When I was young, I was a very picky eater. I didn't like pasta sauce, so I would eat the noodles plain with salt and pepper. I didn't like ketchup, onions, pickles, mayo or tomatoes, so my hamburgers were garnished with mustard only. And I didn't like potatoes.
I'm not sure why that last one was such a big deal, but in my family, it was. I didn't like them in any form: not mashed, grilled, baked, twice-baked, or in a salad. (I might have liked them fried, but french fries don't really count as potatoes, do they?) I can't even count how many times relatives told me it was a good thing I wasn't born in Ireland.
One evening, before a Sunday dinner at my Grandma's house, I decided--made up my mind, just like that--that I liked potatoes. After all, how many times had my parents cajoled me to eat something by saying, "just try it--you'll like it"?
I walked into the living room and announced to my family, "I like potatoes now." My tone was definitive enough that they didn't even question me. I remember them being happy for me; although, looking back, I'm not sure that they actually cared all that much. At six years old, though, I was pretty proud of myself. I'm sure that I was too young to be familiar with the phrases "mind over matter" or "attitude determines altitude" or other such platitudes, but Grandma had read me The Little Engine that Could enough times that the basic idea had penetrated my impressionable psyche. (Side note: even to this day, I still hear Grandma's voice in my head when I look at that book--she has a very pleasant, distinctive reading style. And she read to me often.)
I proudly marched into the dining room, excited to eat my potatoes. I served myself a generous helping. I buttered and salted and peppered, then brought the fork to my lips. I imagined all eyes were watching, sharing this moment with me. The moment I'd join the potato-eaters club. The moment that would ensure I'd never have to hear about Ireland's potato famine ever again.
I chewed and quickly swallowed, working hard to keep my face neutral.
I did not like potatoes, as it turned out. Did not like their mealy texture. Did not like their bland taste. Did not like them. Did not.
I don't remember the details of the rest of the evening, but I'm sure I eventually had to fess up. To eat my words. It was no fun. I sometimes wonder if this event was the death of any budding optimism I may have had and, in turn, the birth of my cynicism, skepticism, pessimistic realism.
Is there power in positive thinking? Sure. But thinking something's so doesn't necessarily make it so.
And, yes, I did hear about the potato famine several more times over the ensuing years.
And, yes, I do like potatoes now.