Charisma, stamina, a willingness to defend a cause at all costs, words which sting as much as any punch ever thrown, and a remarkable distaste for vegetables - especially if they're green.
Meet my daughter.
I try to make meals as fun as possible; shaping food into sticks, making homemade pizza with whole wheat flour; disguising proteins with tasty sauces (ketchup, for instance), and defaulting to favorites when necessary. I also insist on a vegetable.
There are very few they actually enjoy...actually, there's but one - carrots. Everything else is turned away with a level of distain witnessed only at televised divorce proceedings. Two veggies have recently begun to make breakthroughs: green salad, and broccoli.
The former cannot have leaves which are too big: "They don't fit into my mouth.", or too small: "I can't get them with my fork!"
The latter cannot be too al dente: "It's too hard!", or over cooked: "It's all mushy!"
Lately, I've had some success sprinkling a teaspoon of parmesan cheese and a dash of soy sauce into the mixture. But, Tuesday night became The Rumble in the Jungle. Only it wasn't Ali vs George Foreman, it was FatherDaddy against The Girl, soon to be 5-years-old.
The meal consisted of sausages, roasted potato, and Soylent Green, a.k.a.: broccoli.
My son gobbled his meal, and asked for more sausage. There was one left.
"But I also want more sausage!" she said; her plate still robust with main course.
"You have to have your broccoli." I answered. The first jab was thrown.
I became the Judge Judy of parenting: fair, but firm. I sliced the sausage lengthwise (width-wise would have encouraged measurement among the children) and gave half to The Boy.
As she exhaled her first breath of protest, I reassured her she could have the second half...after she ate the veggie.
She reached instead for the potato; Foreman showed no signs of fearing the smarter champion.
"Never mind the potato. I don't mind if you don't finish the potato, I want you to have the broccoli."
She ate all the potato and declared she was full. Not too full, however; she asked for that last half-sausage.
"I'm too full for broccoli!!"
It was time for tough love; I donated the remaining sliver of sausage to The Boy.
Remember when the side of Mount St. Helens blew sending ash as far away as Edmonton? Kids play. She really hated that broccoli.
"But sweetie, you've had broccoli before, what's the problem? It's only three pieces."
"It tastes funny." she admitted frog-throated, through tears.
Ahhhh. Now I understood. While preparing supper I noticed we were out of soy sauce, so I replaced it with teriyaki. Before you lecture me concerning the unrealistic expectations I place on my daughter's palate, know this: the previous evening she ate dumplings, which she drowned in teriyaki sauce.
But still, I'm not totally insensitive to the boiling-over emotions of a four-year-old. I got a piece of processed cheese from the fridge, placed a sliver on each of the three florets, and microwaved the whole gang for a few seconds.
I returned the plate to its little owner and began to tidy the kitchen.
Three minutes later she stood next to me, plate in hand. On the plate: three morsels of broccoli, stripped naked of their cheesy robes. She ate the cheese, left the veggie.
"OK, now this is getting silly! You love that cheese! I was doing you a favor by giving you a special treat of cheese with your broccoli, and you still haven't eaten those three silly pieces of vegetable! It's three pieces!!!!!"
"But I'm fuuuuullllllllll!" Whimper, whimper. Cry, cry.
For whoever may not be familiar with it, the "Rumble in the Jungle" was a boxing match featuring Muhammad Ali against a bigger, stronger heavyweight champion: George Foreman. Ali eventually won the fight through a tactic now know as the 'Rope-a-Dope'. This involved Ali resting against the ropes while George pummelled him, almost non-stop, for seven rounds. In the eight round, George was spent, and Ali knocked him out.
Back to my kitchen, where I knew if I didn't come off the ropes, I'd loose the bout.
I needed a winning tactic.
The absence of dessert was already a given; we both knew that. There's no TV after dinner on school nights, so depriving her of it was useless. I had but one option:
"If you don't eat that broccoli, there's no warm milk for you in the morning."
Waking up with a sippy-cup of warm milk is to my daughter what Marlboros were to Yul Brenner (I know, I need to update my references).
There was silence.
She was computing; weighing the pros and cons. During the Ali/Foreman fight Ali was, with each punch, whispering in Foreman's ear "Is that all you got, George?" That's what I was doing now, finding out if this little girl had anything left.
She took all three florets and shoved them into her mouth.
"You don't have to do that, you know. You'll choke."
She stood there, choking, gagging, sputtering, and backfiring. My daughter was the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang of fresh produce.
But, down they went.
When she was done, she handed me her plate. I said thank you, and continued washing dishes.
It was then I realized we weren't done.
I felt her sidle up to me, and hug my leg. There was still healing which needed to take place.
I knelt in front of her, and we hugged as she wept tears of release and relief.
I'm sure this isn't the last time we will rumble over greens, this little floret and I. And I know this is a rite of passage for us both.
When the contest is over, one of us will be left left standing, and all will be forgiven.
I'm glad for the fighting spirit in this little champion.
While I love the way she floats like a butterfly, I also love that side of her which stings like a bee.