My granddaughter is obsessed with bananas. Not unlike many toddlers, she’s had a love affair with them from her first little bites. Since her parents followed the dictates of toddler-led weaning, they were pretty quickly offered in pieces, and she strengthened her ability to go from hand to mouth with the aid of this naturally sweet food. One of her very first words was “nana,” also not unusual.
For a while now, she has been able to easily hold and eat a banana by herself once an adult has helped her with the peel. Sometimes, she’ll extend her arm to offer a bite to that nearby adult, though she’s also been known to snatch it back pretty quickly, laughing all the while. She is also, now, able to state unequivocally when she wants a banana, which is pretty much all the time. And she has the uncanny ability to find the tiniest banana picture or sticker in any book, which reminds her that they exist, should she have forgotten. “Nana!” she will say, pushing up from the floor or her little table to march into the kitchen where the bananas live in a basket with the occasional avocado, pear, or other ripening fruit.
Or, should I say, where they used to live. For at some point a while back, my daughter and son-in-law needed to take the next step and remove the bananas from sight. Their resting place became a shelf in the pantry on top of some nonperishable food where, they explained, “the bananas are sleeping.”
Why this mild subterfuge? After all, bananas are a truly delightful food and the perfect snack, with their own natural packaging, especially when they’re at that magic bright yellow spot, neither pale green nor spotty brown. However, as we all know quite well, too many bananas can lead to problems, such as a full stomach uninterested in other foods that are needed for a complete toddler diet, and—especially—constipation, which is something no one enjoys, least of all toddlers. To be blunt, difficult poops mean struggles, frustration, and bellyaches.
So the parents came up with a little lie: The bananas are sleeping. I wasn’t there the first time they spun this tale, but I can imagine them calmly explaining, using their gentle parenting voices, where the bananas had gone and why, and I can imagine D. pausing mid-tantrum (“nana, nana, NANAAAA!”) to think about this new situation before nodding her head in tacit acceptance.
This is a toddler who might fight sleep occasionally but who basically understands the idea that it is a necessary evil. When a character in one of her books is sleeping, she places her head on both arms on one side, leaning in with a smile and her eyes scrunched up. Recently she has been putting Elmo, her dolly, and assorted character figures to sleep in her play carriage, wheeling them carefully around the living room so they can get some much-needed rest.
My granddaughter was about 14 months old when this little lie started, and over the last 10 months, the idea of the sleeping bananas has continued to make sense to her and generally appease her. She might go on to ask for berries or crackers or some other snack—she does love her snacks—but she might just as well move on to playing, dancing, or reading.
It’s okay to lie a little, after all. In fact, when raising kids, it’s often required, not even considering the tales of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. But for toddlers, with their ability to throw tantrums rivaling none, as well as the parents and caregivers who must minister to them, these little lies—white lies, half-truths, tall tails—are necessary to help them slowly grow into the bigger truths of the world.
With the bananas in the pantry, of course, her parents could just as easily say they’re out of bananas. (As a popular song from the 1920s explained: “Yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today!”) That lie, though, is more obvious: They didn’t have bananas, but now they suddenly do? Of course, the parents could have gone out to buy the bananas in the interim. How much can a toddler understand?
But to me, the particular lie of the sleeping bananas is perfect in so many ways. In my mind’s eye, I see a group of bananas with little faces, lying down on their sides, in their own perfectly fitting blanket sleepers, and I expect that’s kind of what my granddaughter sees, too. Bananas dancing, singing, playing, and eventually sleeping: It could happen in a board book, and probably it does.
One day, my granddaughter will understand that she can’t just have a banana every time she wants one. One day, she will be old enough to exercise self-control over bananas. One day, she will reach for a banana and realize she already had one earlier that day, and she’ll decide whether she can afford to have another. Maybe she will, and be okay with the consequences.
But right now, she’s turning two, and the bananas are sleeping.