When I was a kid my dad plopped a steaming bowl of brownish rice in front of me. I asked him what it was and he said, “That is Rice-A-Roni. It’s made of worms.” He was trying to be funny, but I don’t think I ever ate Rice-A-Roni again. I mean, I won’t even eat it now. At the time he made his worm announcement I was reading a book about a boy who ate earthworms: How to Eat Fried Worms. The combination made quite an impression on my young mind. Even now, just seeing the box go by in the grocery store makes me feel sort of squeamish. I am aware that my distaste for the rice is irrational, but I just can’t seem to help it.
My dad had a habit of telling me tall tales and I can’t really blame him. I was so gullible I believed every single story he told was true. That must have been impossible for him to resist. I would even argue with people who tried to tell me that my dad was wrong or that he was just joking, probably because I thought my dad knew everything. I thought he was the smartest person in the whole wide world. I tried to copy my dad as often as possible because I thought he was really cool. When I was little he was in the Navy and he wore black shiny shoes to work with his uniform every morning. I had to have shoes like that. I begged for them. Finally, my Memé bought me a pair from the boys shoe department. I remember walking up and down the aisle of the Kmart shoe department admiring the reflection of my feet in the little mirrors under the seats. I think she let me wear them all through the store before she paid for them. I also remember her pointing out the much prettier girl shoes in the next aisle and asking me if I was sure I wanted those ugly black shoes. I did.
I wore them proudly even when the kids at school laughed at me and taunted me over them. I didn’t care. They were shiny and black and made me almost as cool as my dad was. Looking back on it now, I probably just missed him a lot because he was out to sea for months at a time. I also probably wanted to get his attention. Wearing those shoes was a quiet daughter’s way of screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!”
One time my dad told me the ice cream truck would be coming by soon. He gave me a dollar and sent me outside to wait. I waited for hours. Well, it seemed like hours to my little kid self, but time is flexible when you are six or seven. The whole time I kept wondering why the ice cream man had never been down our road before….
Anyway, now that I have my own child I think about what I say to her. You just never know what is going to stick in those elastic brains kids have. Will she have negative associations with particular foods because of a silly joke or comment I make? Will she want to be like me and wear the same shoes I am wearing? Will I notice when this happens? When she is quietly screaming, “Look at me!” through her actions, will I look? I hope so. The one thing that gives me comfort is knowing that Tiny-Small is not a quiet child. She is pretty high-spirited. She doesn’t put up with anything. We always know when she is unhappy with a result. While this might drive me a little crazy at 8pm, when I want her to go to bed and she is mad that I read the wrong book to her, a secret little voice inside of me is grateful that she is comfortable enough to express her real feelings to anyone within earshot. I hope she never loses the confidence she seems to have. I hope she isn’t ever afraid to make waves or to speak her mind. I hope she is never like I was.
I know Rice-A Roni is not actually made of worms. I am an adult and I can read the labels. I know it’s just rice and salt and seasoning, but I still don’t want to eat it.
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