by Wayne Geiger
“I’ll get him lunch,” I said to my wife, heading to the kitchen. The grandson said that he was hungry as he and my wife were playing. Getting my grandson to eat something he likes, and that is nutritious, can be a challenge. You win some. You lose some.
He does love peanut butter and waffles (organic, of course) and if it was up to him, he would eat it twice a day, every day. But, it’s not up to him. It’s up to MawMaw.
“He wants a grilled cheese,” my wife exclaimed from the living room.
“Grilled cheese?” I said questioning her dietary selection.
“Yes, he’ll eat it and I only buy the real cheese, not that fake oil stuff.”
“Okay,” I shouted from the kitchen.
It’s a well-known fact, throughout the Geiger house, that I make the best grilled cheese, an honor that I take very seriously. The secret to the perfect grilled cheese sandwich is patience. The heat of the pan is key. You must have a medium heat so as not to scorch the bread.
There is no rushing the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. It takes time. Once the pan has reached medium heat, drop in a pad of butter. Ensure that the entire pan is covered and then delicately put in the sandwich. Move the sandwich around for maximum exposure while pressing down, only slightly, with a spatula. No one likes smooshed grilled cheese sandwiches (except for Snickers, but that dog will eat anything).
The initial goal is to get the bread a golden brown. Then, you pick up the sandwich, drop in another pad and do the other side. After side two has reached golden perfection, continue to flip the sandwich until the cheese is perfectly melted.
“You should put in two pieces of cheese,” came a voice from behind me. My wife, who is an amazing chef and oversees all aspects of the kitchen and kitchen staff, wanted me to alter my recipe. She has secretly desired to undermine my title of best grilled cheese maker for years.
“I really don’t like using two pieces of cheese,” I protested mildly. “Well, I want to make sure that he gets enough protein, and two pieces of cheese will help.”
For a brief moment, I thought about going over her head and asking the grandson what he preferred. He loves my grilled cheese and I would imagine that if I informed him of a departure from the original recipe, he would rebel.
But, I decided it probably wasn’t worth it. Knowing that it’s best not to come between a MawMaw and her grandson’s protein needs, I gave in to the pressure and begrudgingly slapped on another piece of cheese.
Unfortunately, adding another piece of cheese alters the cooking method. According to several cheesy websites, the average cheese melts at about 130°F. Mozzarella, which is a soft cheese with a high-moisture content, melts at around 150°F. For aged cheeses with low moisture, like cheddar and swiss, it’s about 180°F.
Now, I’m not a chemist or even a chef, but I do know that if you add another piece of cheese, you need to extend the cooking time—and pay careful attention that it does not burn. I was not prepared for the new recipe and the added cooking time.
When I finished my creation, I was less than ecstatic with the result. The cheese was melted perfectly, but one side was a little “browner”. I cut it in half and put the darker side down on the plate.
I smiled and proudly took it out to my grandson. “Tell PawPaw thank you,” my wife said. “Tank you Paw—Paw,” he muttered sweetly. I headed back to the kitchen to make a turkey sandwich for me.
Several moments later, my wife informed me, “He won’t eat it.” I asked him, “What’s wrong? You didn’t even try it.”
“I want peanut butter,” he said. “Why?” I asked? Is there something wrong with it?
“I want something else,” he said a little perturbed. “But, why,” I pressed. “You wanted it a minute ago and the last time I made it you loved it. If you don’t like it, tell PaPa why so that I know and can make it the special way you like it,” I pleaded.
“It’s got yucky brown stuff” he said. He was referring to the edges that were a little brown and the bottom that I attempted to hide.
MawMaw intervened, “That’s the melted butter that makes it taste yummy” she said, trying to salvage the situation. Nothing doing. We have known for years that he doesn’t like anything that has brown. Peanut butter and organic waffles to the rescue.
One of the things I’m trying to teach my grandson is to have honest, open communication. Communication scholars use the term, passive-aggressive, to describe a negative communication strategy. Most definitions of passive-aggression have to do with getting angry, but not responding with honesty, yet secretly hoping the other person will catch the gist.
“No one ever invites me to lunch,” a coworker may say. There are several layers to that comment. The person is experiencing hurt and confusion. Naturally, there may be reasons why that person is not invited to lunch, but not the focus of this article.
Some passive-aggressive behavior has nothing to do with anger, but a person’s desire to want other people to care about them. “I wish I had time to make a cup of coffee,” a person may exclaim.
What they want is a cup of coffee (who doesn’t?). What they’re saying is that, for some reason or another, they are unable to get themselves a cup of coffee and hope someone else will get the gist.
From the listener’s perspective, you might respond by saying, “Wow, stinks to be you, doesn’t it?” or “Is your hand broke?” A better response might be, “Hey, it sounds like you really could use a cup of coffee, but just can’t get free from what you’re doing. If you’d like me to, I wouldn’t mind getting you a cup.”
The second response recognizes the deeper issue but responds by asking the other person to be honest and open and communicate what they really want. That’s a win, but not a win/win.
It’s best for the speaker themselves to communicate honestly and openly.
Back to our coffee story, the person who wanted the cup could say, “I have a special request. I could really use a cup of coffee, but I just can’t leave this project right now. If possible, I would really appreciate it if you would get me a cup.”
That request recognizes the need, the dependency upon someone else to meet the need, and then communicates the desire in an honest and respectful way.
Whether that request is honored or denied, either way, at least you’ve communicated your heart and your thoughts without any pretense or hidden agenda.
My grandson refused to eat my grilled cheese sandwich. However, it was not a total loss. I got him to share his heart. In addition, I got to eat half of the grilled cheese, and my wife ate the other half. It wasn’t my very best grilled cheese sandwich, but it wasn’t half bad. And, because I was forced to alter my original recipe, I was able to retain my title as the best grilled cheese maker in the Geiger house.
Wayne Geiger is the Pastor of First Baptist Grain Valley, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Speech, and freelance writer.