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Eat What's on Your Plate

Ruleville, Ch. 2

By Nellie PoppinsPublished about a year ago 12 min read
Eat What's on Your Plate
Photo by Pablo Merchán Montes on Unsplash

Meet Meredith and David

“Let’s not go this way,” Meredith said, with her left arm reaching to the back seat, stroking baby Gloria’s leg. These were the times she was grateful to have a tiny car. Gloria was finally not crying, about to fall asleep.

“What do you mean? If we just go straight, I can take a left at 36th to Broadway,” David said, and before Meredith could respond, Bernie whined from the back.

“Mommy, I’m hungry.”

It’s been a busy day and they’ve been in the car for too long.

“I know, honey, we’re almost home. David, please take a left on Main. I never cross Broadway at 36th.”

“Well, that’s dumb. That’s the quickest way to get home.”

“I know, but… I was there when Billy… just go left here.”

“Wait, you know Billy, the ex-Master?” David asked as he slowly made a left turn onto Main. “You never told me.”

“I do. Mom was taking us home from practice when that SUV came.”

“But no one got hurt… and you know they have installed stop lights when Billy retired, right?”

“Yes. I just… thank you for taking Main.”

“No worries. I thought Billy was great. He came and talked to my Mom. I remember they went back and forth for hours about that new intersection and the no-rule rule.”

David pulled into their driveway. Meredith got out, took Gloria inside. It was so much easier than trying to maneuver the baby seat in their small garage.

“Bernie, stay in your seat until Daddy pulls in the garage.”

“But I’m hungry, Mommy.”

“Just another minute,” Meredith said, shutting the car door.

“We got bananas at the store, remember?” David said, putting the car in reverse. “I’ll peel you one as soon as we’re inside.”

He unbuckled Bernie, grabbed the baby’s diaper bag and most of the groceries, making sure he had the bag with the bananas.

Inside, Meredith changed her clothes already — she was hurrying to get as much done as possible before Gloria woke up again, likely hungry and screaming.

“What are you doing?” she asked David.

“I promised Bernie a banana to tide him over until dinner.”

“Sure, but why are you peeling it from the wrong end?”

“What do you mean the wrong end? I’ve always done it this way.”

“Well, that’s dumb.”


“I’m done, Mommy,” Bernie said at the dinner table. “I don’t want the broccoli.”

“You know the rule is to eat everything on your plate.”

“But I’m not hungry any more.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have eaten that banana right before dinner.”

“So can I go now?”

“Not until you eat everything on your plate.”

“But Mom!!”

“Stop arguing with me. A rule is a rule. Go sit on the steps. Four minutes. And I hope you understand that next week, after your birthday, it will be five minutes.”

Bernie pushed his chair back and slowly made his way over to the steps. He checked his pockets on the way and was glad to find his new hot wheel. He heard Daddy mumbling over his plate as he made his way over to the hallway.

“What’s your problem?” Meredith asked while feeding another spoonful of mashed mixed fruit to Gloria.

“You know it was my fault. I gave him the banana.”

“Well, what do you want me to do? There is no point in having a rule if we’re not sticking to it.”

“Maybe that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”

“Why, didn’t you have to eat everything on your plate growing up?”

“Sure, but…”

“So you are okay with him not getting all the vitamins and minerals in his diet that he needs?”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Fine. You feed him tomorrow.”

Meredith wiped off the high chair table and took baby Gloria to the bedroom. David cleaned the big table and started washing the dishes. He wished they left Grandma’s right after lunch like they originally planned. He hated how everyone was so fussy and whiney and maybe he shouldn’t have given Bernie… Bernie! Is he still in time-out?


“What’s for dinner, Mommy?”

“I don’t know, talk to your Dad. Can’t you see I’m dealing with your sister?”

“Daddy, what’s for dinner?”

“I’m making some spaghetti, do you want to help?”

“Sure, can I stir the noodles?”

“Let me get you a chair.”

Gloria was teething and missed her afternoon nap. By dinnertime, the snowball was turning into an avalanche about to swallow them all. Luckily, she finally fell asleep, and the three of them enjoyed dinner together.

“It’s good that Gloria’s sleeping finally,” David said.

“I’m sure we’ll pay for it later when she’s up in the middle of the night.”

“But look, Mommy, I ate everything. It was fun helping Daddy cook.”

“Good job, Bernie, you can go play a bit before bedtime.”

David watched him chop onions and stir the pot in his play kitchen.

“That’s so not fair,” Meredith said. “Of course he’ll eat everything when you make his favorite food… plus, I can’t have him around the stove with Gloria on my hip, trying to cook dinner…”

David left that one alone. It wasn’t fair, but he was not trying to compete, either, he was just trying to help. He was glad to be off all week — maybe he can give Meredith the break she needs.


“Mommy, I don’t want the carrots,” Bernie whined at dinner.

“Here we go again…,” Meredith said, tired, disappointed, and getting angry. She just hoped David doesn’t chime in with his wonderful wisdom. “You know the rule.”

“But Grandma lets me not eat carrots sometimes.”

“Where is your Lego car, Bernie? Bring it over,” David said, hoping to divert the conversation from what Grandma lets him do.

“Legos at the table?” Meredith asked, but Bernie was already coming back with his favorite.

“I brought the plane, too, just in case,” he said, offering both to his dad.

“Now look how nicely this truck goes on the table. We go around my plate, then over to yours.”

“Maybe we can go this way, too.”

“Sure, but then come back to my plate.”

When Bernie arrived with the truck, David took one of the wheels off.

“Now let’s see how well it goes.”

“But Daddy, you took the wheel off.”

“I know, but it still goes, right? Kind of…”

“It was much better with all the wheels.”

“Exactly. You see, your carrots have vitamin A and a bunch of minerals that help your body run well. When your Mom gives you a plate of food, she makes sure it has everything on it to keep your body running…”


“But Daddy, I ate all of it.”

“No you didn’t. There’s still food on your plate.”

“But I ate a bit of peas, and I ate from the potatoes, and I ate a bit of chicken, too. I have all my wheels to run good.”

“Sure, but for how long? There is a long time until the morning and you’ll be super hungry.”

“No, Daddy, I can’t eat any more.”

Without waiting for Meredith to say something, David took Bernie’s plate and finished the food left on it. He sure won’t be hungry later!

“Great, so are you going to deal with him later?” Meredith asked.

Luckily for everyone, Bernie was busy building towers and never thought about eating again that evening.

David felt like he dodged a bullet when he kissed Bernie good night and there was no whining, no tantrums, no asking for a snack… the thought crossed his mind that Meredith is probably right, rules are so much easier!


On Thursday, David took the kids to the pool for the afternoon. Meredith stayed home and caught up on everything she normally doesn’t have time or energy for. She picked up the toys nobody ever bothered to put away. She sewed up the missing button on Bernie’s favorite shirt. Then she cooked dinner. She worked for hours in the kitchen and loved not forgetting half the ingredients just because someone was constantly crying or whining or showing and telling. The lasagna, just like Grandma always made it, turned out perfect. She even had time to put her feet up for a few minutes before Daddy and the kids got home.

“Mommy, guess what! I did a cannonball and went under water!”

“Yes, he did,” David said, handing a sleepy Gloria over to Meredith.

“Good job, Bernie! Are you hungry? Dinner is ready to go…”

“Honey, this is great,” David said, with the first spoonful already in his mouth. “Just like Grandma’s!”

“Thank you, I’m glad you like it.”

“I don’t like it,” Bernie said, setting his spoon to the side, and leaning back in his chair.

“I knew it,” Meredith said. She was going to say more, perhaps remind Bernie of the rule to eat everything on his plate, but her phone chimed and she stood up to look at the notification.

