksgiving. The foods we eat at our Thanksgiving help tell the story of that early Potluck Feast where the Native Americans and Pilgrims all brought a dish to share.
A hand went up at the end of the story. As I called on that child, I prepared myself to answer questions about the Mayflower; or the Pilgrims; or the Native Americans; or what it was like to live on Plymouth Rock, but I didn’t see this question coming:
“What do you do if you don’t like the food on Thanksgiving Day, or if you can’t eat it all?”
I hadn’t seen it coming, yet the question clearly made perfect sense to the five year olds sitting before me. The room was quiet. All eyes were on me. They waited for the answer.
Suddenly I saw it from their point of view. Mealtime is often a battlefield for children. It is hard for them to eat what is on their plate on a normal day, so a national holiday where the food is piled on the plate is not good news. They are told over and over that they are going to have lots of stuffing and turkey and mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce and several kinds of vegetables. And then (it almost always happens) they are asked if they are excited about it.
What do you do if you don’t like the food or can’t eat it all?
I went out on a limb and told them there would probably be something they didn’t like and something they did. When a grandmother or father or mother or aunt noticed they didn’t eat their, say, brussel sprouts, they should just say, “Oh, I’m too full for those because I love the stuffing so much. It’s delicious.”
I hope it worked at their houses, because it certainly worked at mine.
My daughter in law’s family joined us and there we were: two tribes each bearing food. Like the Native Americans and Pilgrims, we had turkey and cranberries and oysters and squash. I think the children were too full for the Brussels sprouts, but they seemed to love the sparkling cider and the marshmallows on top of the sweet potatoes. We sang. We laughed. We told stories. We feasted.
It turns out it is not the food that makes a holiday special for children. I know it to be true; I learned it in Diane Harris’ kindergarten.
At my Thanksgiving feast there were family members with ages from 7 months to almost ninety years. I sat near a five year old who asked me at one point what would happen if she couldn’t finish all her food. I told her it was Thanksgiving ans she could eat as much or as little of whatever she wished. She then asked” Can I still have pie?” I answered that she could have whatever she wanted on this special day. I could see the freedom in her eyes as she sampled her favorites from her plate and left the brussel sprouts untouched. The pie was delicious, but I think the freedom was just as savory.
This is why I love working with young children. I am often so amazed at the things they think – it helps me keep wonder alive. Thanks for posting this.
It’s funny that you mentioned brussel sprouts on the plate. I just had them for the first time in October. I made them myself and was surprised how good they were. I find roasting them gets them to taste good enough for a child (or a picky adult) to eat.
I know that doesn’t get at the essence of your piece, but that’s what your writing made me think of. I hope you’re not put off by that Annie.
Yours in cooking,
This story feeds me the way of a good meal and a good friendship! Go figure…..
What a great follow-up to the gourmet post! It’s hard for me to imagine anyone objecting to brussel sprouts, but that is no doubt my problem and not theirs.
For the last three weeks leading up to this holiday I’ve been reading stories with the theme that the most important part of the Thanksgiving feast is not what is on the table but who is at the table. Many times while reading I have been close to tears after each reading because I knew this year I would not be at the table as has been our tradition for the last 20 years but I was so glad to have been with the tribes (the Natives were in the house:). Thank you Annie and family for welcoming me and starting a new tradition. Everything about the day was wonderful!