Our four-year-old has recently made a subtle but useful discovery. The revelation he has come to is that the word dessert is far more handy to a boy than are the words ice cream, cookie, or candy. Ice cream and cookies are unearned treats, things parents are uneasy about handing out freely.
Dessert, on the other hand, is a word full of positive implications. It implies that a good dinner has been fully consumed, or at least those portions not spilled upon table, lap, chair, and floor have been fully consumed. Dessert is earned by good children who have done nothing to turn dinnertime into a headache of remonstrations about the vegetables being part of the meal too.
Dessert is granted far more often than mere cookies and ice cream are. Dessert is earned; it makes the parents feel better about doling out a little sugar. And the best thing of all about dessert, the secret that the boy guards from his parents with silent delight, is that, for all practical purposes, dessert is exactly the same thing as ice cream, candy, or cookies. Cha-Ching!
“Daddy, can I have my dessert now?”
“Why, of course! Anything for such a dutiful cleaner of plates!”
But, there are times when even dessert is not the entire utopia it should be. We bought a couple of boxes of ice cream treats – smaller ones for the boy and larger ones for the parents (because the parents occasionally behave well at dinner too).
One night, when the boy asked for dessert, I gave him one of the little ice cream treats. “Can I have one of the big ice creams?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Why not? Are they all gone?”
“Just about,” I said. Actually there were two left, one for Daddy and one for Mommy, but I didn’t want to get into a detailed discussion about my distribution plan.
He seemed a little disappointed, but appeared to accept this as a reasonable answer – a much-coveted rarity with him. I went into the kitchen, quietly congratulating myself on the quick thinking that allowed me to escape further debate without resorting to an outright lie.
I was still basking in the light of my own genius, about 30 seconds later, when he appeared in the doorway. He was holding his ice cream treat out ahead him to show that it had not been touched by his mouth. This pristine ice cream, his un-cashed check, proved that our dessert arrangements had not yet been consummated. He looked at me, his eyes filled with that young cynicism I’ve grown to love. “What does just about mean?” he asked.