Max hates potatoes.
He hates 'em baked.
He hates 'em mashed.
He hates 'em french-fried.
Okay that last one's a lie. Damn you, Ronald McDonald.
But the rest is true. He hates virtually all forms of potato. He won't even play with Mr. Potato Head.
But when someone's passing him a hot one - you know, during a game of Hot Potato at a birthday party -- he will cling to it like sour cream on a chive.
At a birthday party last weekend, Max was one of seven kids, all aged five and under, sitting on the floor playing a game of Hot Potato. Now normally during Hot Potato, you want to get rid of the darn thing; pass it to the next kid as quickly as possible, because if you're holding it when the music stops, you're out.
But this game of Hot Potato was essentially the game of Pass the Parcel, where the prize is wrapped a dozen times and passed around, a layer of paper removed each time the music stops by the kid holding the goods until there are no more layers -- just sweet victory. Except in this case, the prize beneath all that paper was, well, a potato. So we called it Hot Potato. It just felt right. And it's way more fun when the kids think it's going to burn their hands.
But not when my stage-four clinger is in the circle. Apparently Max likes to feel a good, deep burn. The sought-after spud would come to him and, despite all pleas to pass it to the next eager child, he just could not let it go. Parting is such sweet potato sorrow.
At one point, the music stopped just as I intervened to flick the beloved tuber from his grubby paws into the hands of the next child. If we did a slow-mo replay of the action, it would show that it was indeed in Max's hands at the moment the music stopped, but it had been there for the last two to three bars of music! It should have been halfway around the circle by now. In fact, it should be halfway around the neighbourhood, in a pot up the street next to a few carrots. The next kid got to take off a layer of paper while Max kicked and screamed and sobbed, spudless.
Last time there was this much fuss over a potato, it was 1741 Ireland.
I could chalk it up to the terrible twos or almost threes. Toddlerhood is an emotional time. But here were a handful of kids, all around Max's age, and he was the only one freaking his freak. I was so proud, so very proud.
But I didn't let this potato drama boil my blood. Instead I thought how do I fix this?
Do I yank him from the circle as punishment for misbehaving? Show him that if he can't play properly, he doesn't get to play at all.
Or do I sit down in the circle with him and force him to do what is required of this game (and this life!) so he sees what's happening and, hopefully, learns? I mean maybe it's all a bit confusing for my little guy: This irresistible mystery package is plopped into his empty hands, and then, in a fraction of a second, he's expected to give it up to the next guy.
If I were at Neiman Marcus and the sales lady said, "Congratulations -- you're our millionth customer, you win this Gucci purse! Here you go. Uh, oh wait, no, you're our 999,999th customer, sorry, my bad. Could you pass that cherry red, genuine leather, luxury handbag with the gold hardware to the nice lady behind you, please?"
Waaaaaaaaaah. I'd be heartbroken. And I'm not three years old.
So I opted for plan B. I sat down next to him in the circle, cradled his sticky hands in mine and proceeded to facilitate the receipt and passing of the stupendous spud. I also refrained from making inappropriate jokes like, "Idaho who's gonna win this game!"
Each time the potato made its way around to Team Ginger, I plucked it from Max's death grip and passed it on at lightning speed; I didn't want him holding it when the music stopped, not even to take off an upper layer of paper. If he got to take off one layer, there'd be no stopping the human vegetable peeler from hitting pay dirt. And plus, the potato is hot, remember? "Toss that tuber, kids! Save your fingerprints!"
But lo and behold, despite my fast-handed action and good intentions, the little frigger won the game. The music stopped when the potato, now barely concealed by a thin layer of pink tissue paper, was fair and square in Max's mitts. Turbo Ginger's maniacal laughter broke through his tears. It was terrifying.
Victory was the worst possible outcome. Today's lesson in Toddlerville: Have more hissy fits, get more stuff.
He unwrapped the final layer of paper and there it was. He had no idea the potato-shaped parcel that we were all calling the hot potato was really a... wait for it... potato. Kids are so wonderfully dumb.
The long-awaited prize looked him in the face with a hundred gnarly eyes and said, Surprise, kid. What'd you think I was -- a truck?
What the heck? Max thought.
Then, ah well, Idaho who's gonna give this a go.
He traded in his potato for a real prize, of course: a pair of wind-up fish that swim around in the bathtub. He didn't let the precious cargo out of his sight for the rest of the day. They were donated organs on ice, en route to the operating room.
A second game quickly ensued, but this time I ejected the spud champ. I couldn't risk the greedy bugger winning for a second time. It would go right to his potato head.