From time to time I will descend the stairs after a shower to find Izzy waiting expectantly in the foyer, stack of menus in her hand. “Welcome to Izzy’s Restaurant, ” she announces grandly in a strangely affected accent. “This way, ” she directs me with a sweep of her hand. The dining room table is always set, usually with plates hidden by paper towels that she will later unveil dramatically. “What can I get you this morning?” she inquires. “Coffee?” I suggest hopefully. “You have to order what’s on the menu.” she stage whispers. “What’s on the menu?” I ask compliantly. “We are serving milk, water, and of course, the specialty.” Enter mysterious plate contents.

It almost always involves peanut butter, which our discerning chef has undoubtedly realized serves nicely as the glue with which to bind her unfortunate concoctions. Other popular ingredients from past recipes have included: croutons, craisins, marshmallows, and stale cookies, long forgotten from the depths of the pantry.

Izzy’s replica of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. Yes, that’s a wine cork.

Today’s feature was particularly disgusting: adorning our plates were slices of bread, smeared of course with peanut butter, sprinkled with fun dip (hidden, I thought, from last Halloween) , and topped with an expensive chocolate caramel (a Valentine’s gift to me) which was also smeared with  peanut butter and attached to a starlight mint. “I hear you’re celebrating an anniversary today”, she said knowingly. “This is your special dessert.”

She enjoyed kitchen experimentation at an early age

With this activity, Izzy has found the mother of all loopholes. Her menu-designing, table-decorating, celebratory efforts are obviously an excuse to eat something we have previously forbidden her to eat. While I am all for boundaries, it feels to me that breaking character during an event to give her a reality check is tantamount to breaking her spirit.

My brother and I frequently refer to one of our own childhood memories of this phenomenon.  Whenever we were reunited with our two cousins from Iowa, we created, directed, starred in, and produced at least one theatrical performance per year. During one holiday break when we ranged in age from 9-13, we tackled the ambitious “Alice in Wonderland.” Quite a cast to cover with only four actors, one of whom (me of course, being the oldest) was Alice for the entire play. We pulled it off with finesse, and I can only imagine our parents were as delighted with our cleverness as we were.

My father, however, committed the cardinal audience sin during the “Mad Tea Party” scene. So as to not ruin an actual timepiece, we appropriated Dad’s old clock-shaped cologne bottle as a prop. During this scene, we proceeded to dump ketchup, mustard, syrup, and a host of other condiments onto the “watch”, much like the Mad Hatter does in the actual movie. “All right, all right, that’s enough, ” Dad interrupted gruffly, standing up. We were aghast. Such a blatant lack of respect had never before been seen during one of our plays. Our parents were quite skilled at masking their disinterest/discomfort with our theatrical skills, squirming as infrequently as possible. They were, in a word, indulgent.

I feel I owe it to my offspring to attempt to tolerate their theatrics with the same amount of decorum. Ingesting this foulness, however, crosses a line for me, and I am unable to control my dismayed giggles. My husband usually gets away with a hasty, “No thank you, I’m not hungry, ” but I’m the bleeding heart sucker who sits at the table and picks at the few edible bites of the treat. Izzy of course wolfs hers down with unabashed delight.

The budding young performers in the 1980s

Another example of this trickery occurs whenever Izzy and Grammy are playing school. On such occasions, I have usually cut Izzy off from the TV and/or computer for the day, and remind her how little time she has left in the day to play with Grammy. So off she trots to her bedroom, my mother dutifully trailing behind, to play “school”. I will then quickly disappear with relief, desperate for some time alone. Some time later I return to the family room, where Izzy and Grammy are plopped in front of the TV, on a “field trip to the movie theater” per Izzy’s direction. Another favorite is to engage in “centers”, which parallels the “media center” in her kindergarten classroom, and involves Izzy playing on Nick while my mom stands behind her obediently.

My daughter, as you can see, is becoming quite manipulative. This is an adjective my father used with regularity to describe me as an child and adolescent. I would prepare conscientiously to present him with some well-thought-out request, and he would always respond the same way. First came the slow chuckle. Then, “…Well, hon…” followed by some truism I found to be patronizing and infuriating. My dad is rather fond of pointing out to me, after Izzy has suckered me into some performance or restaurant goody, that “now it’s my turn.” He’s right. I am now fully tuned into the wide spectrum of torture we subjected our parents to, and I find my father’s words coming out of my mouth with alarming frequency. “For crying out loud, ” I say with irritation. “You think I was born yesterday?” We’ve even come up with our own variation. “What would the Rolling Stones say?” (Answer: You can’t always get what you wa-ant.)

My little kitchen helper

Izzy possesses at least as much, if not more, ingenuity, verbosity, and intensity that I had as a child, and I am now forced to relive my childhood genius through the eyes of a spectator. She pours all her energy (and an alarming amount of art supplies) into preparing for these events; now that she is writing, one can always expect a written invitation, menu, or playbill. We have to later sneak these items into the recycling bin when she is not looking, as she has a habit of scrounging through trash and then dissolving into tears upon discovering one of her masterpieces has been disposed of.

Fortunately, the actual performances are usually a fraction as long as the prep time, as she has blown her creative wad on planning and design. The worst ones involve audience participation, and neither my parents nor Shawn and I are able to get through our roles with a straight face. It has been humbling, to say the least.

I know a day will come when I am sitting quietly at the table, drinking coffee in peace, and my children will be busy with friends or their own activities, having long since outgrown engaging me in “restaurant” or putting on a play. And I will miss it.

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