You start these things, like most all of your parenting, as an experiment. You're in the middle of something - aren't you always? - and you see a need, an opportunity.
Or maybe you begin carefully, after much research and forethought. You've read the books, trolled the vast corners of the internet, Googled your way into oblivion in search of The Answer or The Next Step or By This Age Your Child Should....
Either way, you take a breath and throw it out there.
"Hey, let's try clearing your own plate!"
The plates are plastic, the floor already sticky and littered. You know she is capable of it. You try to be nonchalant. You try to make it fun.
For some reason, you chose to sing the wordless theme from Rocky, imagining your toddler in grey sweat pants running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This isn't a chore! This is a parade!
She clears her own plate.
(The - internal, completely fictional - crowd goes wild.)
Then, comes the next meal.
She balks again. No can do, no parade, NO MAMA! NO WANT TO!
You remind her that she did it last time, that it's no big deal. You prance a little wilder, smile a lot harder. Then maybe you hiss, just a little. Finally, you"help" her, carrying the plate yourself with one hand, dragging her behind you with the other.
This is stupid. Why am I fighting this fight?
You worry about it throughout the meal. Will you ask? Will you force? Will the scars from this be some of the worst from her childhood or just a footnote in her eventual therapy sessions?
She picks up her plate unbidden, carries it to the counter, up on tippy toes to reach. The egg remnants and cracker crumbs scatter around her feet to join the rest of their crew but you ignore that and cheer your little parental heart out.
Yet. Another. Meal.
She balks again. You cajole and almost, maybe, beg and then go silent before you remember.
The Rocky Theme Song.
You start the song from the top and you give it all you've got. She's not sure she wants to give in. It feels good, this fit, and she likes the power of stopping everything around her with her wails.
But the Rocky Theme Song is calling her. And she must answer.
It still calls. Every meal.
You imagine it will stop, one day.
(We're going on two years of the Rocky Theme song.)
(Perhaps she'll still sing it to herself, in college, to her roommates, to her own children.)