Last night, for dinner, my two and a half year old rubbed cucumber on her face.
“Mama! Do you want to try mine lipstick?”
“No thank you. How about you eat it instead? You were the one that threw the cucumber into the cart at the store and asked me to bring it home.”
“I don’t want to eat it.”
“Ok. Then eat some of your chicken, please.”
“I not hungwy.”
She ingested exactly NOTHING.
As a toddler, my son did the same thing. It drove me insane. I imagined myself forcing syringe-fuls of gravy down his throat like my mother did to a baby African Grey parrot she had picked up at a flea market when I was a kid. (You read that right.)
For something that’s required to maintain oh, say, ACTUALLY BEING ALIVE, and should be enjoyable to boot, it’s amazing how many times a day the whole process of eating and nourishing my children makes me want to take a nap in a dumpster.
If in the next couple years I end up in a padded room it’s likely because for the six hundredth time my morning started like this:
“Josie, what would you like for breakfast?”
“I want a snack.”
“It’s not snack time. It’s breakfast time. How about some oatmeal?” (The kind in the skinny box with the heartier oats, because the kind that you pour hot water on is “reg-a-la” oatmeal and apparently, may as well be dog vomit.)
“How about toast?”
“No thank you. I not hungwy.”
Cue ten minutes later, I’m making coffee and her head is in the snack cupboard, rifling for something I’ve obviously not offered.
“No way, girlfriend. Are you ready for breakfast now? How about some eggs?”
With a hint of defeat in her voice she agrees. “Oh KAY.”
Soon, she’s pushing eggs around her plate with the excuse that they’re too hot. Perhaps a tablespoon actually makes it into her mouth. The rest remain.
“I all done, mama.”
“Come ON, dude! Those are organic!”
She flits off to find tap shoes and I find the bite I thought she ate under her chair.
It’s not always like that. Some days she’ll house the whole bowl of oatmeal and then proceed to eat an entire banana fifteen minutes later. But more often than not it seems like I’m holding back the age old mom exclamation of “THERE ARE STARVING CHILDREN IN AFRICA!”.
Sometimes I walk out of the grocery store and wonder if I shouldn’t just roll the full cart over an embankment and head home.
Then I remember. My 8 year old made it though, despite turning his nose up at enough food to feed at least a small village. I’m reminded, when looking at my daughter’s full plate and wondering how she’s existing on air and god damn sunbeams, that no child has ever starved themselves to death.
More importantly, perhaps, is that for toddlers who are testing their new found independence, it’s a way to feel in control. Life must be hard when you’re spending your day at butt level, getting shuffled around on the whims of people three times your size. Come brush your teeth, it’s time to take a nap, we don’t sit on the cat. That shit must get OLD. Having the final say in what does or does not go into your body is absolutely your prerogative. Hell, it’s the only card you’ve really got at that point.
I learned with my son that ultimatums lead to tears and fake gagging on beans that can sometimes lead to real throw up. That’s a lesson you only have to learn once.
But at the end of a day that has been fueled by 3 spoonfuls of yogurt, a slice and a half of apple (“NO SKIN!”/”WHY DID YOU CUT OFF THE SKIN?”/”I WANT THE SKIN AND THE APPLE BUT NOT TOGETHER!” on any given day) and possibly a mouthful of peanut butter toast (it’s hard to tell if any is missing because it’s been mutilated into seven thousand pieces), I celebrate. Because we’ve all lived one more day without resorting to a pancake batter IV, and for the next 12 hours, I don’t have to try to feed ANYONE.