I had gone through my routine of preparing breakfast for my blessed number of children. This entailed putting out the cereal bowls (entertaining no possibility of trade- ins or upgrades) – fifteen at the time – inserting the cornflakes (emptying out four boxes in the process), pouring the milk, adding the spoons, and manning my battle station so that I could peacefully and serenely oversee the breakfast of champions.
That morning the kids had a – pardon the pun – mouthful to say, in total disregard of breakfast’s gag order. The comments were so personality-reflective and kid-esque that I recorded them (never knowing that one day I would share them with the public at large).
The first kid, and I am not bothering to use monikers so that this does not read like a Russian novel where the names are endless, shall be identified in the sequence of which child spoke first. Thus Child Number One is not the oldest, but the first one to speak.
Child Number One, instead of just dutifully downing his cornflakes, began to sound off. I have already noted my patient demeanor and doting nature, but I confess that if there is anything that irks me it is when you invoke the “religious argument” to get your way. Naturally, this is the way Number One led off.
He contended that there wasn’t enough cereal in the bowl for an “after blessing.” (Brief halachic synopsis, just in case there is someone who is not thoroughly familiar: Jewish law requires that a blessing be recited before eating and a grace recited after completion. However, the very law stipulates that in order to mandate a grace, or “after blessing,” a minimum quantity of food – the size of an olive – must be consumed.)
The Second Kid said that he wanted chocolate milk with his cereal. This triggered the Third to say, “If he gets chocolate milk, I want chocolate milk!”
Matters were typical and manageable until the Fourth Kid blew open the symposium by demanding pancakes instead of cornflakes. As if I knew how to make them. And even if I did, I had other concerns at 7:25 in the morning.
The Fifth Kid said that the cereal was too crispy for her taste and she wanted it more “soggified.” The Sixth Kid said that the cereal was too soggified for his taste and he wanted it more “crispified.” Now you might be thinking: why not simply switch the bowls?
Only a tyro could make such a mistake. Switching bowls, for even the most justified, legitimate and equitable purpose, will result in an axiom of nature as sure as the Law of Gravity: an automatic cornflake fight. And even if you have witnessed a cornflake fight in your day, chances are this is only with two or three participants. We are talking about major double-digit participation.
One of the ancillary axioms of cornflake fights is that they can never be contained between just two warring parties. Nuclear proliferation is a wannabe next to cornflake proliferation.
Switching bowls in mid-breakfast would be akin to lighting a cigarette in a napalm warehouse. Thus, the only prudent solution, the very one employed in all of the other thorny breakfast situations beckoning for parental intervention, is to smile sympathetically and ignore.
The Seventh Kid, and this one is none other than the self-appointed philosopher – who always knows how to pose an existential question when there is no time – removed a cornflake from the bowl, and held it between his fingers and most demonstrably examined it in the light. With the grim expression of a jeweler gripping a loupe, he inspected the flake from various angles, appearing to be taking mental notes of his findings.
Finally, with the resignation of one who has pursued a crime lead only to find out that he was tricked, concluded, “This isn’t corn. It sure doesn’t look like corn.”
The Eighth Kid’s tooth fell out and she began fishing for it in her cereal. When she couldn’t find it, she turned her bowl upside down. When that didn’t turn up anything of the dental variety (but you really would be amazed to see what else was there…) she started turning the other bowls upside down, and this was enthusiastically received by her siblings. Before breakfast was over, she stood to lose far more than one tooth.
The Ninth contended that his brother picked his nose and dropped the proceeds in his bowl. Let’s refrain comment on this one and move on.
The Tenth Kid bellyached that she can’t stand the fuzz in the bottom of the box (meaning the fine granules), so why did I deliberately calculate with devious precision that the last serving from that box would land on her bowl? There are delinquents, malefactors and felons, but the crime that I had committed – according to my erstwhile accuser – was up there with crimes against humanity.
The Eleventh Kid whined that he loves the fuzz in the bottom of the box, so why did I have to configure to his detriment by starting a new box? The urge to switch was nigh irresistible at this point but it was also hopelessly optimistic, like a man without fingers refusing to give up on his dream of playing the piano. The axiom regarding cornflake fights is an axiom. Period.
Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen – with the unity that comes from being the newest kids on the block – decided that they want their cereal in a baby bottle, so they covered their bowls to block the more conventional method of oral intake. I attempted to explain to these culinary connoisseurs, who don’t know squat about the difference between a solid and a liquid, that if the cornflakes are placed in a baby bottle they will never clear the nipple.
Eight minutes does not afford a lot of time to offer detailed explanations, especially as you are trying to simultaneously negotiate and monitor peace on earth. So I told the kids, as I pried away their tiny hands, that a baby bottle was a non-starter. But these kids, bless their little hearts: a) did not buy my explanation (and I was telling the truth!); and b) took it personally, as if I was trying to dastardly deprive them of their God-given right to enjoy cornflakes the way they pleased. And then, as so often happens when kids confuse logic with tyranny, they began to cry. It was as if I had engineered the nipple with their ruination in mind.
(To be continued)
Chodesh Tov – have a pleasant month!Rabbi Hanoch Teller
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