Friday, August 2, 2013

The Bread of Life

I lifted this picture from King Arthur's website, because while I had my iPhone, 
I hardly thought taking a shot of the mom buttering the toast was appropriate. 

There I was, sitting at a table in King Arthur Flour's lovely new cafe, waiting for a meeting with a Head of School who is visiting from out of town, and I caught something going on at the table next to me. A family - mom, dad, teenage daughter - were enjoying a lovely breakfast together. That's nice, I thought.

My reverie was pierced by the rapid movement of the mom who yanked the plate away from her teenage daughter, asked for the daughter's knife, and hastily unwrapped the neat little package of Cabot butter. I watched - I'd like to say in disbelief, but my reaction was more like disgust - as the mother buttered her thirteen or fourteen year-old's toast. 

I watched for a while. I watched out of the corner of my eye to make sure the daughter did not have a cast I was missing on her arm or some other obvious disability that would have interfered with her ability to butter her toast. Nope. Not from my perspective, at least, nothing obvious to report. [As some commenters have mentioned below - at least the ones who refrained from swearing at me - have correctly pointed out that I can't assess neurotypicality from ten feet away. This is absolutely true. Her inability to butter her toast could have stemmed from any number of issues. However, I sat next to them for a full hour, and as far as I could tell from my seat, there were no waving neuro-atypical red flags. But thanks for the obscenities and one particularly vivid description regarding where to put my own head.]

The daughter watched her mother frantically buttering, buttering, with what appeared to be a little bit of impatience and maybe even irritation. Ah, yes. It was irritation. I know, because when she bit into the toast, she complained to her mother that it was "too crunchy" and to please get her another order of toast that's "less crunchy." 

I wish I was making this up. 

To her credit, the mother made her go get it, but when the daughter returned with her less crunchy toast, the mother got back down to work, buttering, buttering...

And I got back to work on my book. 

My cursor blinked at the end of a sentence in the following paragraph, in a chapter on the research behind intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivation:

“The hallmark of successful individuals is that they love learning, they seek challenges, they value effort, and they persist in the face of obstacles” writes Dweck. She calls these successful individuals “mastery-oriented,” and
There's that "and," just waiting. I honestly did not know where to go from there. Luckily, my colleague arrived and I was able to shut down Scrivener before I finished with 

"...and therefore, it's vital that your child be allowed to butter their own toast, to experience that sense of mastery over their breakfast."
NB: I edited one sentence above after receiving comments and added the stuff in brackets.


  1. Actually, I know you didn't see any mental or physical disability, but it's not necessarily the child being bratty or the mother hovering. Individuals with Asperger's often have sensory issues and/or fine motor control issues, and the mother might have been trying to get the toast buttered in such a way that she scraped off enough of the "crunchies" so her daughter wouldn't reject the toast.

    The mother's haste and the daughter's annoyance are what point me in that direction. Of course, she could have BRAT syndrome (wanting whatever she wants when she wants it due to mom coddling her all the time) but Asperger's and high-functioning autism might create that kind of situation as well.

    I agree, though, that in a neurotypical kid, she should be able to butter her own toast.

  2. It's nice that you were able to determine that the child had no mental or physical disabilities by glancing at her out of the corner of your eye. How helpful such a talent might be - imagine all the time and money parents could save by putting their children just outside of your field of vision rather than putting them through all those tests!

  3. I was going to say the same thing. That's atrocious behavior in a "normal" kid, but it's not always so easy to tell from a short interaction like that what the whole situation is.

  4. I think it's reasonable that you can gauge the child's ability to butter her own bread, by watching her briefly. In this case she WAS able to go and get new toast, so I can't imagine why she wouldn't be up to the task of buttering it.

    I can see why toast buttering moms the world over would be appalled by your observation.

    However, I can totally relate! Just recently at a restaurant my mother-in-law asked my 9 year old son if he wanted butter on his toast, and when he replied "yes, please" proceeded to butter it for him. I was so aggravated that I snatched it away from her, much more aggressively than I would have liked, since she is the grandma, not the mom.

    I composed myself and apologized, and she asked me what she had done wrong. I replied: well three things:
    1. He can, and should, butter his own toast.
    2. If he's not asking for butter, I'd prefer you don't offer it.
    3. You're putting GLOBS of butter on his toast.

    That last point leads me to one potential "extenuating circumstance": perhaps the mom buttered the daughter's toast so that the daughter would not put globs of butter on it.

  5. Interesting point, Eric, and as long as you don't swear at me and tell me to stick my own head up my ass, I'm happy to consider the wisdom of your comment.

  6. First...I am with you. There's no way I'm buttering my kids toast. In fact, they should be buttering mine. In fact, without a thorough buttering up, they are lucky to get anything from me.

    But that is because I am a mean father. I (lovingly, respectfully, and politely) expect things from my children and they know it. I have prepared them to expect me to expect things from them. I have done this in part by telling them that the reason for any exasperating thing I ask them to do is very simple. It is because I am a mean father. I find that this explanation saves a great deal of time.

    All that is to say, I am with you. Stay appalled sister. You work with middle schoolers as a profession. I'm thinking I can trust your judgement regarding the ability (and even the propriety) of a 13 year old to butter her own toast.

    After all, what next? Jam? Marmalade? Vegemite? O tempore! O mores!

    Second -- I always thought that anal-cranial inversion was a disorder, not a treatment. The treatment (as I understand it) usually involves the *removal* of the cephalic appendage from the rectal orifice, not the insertion. But I'm not a physician. What do I know?

  7. Ha! The last comment did not belong to Emma but to me, her father, Dave.

    Gotta teach her to sign out of her own google account. ;-)