I’m not exactly sure when it happened. I have a feeling it was something like when you go broke: gradually, then all at once. But somehow our nightly family dinners have turned into one big negotiation session (occasionally escalating into a full-blown hostage situation).
It doesn’t matter what I make. It doesn’t matter how many options I give. It doesn’t matter that it’s Friday and it’s been a long week and I’m so over it and mentally checked out around 3 p.m.
My kids never want to eat the dinner I make them.
Well, I take back that last part. My toddler does have a very specific list of things he’ll eat.
Mac and cheese (but only the boxed, chemically-loaded kind…so help you if you give him a homemade cheesy pasta containing anything that resembles a nutrient).
End of list.
He’s cut out apples and crackers and spaghetti and sausage and eggs and corn and the actual chicken part of chicken tenders. All things I used to be able to get him to eat. He’s worse than when you invite your high maintenance friend over for a dinner party and she’s always on some ridiculous diet and acts like it’s YOUR fault that she can’t eat anything because pretty much all the food in your kitchen contains sugar, flour, gluten, fat, soy, chemicals and everything that makes life worth living.
And my 9-month-old is almost as bad as my toddler. I made the mistake of letting her try fruit and now she realizes what a sham vegetables are and spits out anything that is not fruit.
But I did not ruin my body, and my sanity, and my freedom, and that part of my brain that can remember if I’ve seen this TV episode before or not, keeping them alive and healthy for three years only to watch them starve to death because I dared to give them a well-balanced meal.
So, every night, it goes like this:
Toddler: Mommy, I’m all done.
Me: You haven’t eaten anything.
Toddler: Yeah. Cause I’m all done.
Baby: *sound of mashed peas being spit out*
Me: You need to take three bites of mashed potatoes.
Toddler: One bites?
Toddler: Then I get Girl Scout Cookies?
Me: No. Someone ate all those while hiding and crying in the bathroom last week.
Me: Don’t worry about it.
Baby: *sound of spoon hitting the ground because she whacked it out of my hand*
Toddler: I can’t, Mommy.
Me: Then you’ll just have to sit there while the rest of us eat.
Baby: *emits tiny Viking warrior princess yell because I shoved more peas in her gaping maw*
Toddler: Can I have raisins?
Me: No…(semi-worried he may actually starve to death)…ok, fine, you can have some raisins IF you eat three bites of mashed potatoes and one bite of meatloaf.
Toddler: Nah. I’ll just sit here then.
Me: (don’t give in, don’t give in, don’t give in) …ok, fine, two bites of mashed potatoes (damn it).
Toddler: One bites.
Toddler: ONE! *starts crying*
Baby: *grabs jar of mashed peas and dumps it on her head*
Toddler: Where you going, Mommy?
Me: To get raisins. I give up. And to get Mommy some of her Mommy grapes.
Toddler: Do you mean wine?
Me: Shut up and eat your raisins.
Call me weak if you must but feeding your children is a primal NEED. I NEED to feed their whiny little faces. Need it unlike anything I’ve ever needed before. Eat! I internally scream in my head pretty much on a daily basis. Or I’ll die! Eat anything! I don’t care anymore! Just. Eat.
And trust me, I did the hard ass routine. I’d make that kid sit in his chair until he ate all (then, ok fine, three, then two, then one, then how about you just lick it to see if you like it?) carrots. And every time it ended the same way: Three hours later, both of us angry and crying, and exactly zero carrots licked.
So, for all our mental health, I backed off. They both respond better to honey than vinegar (just don’t try to give them actual honey…or vinegar…or food).
Which is how we got here. Sitting around the dinner table. Making complicated and ridiculous mediations like a family of rich people in the midst of a strained but somewhat amicable divorce.
Two green beans for a fourth a cup of yogurt. One BIG bite of rice for the rest of Mommy’s cake. More milk if you finish the chicken part of the chicken nugget. I’ll take the beach house and you can have the Benz.
I hope someday it gets better. And I cling to this hope like it’s the last life jacket on the Titanic.
But just like the Titanic, I know deep down I’m doomed. That dinner will always be some version of this.
At least until they go to college and almost drown in the lukewarm waters of Ramen noodles made in a coffee maker.
Who hates Mommy’s lasagna now, suckers?