Dinnertime is traditionally a fantastic, epic cluster-fuck in our house. First of all, we’ve given up on forcing our three boys to try anything new. Oh, once upon a time I busted my butt trying to introduce new items on a daily basis, but I always ended up bashing my head against the kitchen wall as they were turned down, time and time again. Rather than give myself a concussion, I decided long ago to only fix the boys what I was sure they would eat, and then make them eat all of it. This decision came with a price, as I have to steel myself to the eyebrow raises and commentary from onlookers from the older generation, whose kids “have always eaten whatever’s served or else they’ve gone hungry.”
I know they’re thinking I’m a push-over mom because I don’t force my kids to eat what they call “table food,” but look, Grandma Judgerson: my kids do eat plenty of vegetables and almost every fruit known to man; they just happen to only eat entrees consisting of breaded chicken and wiener-shaped meat products made from unspeakable animal parts! And, yes, they are also addicted to ONLY one brand of each of these entrees, and they won’t ever try, say, a Hebrew National hot dog or an, I don’t know, Tyson’s chicken chunk, but I can live with that too. I personally think it’s more abusive to make your kids starve rather than give in and let them eat dinosaur nuggets every night of their lives! And if you don’t agree, you can shut your pie hole before I shove an Oscar Meyer All Beef Extra Long hot dog straight up your wrinkly ass!
Anywho, what I really wanted to complain about is that even though things HAVE been much easier since I relented in the menu department, dinnertime is still a royal pain in the ass. I would say it stirs up roughly 40 percent of the marital arguments in our household, leads to 50 percent of the time-outs enjoyed by our youngsters, and drives me to drink 80 percent more wine than I did back before I had to eat meals with my kids. They are either not eating over their plates, which I don’t think is THAT big of a deal, but it makes my OCD husband, Todd, break out in cold sweats as he watches every crumb falling to the floor in slow motion while music from the shower scene in “Psycho” plays in his head; or they’re getting out of their seats and running around the table like puppies on crack; they’re fighting over who gets to sit next to Mommy (a compliment but a super annoying one); they’re burping and/or making fart noises (which reminds us we’re not instilling proper manners in our little hoodlums, which leads to parental finger-pointing and arguments); or they’re whining/crying/hyperventilating (depending on the night) about not wanting to finish the NON-TABLE FOOD items on their plates! And so the routine goes, every night. Seldom do we have a peaceful meal where no one is getting punished, no one is arguing about one parent being too hard on the kids and one parent not being hard enough, and no one is having a full-fledged panic attack about the peas that keep rolling onto the floor.
But last night, something new happened. The meal started off quietly enough, though the kids were arguing about not wanting to take a shower before bed, when suddenly my husband looked down at his leg.
“What was that?! Did someone just throw a chicken nugget under the table?” he sputtered, right before his mouth formed a perfect “O” of horror and disbelief. Seated directly across from him was our oldest, whose mouth was forming a perfect “O” too, as in “O Shit, I’m Busted!” The little a-hole was actually trying to dispose of his dinner by “stealthily” chucking it under the table, one nugget at a time. Realization dawning on him, Todd’s expression changed from puzzlement to “You Better Run, Boy,” and our son flew out of his seat, willingly sprinting to time-out in his room for the first time in his seven years.
“Can you believe that kid?” Todd asked me, still clutching his chest to ward off an OCD heart attack. Thoughtfully chewing my food, I suddenly found myself in the throes of a flashback. In it, I was a little girl again. An ornery one. One that had a hard time eating over her plate, and staying in her seat, and staying still in general. One that, when forced to eat things she didn’t want to, would chew up every bite, then while pretending to take a swig of her milk, would promptly spit each bite back out of her mouth and into her glass. And one that would also wait until her mother left the room, then scrape the remainder of her meal behind the dining room hutch, only to be discovered in The Act and consequently spanked with her drawers around her ankles.
My son’s wails from upstairs shook me out of my disturbing stroll down memory lane, and I trudged upstairs to talk to him, accompanied by the realization that as torturous as dinnertime is for grown-ups, it ain’t exactly a picnic for kids either.