In my family’s language , “funny stories” translates to “let’s embarrass the children.”
And so, with no further ado:
When my son was small, I often took him to visit my father on weekends. Dad lived 20 minutes from us, with a big backyard where my son could run and play. Dad also loved Jack-in-the-Box cheeseburgers, so I usually picked up lunch on the way.
One midsummer afternoon when my son was two, Dad and I sat at the patio table and talked over lunch while the kiddo orbited the yard like a hyperactive moon, returning for a bite or two of his burger or a rapidly-cooling fry between circuits.
That summer Dad supplemented his backyard tomato garden with three serrano chile plants. The plants had matured, their skinny arms
sporting a tantalizing assortment of brilliant red chile fruit.
Fruit that looked an awful lot like candy.
My son saw the peppers and raced to the table. He pointed. “Want.”
“No, you don’t,” Dad said. “Those are serrano chiles. Very hot.”
My son’s lip quivered. “I want one.”
“Too hot,” Dad said, “burn your mouth like fire.”
But my son had made up his mind. He must have a chile, and have it now, and since we refused he escalated negotiations. His face screwed up, his little hands bunched at his sides.
Dad offered real candy and even an ice cream from the fridge. No dice. My kid wanted a pepper, and if he couldn’t have a pepper he’d have a tantrum.
“Okay,” I said, “but only one.”
My father looked as though I’d lost my mind.
The storm clouds vanished, replaced by a brilliant smile. “Okay, just one.”
“You won’t like it,” I warned him. “It will burn your mouth. It’s yucky.”
Dad couldn’t believe I was serious.
“It’s a life lesson,” I said as my son debated which pepper to pick. “It won’t kill him, or make him sick.”
My son selected a one-inch pepper, popped it into his mouth, and chewed.
I looked at Dad and counted. “One, two, three.”
My son opened his mouth and removed the pepper – still almost whole, with a deep set of teeth marks imprinted in the surface.
“I don’t like it.”
And then he began to cry.
I handed over his milkshake and watched him take a very large swallow. The crying stopped. The tears and the lesson were over.
Never again did my son insist on eating something I told him he wouldn’t like. In fact, for almost a year he reacted to every new food by looking at me and asking, “Do I like this? Is it … hot?”
No pepper in candy’s clothing has ever fooled him again.
Have you ever had an unpleasant spicy surprise? Would you let your children learn this lesson “the hard way” – or would you have put up with a storm of tears? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!