Written by: Kristen Kenney

Tomato season in New England has arrived. Over the years, my family has purchased seasonal shares at various local farms. I love the fresh vegetables, the pick-your-own opportunities and especially the joy of fresh-picked, still warm-from-the-sun cherry tomatoes.

As much as I look forward to this time of year, it also always reminds me of a farm related parenting fail. About 7 years ago, I encouraged my son*, an early elementary schooler at the time, to try a tomato. He did and immediately spit it out with disgust. When encouraged to try again, my son refused and exclaimed, “No. I don’t like them.” So I left it at that…until the following summer. We were in the car, with our freshly picked veggies when I again approached the tomato issue. My son was in a booster seat in the back chewing on a red pepper. “No. I don’t like them” was again his response. “Just give it a try. I really think you’ll love them.” When that didn’t work, I attempted, “Look how small that tomato is – just show it who’s boss!” This phrase delighted his older sister who gleefully repeated “Yeah – Show the tomato who’s boss!! Show the tomato who’s boss!!” We didn’t let up until my son reluctantly put the tomato in his mouth. His face immediately scrunched up and reddened.

I’m going to pause here because if you’re expecting t hat his grimace morphed into a smile – followed by a “Thanks, Mom! Tomatoes are yummy!” – you’re going to be disappointed. The grimace was immediately followed by a scream and the violent expulsion of the remainder of the cherry tomato. There were apologies (mine) and tears (everyone in the car.) When I look back on this experience I wonder two things – why did I use the phrase- “show the tomato who’s boss!”? Such an out of character and bizarre “motivator” to use. I have been unable to find an answer to that mystery but have had better luck with the second question – What was the lesson here? I pushed my child to do something he clearly didn’t want to do and the experience ended with him throwing up. Yikes! For what? So he’d get enough vegetables? That clearly wasn’t the issue- he was eating enough vegetables – in fact he was eating fresh peppers at the time. So he could appreciate something I loved? Maybe, but he’d already established that he emphatically didn’t like tomatoes.

The lesson was that I needed to trust and listen to my child more. He was young at the time but he knew what he liked and did not like and I needed to learn to listen to him and respect his self-knowledge – not just about tomatoes but about sports, activity choices and friends. My now teenaged son laughed when I asked him what he thought the lesson was from that experience. He answered without hesitation – “the tomato was definitely the boss!!” And he then relayed another important lesson – “Mom, you really don’t need to think about this anymore.”

*Shared with the consent of t he boy who (still) doesn’t eat tomatoes