When most people are asked to identify the biggest threats to their marriages, they come up with things like poor communication, money and contrasting lifestyles. But based on what I experienced recently, I'd have to put the dreaded Toaster Tart at the top of my list.
In a two-week period, my family experienced no fewer than six conflicts of all varieties: parent-versus-child, child-versus-child and, of course, the familiar parent-versus-parent-via-child. And all of these focused on the same thing-that tasty, rectangular, fruit-filled breakfast treat.
Sure, they look innocent enough. But I'm convinced they have hidden motives: They're out to destroy my marriage-and yours, too, if you're not careful.
It all began when I took my three kids to the grocery store. My first mistake was that I failed to avoid the Toaster Tart aisle. And once you go down that aisle, it's all over. Toaster Tarts attract kids' attention like a magnet; then they plant the subliminal message: "Buy me! Fuss and whine until I'm in your grocery cart!"
And so the negotiating begins. Me: "If you kids promise to behave the whole time we're shopping, I'll get you some Toaster Tarts." That was my second mistake. I could hear the Toaster Tarts whispering to one another: "Phase I of our plan has succeeded."
Phase II began while the grocery bags were being unpacked at home. My wife wasn't impressed by my ability to make good decisions at the grocery store. The discussion quickly degenerated into suggestions that I am impulsive and undisciplined. "No," I explained, "I'm merely spontaneous and liberated."
Then I pointed out that, according to the nutritional information on the side of the box, Toaster Tarts are in the same class as the fruit bars my wife buys. (In appealing to "facts," I made my third mistake.)
"This is not about facts," came my wife's reply. "This is about principle." Jeron informed me that, when she does the shopping, the Toaster Tart becomes the arena in which the parent-child battle for control is waged. And if parents give in on that battle, we might as well surrender the war.
How did I respond to the tension? I ate a Toaster Tart. Or maybe more than one-it's all a blur now. Anyway, that was my fourth mistake. My wife wondered aloud whether I got the pastries for the kids or for myself.
A week later it was time for me to return to the scene of the crime. Toaster Tarts didn't number among the 30 things on the grocery list. Nevertheless, I debated all the way to the store: to buy or not to buy? One of the children-our seven year-old-made the decision easy for me by falling asleep in the car on the way. She wasn't happy about being awakened. It was 5:30 and I had to be somewhere at 6:30. Nothing I had to say could calm her down until, in a moment of desperation, out came the magic words: "I'll get you Toaster Tarts."
The storm subsided, but quickly resumed inside the store when Children B and C couldn't agree on cherry or cinnamon. Easy solution. I got both (mistakes number five and six).
Once I got home, my wife and I threw the fruity pastries somewhat off track when we refused to repeat the scene of the previous week. We chalked it up to agreeing to disagree. But did that stop the Toaster Tarts? Nooooooo. They simply went to work on the children, planting subtle doubts and concerns about parental fairness.
To wit, on Saturday morning Kids A and B had two Toaster Tarts apiece. Kid C decided to save one for later on. Then it was Sunday morning and Kid B was lobbying for another breakfast pastry. I threw down the gauntlet: "No, young lady. You had two yesterday!" I offered her ten possibilities for breakfast, but she held out for a Toaster Tart.
I drew my battle line for control. But what about Kid C? She pointed out that, unlike her sisters, she only had one yesterday. So I gave her a tart, telling her not to eat it in front of A and B (mistake number seven). Kid C promptly showed her Toaster Tart to Kid B, who made the strategic decision to work on Mom instead.
My wife, unaware of who had what yesterday, gave in to B. The next thing I knew, Kid B was tapping on my shoulder. "Yoo-hoo," she said. Then she produced the pastry from behind her back and waved it in my face.
I couldn't believe this was happening. My wife failed to support me in the battle, and the Toaster Tarts-I'm certain of it-were thinking, "This is too easy."
As I marched toward the kitchen to talk to my wife, headed straight for mistake number eight, it finally hit me: This is exactly what the blasted Toaster Tarts want me to do! I paused to think about what had just happened. My child-my own flesh and blood-would not have shoved a fruit-filled pastry in my face. The only other option was … my kid had been taken over by a Toaster Tart! They were trying to wreck my family life.
I refused to let it happen.
Instead of marching into the kitchen to confront my wife, I went back to the living room. And when I did, I could almost hear a collective sigh of disappointment coming from the worldwide Toaster Tart community. The battle was over, and I had emerged victorious.
Oh, one other thing. Once you've faced a frontal assault from Toaster Tarts, those boring fruit bars my wife buys start looking pretty good.
Randy Frame is director of communications at Eastern Seminary in Philadelphia.
Copyright © 1996 by Christianity Today/MARRIAGE PARTNERSHIP magazine.