Mind Your Peas and Carrots
By Audrey W.
Johnny and Roy sat in the DeSotos’ livingroom watching football. It was Thanksgiving Day and the senior paramedic had invited his partner over to spend the holiday with them.
Roy’s mother, Harriet, was in the kitchen helping Joanne DeSoto prepare the food for dinner. Eight-year-old Jennifer was jabbering with her grandmother, filling her in on the latest items she had added to her Christmas wish list and other things on her young mind; her brother, Christopher, played with his friends in the front yard.
Johnny reached toward a bowl of potato chips on the coffee table, scooping up a handful. Roy eyed the half empty dish and shook his head.
“I can’t believe we ate that much. Joanne’s gonna kill us.”
“Why?” Gage asked, taking a swig from his beer in his other hand. “She’s the one who set ‘em in front of us and said ‘help yourselves’.”
“Yeah, she said that. But she didn’t really mean for us to eat much. We’re supposed to leave room for dinner.”
“I’ve got room. Don’t worry.”
Suddenly the kitchen door opened and Jennifer emerged, a piece of paper in her right hand. A split second later, Johnny found his chips flying up out of his hand when Roy unexpectedly knocked them loose.
“Hey, what was that for?” he asked, looking at his friend in puzzlement. He set his beer down on the coffee table and stared at the food scattered on the couch and floor. “Like Joanne’s gonna like this any better?”
“You’ll thank me in a minute. Trust me.”
Roy nudged his partner, quieting him, when Jennifer walked over. The father smiled. “What’ve you got there, Jen?”
“A menu!” the girl answered.
“Menu?” Johnny asked.
“Uh huh. I made it myself.”
“Menu for what?”
“Dinner!” she proudly replied. “Mommy and Granma told me ta make one up while they were cooking.”
Roy grinned. He knew why Joanne would have their daughter draw up a menu. It was a ploy to keep the little girl busy and most likely from rambling on with her latest hang up – the five major food groups and what portions to eat. Since her class had a lesson or two in eating properly, Jennifer had gone overboard and was out-of-control on her food monitoring.
“So what’s on the menu?” Johnny asked, a crooked grin on his face. Humoring the kid can’t hurt, he figured.
Jennifer held up the paper and began to read. “Two servings of turkey, two servings of vegables, one serving of fruit, and two servings of bread.”
“Sounds like a good menu.”
“Remember that when it comes time to eat,” Roy said sarcastically. He’ll see, he thought. The dad then noticed his daughter eyeing the half empty bowl of chips, a disgusted expression on her face. Maybe Johnny’ll see what Jo and I have been going through sooner than I thought.
By luck Harriet DeSoto called Jennifer into the dining area to help set the table.
“Saved by the bell,” Roy muttered.
“Oh c’mon. She can’t be that bad,” Johnny said, watching Roy’s mom hand the little girl cloth napkins.
“You remember Chet and the diet he put us on?”
“Yeah . . .”
“Jen’s right up there with him.”
“Yeah, right,” Johnny snorted, picking up his beer again. “Roy, no one could be as bad as Chet. No one.”
The DeSotos were seated at the table, Roy at one end, and John Gage at the other. Jennifer sat across from her brother and near Johnny; Joanne was seated across from Harriet, both on either side of Roy.
Everything was going well as the food was passed around, and Harriet and Joanne put the children’s food on their plates for them. Once each person had what they wanted, Jennifer said grace. Afterwards, Chris gave the command to dig in.
The adults enjoyed conversation as the kids tried to join in, sometimes making remarks that were way out in left field, yet none went ignored. Everyone was having a good time. After awhile, it was time for additional rounds of food.
“These are great rolls,” Johnny remarked, as he buttered his third one. “Did you make these?” he asked Joanne.
“No, Harriet did.”
Roy’s mother smiled at Johnny. Since having gotten to know him better in the past couple of years, she was glad to have him join them for some holidays.
