Choose No Peas
Jodi has a story about peas. It’s also about parenting, culture clash and why kids don’t like school. It goes like this.
She’s early school age, somewhere under 8, and had just moved to upstate New York. Her maternal grandmother has just arrived from Baltimore for an extended stay. Dinner is almost ready, and the kitchen is full of the jostled feelings and compromised boundaries that often go along with an extended grandparent visit. Your house is not your parent’s house, your family’s habits are not your parent’s habits – it’s an old story.
Jodi is sitting at the table when the two women emerge from the kitchen with serving plates and some measure of repressed tension. Everyone holds hands, grace is sung, and then grandmother picks up a serving plate. With the spoon filled and halfway out of the bowl, she asks, “Judith Anne, would you care for some peas?”
At this point, Jodi hates peas. This is an old story, so they’re canned not frozen. It’s deep winter, and while they’re the most colorful thing on the table, that shade is closer to urban cammo than Green Giant.
Jodi has eaten a bowl of these peas every night for the last 3 weeks. But now, apparently, there’s a new sheriff in town.
“Would I? Oh, no thank you Grandmother. I would not care for peas tonight!”
The spoon doesn’t even hesitate on its path out of the serving bowl, but before it can reach Jodi’s plate, her mother’s hand is there. Her momma’s hand, touching the buisness end of that spoon. A few peas spill onto the table cloth.
“The child needs to eat her vegetables,” grandmother snips.
“I know! But you asked, and she said no. If you wanted her to eat the peas, then don’t ask!”
The fight simmers between the older women through the rest of the meal. It doesn’t stay on peas, or anything else at that dinner table, for very long. But the little girl quietly eating her first pea-free dinner in weeks, learned that when you can make a choice, it really counts.
It’s easy for teachers, for me, to find examples that show what problems arise from letting students make their own decisions. We build structures and routines to control this, to make the act of choice itself into a reward. “Every time I let kids choose, they make bad choices.”
Maybe those only seem like bad choices because we’ve got the pea-spoon in our hand.