One thing that I have learned in the past 9 years of parenting is the importance of ritual. Children rely on rituals to make themselves secure and happy. Unfortunately parents don’t get to choose which rituals are sacrosanct to the children, but then there are lots of parental rituals that the children don’t get to choose either, like bathing.
At our house we have the Ritual of the Oatmeal. Quaker Oats has brilliantly and deviously created a product called Dinosaur Egg oatmeal. It is like regular maple and brown sugar oatmeal which is packaged in individual size servings only it also contains a dozen or so little candy eggs. When the eggs and oatmeal are stirred with boiling water the candy shell dissolves leaving a little colored candy dinosaur. In other words the eggs “hatch” into dinosaurs. This food has been a staple at our house for more than a year and Gleek in particular has developed a special Ritual of the Oatmeal and woe betide any parent who fails to follow the ritual precisely for much screaming will follow.
The Ritual of the Oatmeal: A parent must open the bag of oatmeal then hand it to the child to dump. Link carefully sorts out all of the eggs and puts them to the side of his bowl. Gleek carefully hides all of the eggs under the oatmeal in a “nest”. Frequently Gleek needs help with this hiding process because the ritual cannot proceed with any eggs visible. Then the parent need to make clear whether or not Gleek wants her eggs to hatch because sometimes she likes to eat the dinosaurs in-the-shell. Not hatched means hot water. Hatched requires boiling water. Link always wants his eggs to hatch. Once the water has been acquired at appropriate temperatures it must be poured in exactly the correct spot. Link usually makes a hole in the middle of his oatmeal all the way down to the bare bowl. Gleek designates a point at the top of her nest of eggs. After the Pouring of the Water, parental involvement is finished. Gleek carefully stirs and picks out all the eggs eating them first before the oatmeal. Link grabs the pile of eggs off the counter and ceremoniously dumps them into the lake of boiling water in his bowl. Then he stirs and eats.
I supposed I could refuse to participate in Oatmeal Rituals. I could just dump the stuff together and say “Just eat it!” In fact on days where I’m over-tired or irritated I do just that. But there are so few things in their lives that children are really allowed to control, that it doesn’t surprise me when they create comfort rituals surrounding food. That small piece of their lives they can make exactly right. And so I participate knowing that eventually they’ll outgrow the need for dinosaurs in their oatmeal.