As he started to take a bite of the roll, Johnny noticed Jennifer staring up at him. Raising an eyebrow, he held the bread down. “Yes?”
“You gonna eat that?”
“Jennifer!” Joanne scolded. She knew what was coming next.
Johnny glanced at the mother and smiled, letting her know he was okay with it. He then returned his gaze to Jennifer. “I was planning on it. Why?”
“I think you already had your fill of bread servings,” she answered.
“Wait, I thought you said we get six in a day,” Roy reminded.
“But not all at once, Daddy. Teacher says.”
“I’ll tell ya what,” Johnny said. “I’ll stop at three. How’s that?”
“Oooo-kay,” she answered hesitantly.
Thinking he’d handled the little diet expert perfectly, Gage reached for the mashed potatoes and then the candied yams. As he started to dish one of the items onto his plate, he could feel Jennifer staring at him again. The paramedic looked at her and once again raised an eyebrow.
She shook her head. “You already had two servings. You can only have three in a whole day! And you--”
“Can’t eat ‘em all at once,” Johnny finished. “I know.”
“Welcome to my world,” Roy commented. “We’ve been going through this since her class started studying the five major food groups a few days ago.” He then addressed his daughter. “Jen, it’s the holidays. People tend to eat more than they normally would. So let’s let the rules slide, got it?”
“Slide,” Roy repeated firmly.
The little girl nodded and quickly stuck her tongue out at her older brother when he snickered.
“Jennifer Ann!” Joanne scolded.
“I’m sorry.” She picked up her fork and began to eat.
Johnny grinned. “Don’t worry, sweetie. I’m not gonna have anymore after this ‘cause I need to leave room for dessert.”
Jennifer shook her head.
“I don’t need to leave room for dessert?”
“Huh uh. Dessert’s bad for you.”
“But pumpkin’s a vegetable,” Johnny offered. “And I’ll be eating it later.”
“That’s right,” Roy joined in.
“But he’s already eating his three servings now, Daddy.”
Roy rubbed at his forehead while Johnny sat back and stared at Jennifer. She really was serious about the food groups and daily allowances thing. It was hard to get mad. Gage and her parents knew she meant well. But they all had developed eating habits over the years, good or bad, and weren’t about to change them.
Roy decided he had to be firm or the rest of the day was going to be a long one. “Jennifer, we’ve been over this before. You aren’t wrong, but you can’t dictate to grownups what they’re gonna eat. When you’re older and have kids of your own, then you can tell them what they can and can’t do. Understand?”
Jennifer nodded, pouting again. “I can’t wait till I grow up.”
“You’re gonna make some guy healthy one day,” Johnny said with a grin.
The little girl sat up straight with pride. “I know.”
Christopher and Jennifer helped clear the table; Roy and Johnny washed and dried the dishes as the women put left over food into Joanne’s Tupperware. When the task of cleaning up after dinner was complete, the children played a board game at the kitchen table with their mother and Harriet, while the two paramedics watched more football on TV.
Leaning back in the easy chair, Roy glanced over at his partner.
“You ready for dessert?”
“I don’ know. Is Chet Jr. gonna start in again?”
“Hey, you got off easy. Every time I try to eat anything around here, she’s over with that chart, telling me how many portions I can have and that she thinks I’ve had enough.”
Johnny shrugged. “You can always talk to Morton. . .”
The two men shared a laugh, recalling how Chet had gotten carried away with their crew eating healthier until Mike Morton was able to set him straight.
“One thing’s for sure,” Johnny commented as the men got up and walked towards the kitchen. “I know what to be thankful for this year.”
“I only have to live with Chet three times a week, four at the most. You get a Chet Kelly experience every day of the year.”
Shaking his head, Roy opened the kitchen door and motioned for Johnny to step forward. “Go in there and get your dessert.”
This story was inspired by my daughter, who is on a food groups and health kick since they started talking about it in class. I’m now going through her whipping out the food chart and telling us what we need to eat and how much we’re allowed. :o)
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