For the Love of Cheese!

30 Oct

Today’s post is thinly disguised as an educational exposition on poverty. In reality, it’s just a parental vent as I try to choose humour instead of violence.

There is a common instinct amongst people who are living in poverty, and due to how deeply it is entrenched, it is also frequently exhibited by people who have come out of poverty. It goes something like this: “If there’s the slightest possibility that whatever I see in front of me might be available for me to have/take/use/consume/keep/hoard/waste, then I must pounce on it immediately and claim it as mine.”  There is no consideration for the next person’s possible needs. There is no consideration of saving for the next day. And thoughts such as “I don’t actually need this” or “This isn’t even healthy for me” are so far from reality, it’s laughable.

I’ve seen it in Ethiopia. I’ve seen it in many urban ministries in different cities in Canada. I’ve discussed it with others who work with people in poverty. It’s real. It’s a debilitating mindset, I know, and I shouldn’t be making light of it. Except that it’s alive and well in my son (who hasn’t been living in poverty for almost five years now) and I either have to laugh about it or…well, the alternative isn’t pretty. I choose laughter.  (Ahhh, laughter. That sounds like such a healthier word choice than mockery or sarcasm. Almost medicinal, wouldn’t you say?)

Before I launch into my personal tirade, I’ll give you an example from a teacher friend of ours in Ethiopia. He taught grades seven and eight in a school down the road from where we lived in Addis Ababa. He found that every time he had extra pens out on his desk, every student that came by would ask for one. If they saw that there were pens available, they suddenly “needed” a pen. But if he kept the extra pens in a drawer, out of sight, every student was mysteriously able to procure a pen from their own backpack, desk or pocket.

Visible abundance triggers perceived need.

This is what we’re trying to parent (abominably, since we have made zero progress in five years). Allow me to share three specific examples, at least one of which we deal with on a daily basis. The stories you are about to read are real and require no exaggeration.

Story One: The Pizza

T (removing 4 leftover pieces of pizza from fridge): Mom, can I have this pizza in my lunch?

Me: You may have one piece and leave some for the other 3 children.

T (yelling): Fine then! I won’t have any! (slams pizza container on counter and stomps away)

Me: Yes! I get pizza for lunch!

Story Two: The Chips

T (immediately after supper): Can I have some chips? I’m still hungry.

Me: No, you can have some fruit or more vegetables. There are bananas, kiwis, apples, carrots, peppers or cucumber. (This selection varies from day to day, but that is literally what was available for last night’s episode.)

T: That stuff doesn’t fill me up! I’m a teenager; I have to eat more now, you know.

Me: I DO know! You should eat more fruits and vegetables. In fact, those foods are actually supposed to fill up about half of your daily diet. You don’t eat nearly that much.

T: I don’t eat nearly enough of anything! Why can’t you just let me eat stuff that actually fills me up? Why can’t I just have chips?

Me (walking away and resuming daily mantra of Biblical parenting advice): Don’t argue with a fool. Don’t argue with a fool. Don’t argue with a fool.

Story Three: The Cheese

The cheese. Holy Hannah, the cheese! I cannot wrap my mind around the ginormous chunks of cheddar he tries to pile onto a sandwich. There is no self-restraint. There is no consideration of the five other people in the family who might also want to partake of that half-kilo right there in his grimy grip! No wonder 10% of my weekly grocery budget is spent on cheese. Seriously. Ten percent! Oh for the days when peanut butter was allowed at school!

New mantra: Homeschooling just for the sake of having PB&J is not worth the trauma we would all endure. Say it again, Anita. Homeschooling = trauma for you AND your obviously as-yet trauma-free cherubs. Just let him eat the blasted cheese!

(Side note: I am pro homeschooling and think it would be very beneficial for my children. The problem lies with who their teacher would be. No good could come of that.)

Story Four: The Ketchup

Nope. Do not even get me started. The ketchup battle is just unfathomable for anyone who hasn’t personally had to parent through this poverty mindset. Either you already know from experience or you just won’t believe me.

There you go. Now you all know to keep your pens in a drawer and pre-slice the cheese. Class dismissed.


Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Adoption, Family, Humour, parenting


Tags: , , , , , ,

10 responses to “For the Love of Cheese!

  1. Tammy Bull

    October 30, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    Ah, my friend, your mantras rock!

    • Anita Neuman

      October 30, 2012 at 3:36 PM

      Thanks! YOU rock! (Just no more rolling, okay?)

  2. KaReNB

    October 30, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    “Visible abundance triggers perceived need”…I was just thinking about how this can transcend poverty as well (not to make light of your venting : )…how sometimes just seeing advertisements makes me want things. ie. “Everyone has an iPhone/Pad/Pod…I NEED one to keep up with technology”

    • Anita Neuman

      October 30, 2012 at 3:35 PM

      Totally agreed. All that technology makes parenting a blazillion times harder!

  3. C.J.

    October 30, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    That sentence stuck out at me, too. Visible abundance triggers perceived need. It’s like the idea that if you put your dinner on a smaller plate, it will look like you have more, and then you won’t over-eat.
    P.S. You also have the added fact of him being a teenage boy. I can only imagine!

    • Anita Neuman

      October 30, 2012 at 7:57 PM

      That’s exactly it, CJ! (Note to self: invest in smaller dinner plates immediately.)
      BTW, I wanted that sentence to stick out. That’s why I put it in italics. 🙂

  4. Kathleen Wells

    October 30, 2012 at 9:39 PM

    In photos, he doesn’t look like he overeats. Does he like/ would he eat some of the “Healthier” bread available now? Maybe this is not something “I” can be totally objective about! (Have you tried “cheaper” CheezWhiz??)

    • Anita Neuman

      October 30, 2012 at 10:26 PM

      He eats healthy bread and stuff. We all do. He just wants to pig out on junk food – and if there’s any at all in the house, he thinks it should be his to gorge on.

  5. vieome

    October 31, 2012 at 5:36 AM

    My understanding of poverty would be to have more problems then choice. The poverty striken individual sees each problem as a bee sting, so even while grabbing a pen when available solves the problem of not worrying about buying future pens, it does not eliminate the rest of the bee stings in ones life and as such we try ignore the rest of the problems by over indulging in the cure for just one bee sting. If that makes any sense, but great post.

    • Anita Neuman

      October 31, 2012 at 7:59 AM

      Oh yes, that is so so true. I could not even begin to explain and/or address all the intricates issues surrounding poverty. I just picked this one tiny aspect. But I like the bee sting analogy. Thanks for reading!


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