“No problem is insurmountable. With a little courage, teamwork and determination a person can overcome anything.” Unknown

From papermag.com

It started with a little meatball. A pork meatball flavoured with sage and parmesan, to be exact. Just one little meatball on a plate. So small, so tasty … so unwanted. Who knew that this meatball would form the basis of a new scientific philosophical psychological school of thought? 

The discovery began when a young boy (let’s call him Music Man) was given a meatball to eat. For more than hour, he poked, prodded and pushed the poor meatball around his plate, clearly wrestling with his mind insisting: “That’s a bad meatball”. Even covered with tomato sauce, his favourite condiment, the meatball remained uneaten. No amount of explaining, persuading, cajoling, pleading, ranting (that was Blue Eyes), crying (that was me), or bribing (don’t tell me you’ve never resorted to such low levels) could convince Music Man to pop this meatball in his mouth. The good cop, bad cop routine was a spectacular failure. And when Music Man finally did pop a pinky-sized smidgen in his mouth, the retching and heaving that followed told us in no uncertain terms that for Music Man, this meatball was too big to swallow.


Now this is not a “how-I-got-a-fussy-child-to-eat” post. Nor is it about “developing-good-eating-habits-without-tears-from-parents” post. It’s all about the meatball, remember? It took a few years for me to realise the significance of the meatball – at the time, it was just another failed food fight. One of those battles we came to realise, was not worth fighting.


The significance of the Meatball (I think it’s earned the proper noun status) became clear last year when Bear was finishing his final year of school. That was one tough year…just writing about it makes me sigh in relief that it’s over. My darling Bear is a very bright young man, but he struggled with school for two reasons – he had no idea of what he wanted to do when he finished, and he really didn’t want to work that hard. No amount of explaining, persuading, cajoling, pleading, ranting (that was Blue Eyes), crying (that was me), or bribing (we were desperate) could convince Bear to just “keep calm and get on with it”. One week he wanted to be a car mechanic, the next a boilermaker … then he pulled his head in and said he was looking at uni. Another week he asked if he could move interstate to do a course with his friend … every week there was something new. After a lecture friendly chat or two, he would settle and we would take a deep breath … only to start again a few days later. I was beside myself trying to keep up with constant changes, researching possibilities, helping him get work experience, organising a resume …and then it came to me. School was his Meatball. He just couldn’t seem to swallow it.

Both Bear and Music Man share similar natures. They are both easy-going, low-key young men; they have what some describe as a phlegmatic temperament. They’re pretty chilled, friendly and affectionate, can tend towards the lazy side … they are who they are. They also have a deeply stubborn side that brings on the Meatball Effect. For Music Man, the Meatball Effect is food-related; he loves junk food, simple food, nothing  adventurous … but give him a meatball and he won’t budge. Bear’s Meatball Effect comes out when asked to do something he doesn’t really feel like doing, like school. Or extra hours at his fast food job. Things he finds boring. Give him a job or course that he loves and he’s chilled; put him in a classroom to discuss literature and he’s facing off the Meatball. 

Everyone has a Meatball. Your Meatball and my Meatball might be very different. We might look at another’s Meatball and think, “Come on, eat it! It’s not that hard. In fact, it tastes great!” And they’re thinking, “I swear I’m going to stick that Meatball where the sun don’t shine if you say that one more time!” The trouble with thinking our way is the only way is that we’re letting the power of the Meatball block our ears from the real problem, as well as alternate solutions to the problem. That’s what the Meatball Effect does. Are we focusing too much on the Meatball, or on what the person is really trying to say? 

With Music Man, we have learnt over time to let him choose when he will and won’t try something new. Mealtimes are much happier now that we have recognised that his Meatball is not just a meatball, but a desire to eat simply and take things at his own pace. Likewise, with Bear, we worked hard to listen to his fears and frustrations, most of which stemmed from not having any clear direction; we learnt that he was as upset about his difficulty with his Meatball as we were. He finished school, by the way, and will be starting a new two-year degree course next month in an area that really interests him. 

Some people might be able to deal with their Meatball by pretending it’s something else, or by breaking the Meatball into bite-size chunks. Others may beat their Meatball with willpower, encouragement, or professional help. Their way may not be our way, and vice versa. There’s some food for thought for you. 

So, what’s your Meatball? Is it smoking, meeting new people, work, study, cleaning the toilet, getting rid of the HUGE spider in the house, or eating? What’s the one thing that you really struggle with, yet other people seem to have no problem with? Is the Meatball Effect clouding your view? Theirs? 



Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

0 Responses

  1. This great. You have clearly and succinctly captured what many of us struggle with. Not just encouraging our children to eat the meatball….but facing our own meatballs… sometimes on a daily basis.

  2. My meatball is my mother:(Please don't judge me).I have tried covering in sweetness.I tried justifying with ït's good for you",but no matter what,I just can't swallow the pessimistic attitude of constant doom and gloom.Adding a little sugar is akin to adding hot sauce.It just inflames.Will continue to close my eyes,hold my nose,and just take little nibbles…

  3. Thank you Alexandra – I think my Meatball changes regularly. Today is the hideous To Do list I started writing last night. I got up early, tidied the house, did all the important (hardly) FB checking … and now I realise that I have yet to tick anything off that dreaded list. Another one for me is confrontation.And Gloria, that would be really hard for you. Little nibbles are good – just try not to let the bad taste linger. Maybe follow a visit with something that makes YOU feel good.

  4. Its true about the 'meatball'. I have a daughter who finished school and has known what she wanted to do but the process of getting there has been hard for her. My own would be the whole social thing – meeting new people, putting myself out there!Visiting via #TUST at Blogs and PR, first time visitor!Annaleis – Blogs and PR Team Member

  5. I so hear you and the issue with Bear. We are having exactly the same with K. She has just finished her third year of part time uni – has changed her mind about what she wants to do more times than I care to remember and now is dropping out of uni – to (she thinks) join the police force. I am at the end of my tether about what to do with her.I have so many meatballs I currently have a casserole dish full !!!Have the best day and thanks for stopping by my blog.Me

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