Dale Carnegie might have made his New York Times bestseller even more successful had he known what I now know about motivating others—especially the mulish imps with whom I reside. He could have rocked the world with the groundbreaking information I’ve painstakingly gathered from the field (i.e. the Mommy R & D Laboratory).
The beauty of said discovery is that, in essence, it is ridiculously simple—my kids will do anything for a chicken nugget. Homework standing on their heads. Soccer drills during a monsoon. Strep tests with glee. They’ll even take a bath and clean their room on a Saturday, which elevates the validity of positive reinforcement to an unprecedented level of acceptance. Without question, if a savory nugget is the prize (warmed to perfection or stone cold), I can consider the unpleasant task at hand done. And if the esteemed chunk of meaty goodness came from Tony’s Deli—all the better.
Case in point (as I tucked one of my cherubs into bed recently): “I’m afraid you probably won’t be going to school tomorrow, Hon. Not with that fever.” A pall then fell over her face—as if I had announced the sun didn’t like us anymore, so it would be moving to another galaxy, ending life as we know it.
“But we’re having chicken nuggets for lunch tomorrow, Mom,” a tiny voice whimpered from beneath the covers, the hovel where the smallish being in question shivered and shook thanks to that wretched sister-to-malaria she had undoubtedly contracted.
“Nuggets?” I thought to myself, completely baffled by the inane notion that a piece of poultry could wield such power—enough to inspire a sickish child to drag her sorry self to school. I expected a far different plea; one that perhaps involved the cute boy with the Sponge Bob lunchbox or gym class with those beloved scooterish devices or a library full of “…my favorite horse books!” all of which would have been sacrificed on a day home from school. Not once did I hear, “But Mom, I’d miss my friends and my teacher and the best bus driver in all the world!”
“And anyway, I’d miss soccer practice, and all that sloshing around in the mud…and my coach…and my team…and I wouldn’t be able to look for worms afterward to add to my collection! It’s not fair, Mom; I have to go to school. I just have to. Besides, it’s the last time the cafeteria ladies will make chicken nuggets for me this month and I’d have to wait until December to have them again!”
Given that this strange child of mine likes a grand total of two meals on the school lunch menu (fish sticks and chicken nuggets, but not chicken tenders or poppers because dear God, they’re INFINITELY DIFFERENT than nuggets!), I understand her dilemma. Completely.
“Okay, you can go to school tomorrow if you don’t wake up feeling absolutely horrible. But just for the record, it’s against my better judgment,” I said grudgingly, having caved yet again. But part of me cheered the news, comforted in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be saddled with a whiny child all day, longing for her precious chicken nuggets, enraged with me for having deprived her of that which she adores. I have enough trouble being labeled Meanest Mom on the Planet.
At that, she breathed a great sigh of relief and snuggled deeper into the sea of blankets. All was right with the world. “Thanks, Mom.”
“So what’s the big deal with chicken nuggets anyway? It seems as if that’s all you ever like to eat.”
She then reminded me of the note she had scrawled some time ago, highlighting for my benefit (as well as for the cafeteria personnel’s future reference) what specific menu items currently meet with her approval. Among a host of other things she considers tasty, the list included chicken nuggets (or more affectionately, cicen nuggets).
I stand corrected.
Planet Mom: It’s where I live.
Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel