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Macaroni and Cheese For The Soul

Miss Toni talks...Preschool Family

I have had the privilege of nurturing children from a variety of family backgrounds. As a preschool teacher, my career has brought me into the lives of children whose parents are doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, teen parents, single parents, same-sex parents, surrogate grandparent parents, children of incarcerated parents, adoptive parents, foster parents; parents from every culture and every type of personality that you can imagine.

If you're around me long enough you will hear me say that I don't believe there are bad parents. I don't believe any parent wakes up on any given day of the week and says, "I'm going to work really hard at sucking at parenting today." In fact, every parent I have ever met has been doing their very best to either give their child the life they had or the lives they weren't fortunate enough to have, or some combination of both. I don't believe there are any bad parents, just parents who lack the tools to make them the best parents they desire to be.

As a preschool teacher, I support well children and their parents. As a memory care nurse, I support adults whose experiences and tools they once had are now lost. As a hospice nurse, I work to support families who are in the middle of losing their loved ones. Without a doubt, each of my professions has a highly emotional aspect around them and each of them requires me to develop a specific tool if I am to serve to the best of my ability. The same is true of parenthood.

The experiences and the tools I have created and have been given play a pivotal role in the creation of my work.

Today I'm going to share with you the story behind the Preschool Family song "Macaroni & Cheese", which is based on a classroom experience with a 4 year old named "Mia." During lunchtime, teachers and students all ate lunch together family-style at our classroom meal table. While other children unpacked sandwiches and containers filled with nutritious food left over from last night's family dinner, Mia's lunch bag contained a variety of candy and processed chip snacks. After a gentle reminder to Mia's young mom that candy was not allowed in school, Mia's lunch bag was modified and filled with fruit roll up's, gummy textured artificial fruit snacks, and processed chip snacks. One late afternoon during pickup, I asked Mia's mom about the food choices in Mia's lunch bag. She explained to me that Mia was a picky eater and getting her to eat anything other than sugary foods was next to impossible. Now, I know two things for sure; (1) children are deeply empathetic by nature, and (2) children are pack animals. With these two things in mind, I had an idea.

The next day at lunch, I began to sing exuberantly, "Let's hear it for fruits, yeah, let's hear it for vegetables, yeah! Raise your hand if you've got a fruit! Raise your hand if you've got a vegetable!" The children began to raise their hands. When Mia raised her hand the other children pointed out that she did not have a fruit or vegetable. I then suggested we play a game of "What's Your Favorite?" I asked each child in turn their favorite fruit, vegetable sandwich, etc. When it was my turn to answer each of the same questions, I would take a long pause and shout with delight, "Macaroni and cheese!" Of course they would all fall into fits of laughter as they corrected me. I told the children I would need their help packing my lunch tomorrow if I was going to get it right. I asked Mia if she could tell me what to pack and if she would pack the same things in her lunch so I could see if I got it right. From our earlier game, I knew that her favorite vegetable was carrot slices and her favorite fruit was apple slices. She also said she liked bottled water instead of boxed juice and that her favorite sandwich was turkey with white cheese, so I suggested we each make that our lunch for tomorrow.

The next day, Mia's lunch contained all of the foods we had agreed upon the day before! So did mine, except I had a whole apple instead of apple slices. Mia was very kind and said that I remembered mostly right. We agreed on matching lunches again the next day so that I could have another chance of getting it right. After a few days of getting lunch we had agreed upon "wrong"; tuna salad not chicken salad, cantaloupe not grapes; I finally matched her lunch perfectly. She was so proud of me! Mia and I continued the mirror lunch game until she went off to kindergarten. We would choose one food from each food group and a drink. But on Friday all the kids in the class played along, because that was when we ate my favorite food which you may have already guessed- MACARONI & CHEESE!

Mia's mom was so thrilled by her new eating habits and the leadership she displayed, they became partners in planning every meal together. She loved bragging to the other parents what a healthy eater her little girl was and how much fun grocery shopping had become. She had a new tool available to her which allowed her to help provide the nutrition for her child she had deeply wanted. I believe that children thrive in autonomy when the boundaries we construct for their safety and well-being are flexible enough to include that child's individual preference when appropriate to do so. I can't think of a better gift than that!

Happy holidays! And until next time, remember child development is human development.

_Miss Toni

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