“You know, Bernie,” David said, “your Mom worked really hard to make dinner for us while we played. You’re making her sad if you don’t eat it.”

“But it’s too salty.”

“No, it isn’t, I’ve tried it. Do you want Mommy to be sad?”

“She’s not even sad. She’s smiling, look!”


“What should we make for dinner, Bernie?” David asked after they said bye to Mommy and Gloria. They were going over to Meredith’s sister for the afternoon, leaving the boys to fend for themselves for a few hours.

“I want pizza!”

“Okay, you would like pizza. What kind?”

“The kind we make. So I could put the pepperoni on it, and then cheese, too.”

David looked to make sure they have pizza dough in the freezer, checked the pantry for toppings, then they went outside to play for a while. He was looking forward to spending time with Bernie — they hardly had times like this since Gloria was born.

Putting the pizza together was a breeze. Bernie was helpful, and not just for someone his age. He had to be reminded about the stove being hot, and to make sure the cheese doesn’t go on the floor instead of the pizza, but they were able to clean all the mess up while the pizza was baking in the oven.

The hardest part was waiting a few minutes for the pizza to cool.

“What do you think?” David asked, watching Bernie’s face as he took the first bite.


They fell silent as they both enjoyed their food. Then the inevitable happened… Bernie was not hungry any more, and the crust just wasn’t as exciting as the pepperoni and the cheese he helped put on the pizza.

“Daddy, I had enough.”

Now what? David was unsure what to do. It didn’t feel right to bring in the rule and punish him again. But what’s the alternative? Bernie was looking at him expectantly — he needed to respond one way or another.

“Bernie,” David started slowly, still thinking, hoping the right answer would magically come to him. When it didn’t, he just said, “I’d like you to eat the crust, too.”

“But Morgan at school doesn’t have to eat the crust…”

“Okay, but I didn’t ask Morgan to eat the crust, I asked you.”

“But I don’t want to!”

“Fine, please put your plate over on the counter.”

David felt defeated. He didn’t want to punish, but he wasn’t sure what to do. He quietly got up, cleaned the table, and started the dishes. Bernie was pushing his hot wheel car around the dining room.

“Daddy, will you read me this book?” he asked when he saw David wiping his hands after the kitchen was all clean.

“No, Bernie, I don’t feel like reading now.”

“But why, Daddy?”

David thought hard. He still wanted to find the right answers, and he was still struggling. What he was thinking didn’t have anything to do with reading about Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel. How will Bernie ever understand what he was thinking? It was more than just about pizza crust. It was about rules, and respect, and standing up for what David thought was right in the face of all the other kids, other influences on Bernie’s life and behavior.

“Well, Bernie, my mind is not here. When you didn’t finish the pizza, it made me sad. But I’m also confused, I don’t know how to teach you some things that are important to me. So I’m trying to figure it out. The words on the page just look all scrambled to me. If I tried to read right now, I think I would probably read Mike Pulligan and a steam bun.”

“That’s funny, Daddy.”

“Maybe. But can you please play with the blocks for a bit? I may read later, before you go to bed.”

About this story

I started writing the Ruleville series when someone asked me to explain the differences between rules (punishments) and expectations (natural consequences) when it comes to parenting. The response turned into the first two chapters of a family’s life in Ruleville, a city where the biggest national holiday is “Regulation Day.”

Before marriage and kids, I started research on how the adult bilingual brain processes subordinate clauses, such as, “Mary Poppins assessed the personality of Jane and Michael with the measuring stick she pulled from her magic bag.” After the kids were born, my attention turned to the developing brain and parent-child communication.

I am a cognitive psychologist, a child psychology consultant, a family support specialist, and I write stories like this to put parenting situations in a different perspective, to make them easier to understand and more memorable, and to help with the discussion of related subjects. I manage Flywheel Parenting on Facebook and Slack.


About the Creator

Nellie Poppins

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