Friday, January 31, 2020

"Greens"

Pillow Flights / Chapter One

"Greens"



Tate was learning about consequences.

Generally a good-natured and cooperative five-year-old, Tate was usually content to obey his parents. But everyone has something that can sour their mood, and this little boy’s cheerful disposition always seemed to hit its limit whenever he was faced with a plate full of greens.

Tate disliked all green foods: kale, collard greens and cucumbers, green apple jelly beans and green eggs and ham. He had an aversion to every edible item of that particular hue, but at the very tip-top of the list was the dreaded head of broccoli.

Over the years, Tate’s mother Dorina had tried a multitude of clever tactics to make broccoli more palatable to her two picky eaters (for Isaac, Tate’s dad, also preferred to avoid that variety of vegetable). She tried grinding it to bits and mixing with cheese; she would add it to sauces or hide it in cakes; she put it in smoothies and once dyed it purple, but every time she went out of her way to satisfy Tate’s taste buds, he would put up a fight and refuse to eat.

Last night, Dorina did not hide the broccoli. She offered no disguises or palate-appeasers. She resisted all the old the tricks that mothers employ. She steamed them and plated them: plain, obvious, and very, very green.

Tate ate his chicken. He drank all of his water. He watched his father quietly consume everything on his plate. Tate ate his roasted potatoes. He listened to his mom and dad chatting about something funny on the radio. He drank another glass of water. He asked to be excused.

“You need to finish your dinner,” said Isaac.

“I don’t want dessert,” said Tate.

“Great, because there is no dessert,” smiled Dorina, “but that doesn’t let you off the hook for dinner, anyway. Eat your broccoli, little boy.”

There is a policy — a sort of family rule — in the Lamb Household, that the dinner table is not a place for fighting. Dinner is for peace and togetherness. Arguments, if arguments have to happen (and eventually disagreements happen even in the very best of families), must wait until after the meal. Tate refused to eat his broccoli. He wasn’t rude about it, but he was very stubborn. He locked his jaw, folded his little hands together as if in prayer, and sat like a statue until the meal was over.

“You are making a choice right now that will have consequences later,” Isaac reminded him. Tate made a very slight nod of assent. “As long as you understand that, you may now be excused.”

Tate took his plate into the kitchen and went upstairs to get ready for bed. Isaac followed him. Dorina made herself a cup of tea and tidied things up, carefully putting Tate’s uneaten broccoli into a separate container of its own.

After about twenty minutes, Dorina joined her boys in Tate’s room. It was her nightly custom to take over the parental duties from Isaac, once Tate was bathed, with clean teeth and fresh pyjamas. She had listened at the bottom of the stairs as her husband had patiently delivered the formal consequences for Tate’s little act of defiance: missing out on dessert the next two times it was offered. Officially, that was the end of the matter.

“So,” said Dorina, after Isaac had kissed his son’s forehead and left them alone, “are we going to hear an adventure or have an adventure tonight?”

Tate answered hesitantly. He’d answered this question a hundred times before, and enough of those has been after a disagreement over dinner that he knew whatever his choice, there was likely some unofficial learning to be done. “I would like to have an adventure,” he replied. If you have to learn a lesson, it might as well be fun.

Dorina stepped over to his cupboard and brought out Tate’s backpack, her trusty fanny pack and a couple of large canvas bags, wrapped up with elastic bands for easier transportation. The ones in Tate’s room were retired from the kitchen, where most of the canvas bags in their house were kept. Tate had seen his mother pack an incredible haul of groceries into each of these, time and time again. 

What he hadn’t seen before was the bright red shopping cart that she dragged out from behind his bedroom door. Instead of the classic fold-down seat designed for infants and toddlers, this cart had a double-wide scooter attached to the back, so that whoever was pushing it could occasionally lift both feet off the ground and ride. The horizontal handle at the back was also lower than a typical shopping cart, and while it couldn’t be called a true miniature model, it seemed specially designed for Tate’s particular height and strength.

“Are we ...going shopping?” ventured Tate.

“Naturally,” said Dorina, making sure the shopping cart’s hand brakes were in full working order. “You don’t seem to like what I bring home from the store, so I thought maybe you would like to help with the next trip.” She looked at him from the corner of her eye, which was twinkling with mischief. It did that a lot.

“How do we get there?” asked Tate, nervously climbing up on the deck of the scooter.

“Like this,” she said, and with one foot planted firmly on the scooter, she pushed off with the other and the two of them hurtled across the floor and towards the outside brick wall of Tate’s room. He would have screamed (or maybe peed his pants with fright) had there been time, but the instant that they should have smashed into the wall, Dorina had grabbed at the hand brakes and they stopped in the middle of a grocery store aisle, milk on one side and eggs on the other.

“How did you learn to do that!?” asked Tate, amazed.

“I read about it in a book once,” Dorina grinned. “We’ll read it together someday.”

Dorina stepped off the scooter and let Tate take control, practising his starts and stops in the long dairy aisle before taking a turn down the next one and into the realm of sweet cereals. Tate’s eyes grew wide, trying to take in the bright colours and bold fonts that surrounded him. He looked to Dorina who was walking behind him slowly. She gave him a shrug of permission, and with a burst of gleeful laughter, Tate began throwing all sorts of boxes into the basket of his shopping cart: Fruity-O’s and Rainbow Crunch, Chocolate Puff Balls and Frosted Surprise. Cereals full of vibrant, artificial food colouring and zingy artificial flavours flew from the shelves, but Tate was too busy choosing more boxes to notice that it wasn’t cereal that actually landed in the cart.

At the end of the aisle, he grabbed at the brakes and turned around triumphantly to Dorina, who walked over and peered into the basket. “Interesting choices,” she said, surveying his haul. “Not what I would have expected.”

Tate finally looked down into the cart. It was FULL of broccoli.

Tate grabbed a box of Sprinkles ‘n’ Bits from the shelf and dropped it into the cart. As it fell past the metal lip of the basket, it immediately transformed into a green head of broccoli. He roared in protest. Tate scootered down every aisle with his cart, tossing cans of soup, bags of chips, bottles of root-beer and jars of peanut butter into the basket. Without fail, every single item turned into broccoli.


Finally, in despair and frustration, Tate found himself among the vegetables. He huffed, and sighed, and groaned. He stared over at Dorina, who was pretending to read a magazine by the cash registers. And then he picked up a couple crowns of broccoli and dropped them onto the mound he had already made from everything else.

As if a terrible curse had been lifted, each item in his cart was magically restored to its original form. Tate scooted over to Dorina, who peered inside curiously. “Interesting choice,” she smiled, pointing at the head of broccoli settled at the top of the heap. “Not what I would have expected.”

Tate and Dorina rang all of his purchases through the cash machine. At some point, the boxes of cereal became blanket and stuffies and before he knew it, Tate was back in bed.

“Hey, Mom,” said Tate, after she had left her kiss on his forehead.

“Yes?”

“I was thinking. Maybe I can eat my greens tomorrow.”

Dorina smiled at her sleepy, sometimes-stubborn son. “That sounds like a really good choice. Good night, my little love.”

“Good night.”

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