Eat what I say, not what I’ve eaten!

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My children are currently on a hunger strike because of tonight’s dinner. I’ve cut back the starch portions of their plates in an attempt to force some healthier eating on them, but they’re as stubborn as I am, and the almond-meal-crusted chicken tenderloins, brown rice pasta, and fresh green beans have thrown them into a rare instance of collaboration, aka mutiny. I foresee a pre-bedtime emergency yogurt rationing.

I don’t know exactly where everything went wrong, but in spite of their first bites of Earth’s Best organic baby food and those early, enthusiastically devoured plates of whole wheat spaghetti and peas, my children have become enthralled with anything canned, boxed or bagged. Left up to them, we would cycle through Kraft mac and cheese, dinosaur-shaped chickenish nuggets, and anything Boyardee and his lackeys can shove into a tin. I’ve begun personifying the trash can in attempt to lessen the pain of throwing away three full plates of vegetables and grass-fed meat several nights a week. His name is Benny, and he, for one, appreciates my cooking. At least he doesn’t threaten to throw up if he has to eat another bite.

Each of my three blessings has their own tactic for consuming as little possible of my hellish, food-based meals. Billy the Kid had cruised through two months of second breakfasts and hot lunches before I received a bill from his school and had a talk with him about what Santa leaves for little boys who stealthily toss the contents of their lunch bags. He still gets sneaky when I take a nap with the girls on days he’s home with a cold. I came downstairs Monday afternoon to find him completely naked, an empty pudding container left on the table, a stool in front of the fridge, and two juice pop wrappers on the floor. I reigned in retribution upon noticing he had taken to heart our conversation about the necessity for a nudist to always carry, and sit on, a towel.

Sally the Slugger relies less on subterfuge. She just refuses to eat much of anything, answering her parents’ question, “how did we combine to produce a dainty individual,” on a daily basis. She schedules her requests for “something dee-licious” as far from actual meal times as possible. 2:30 PM: “I want a cupcake!” We have none. Tears and wails for the next 45 minutes reinforce my incompetence in the pastry maintenance department. This morning I stood up for myself and denied her demand for breakfast grilled cheeses. She’d been up since six and didn’t eat a crumb until lunch, which was…wait for it…grilled cheese. It’s as if some greater power has been watching me for my whole life with a raised brow, and it finally found the perfect vehicle by which to deliver my comeuppance.

My brood’s collective behavior triggers long-forgotten nuggets from my own childhood, like driving my poor mother straight out of her soft-spoken, calm demeanor with one too many refusals of anything other than bread and jam. That Frances story was the worst purchase she ever made, assuming it would head off fussy eating. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could live in a world of white bread and strawberry jelly, but Frances trail-blazed, and I followed her sticky, nutrient-void lead all the way into adulthood, trading fruit spread for cheese and broadening my horizons to include ham, Doritos, and sweet gherkin pickles. My palate eventually expanded to embrace even the grilled cheese, bacon and tomato with Dijon. While I can pull off a mean Duck a l’Orange and a stately crown roast of lamb, I’m happiest when shoveling chips into a sandwich and topping Bremner wafers with muenster.

The least abusive of my offspring, Linebacker Linda, tiny but unexpectedly muscular, is a protein queen. Smoked salmon, sushi, pepperoni and turkey last through one meal at our house, regardless of amount purchased. Yesterday I served lovely plates of diced melon (two kinds!), sliced apples, crustless PB&Js, and a few pieces of cut-up lox. Then a few more. Then the half-pound was gone, and Benny went to work on the rest of Linda’s untouched lunch. Thank God she loves her mama, because she could pummel me into a walking bruise with her meaty little fists and iron-filled cannelloni arms.

Tomorrow evening I’ll take a vacation from our own Hunger Games with a (home-made) pizza. I’ve earned a night off from the collective gripe. But if anyone gives me crap after cutting them off at two cups of Ovaltine in the morning, they’ll be eating my wrath in the form of gluten-free crust and faux cheese.

No recipe for me, no recipe for you. Also, shut it, Susan Sarandon.

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“For everything we do, we know you do so much more.” Really, Susan Sarandon? How dare you and the condescending advertisers at Tylenol assume I need you to compliment my parenting. In fact, your patronizing flattery negates any other fact-based praise I’ve accumulated on a given day, as if I’m one of millions of exhausted and undervalued automatons who are just waiting for a tender nugget like this commercial to render them into blubbering piles of catharsis, weeping tears of gratitude at this overdue appreciation from the makers of an innocuous little pain reducer that kills just under 1000 customers each year.

Come to my house and clean a tiny bathroom used by five people at the end of each day, and you’ll have a better idea of the “so much more.” Deal with the ominous dark shadow in the middle of the suddenly abandoned indoor  rice “sand box” as the world’s most emotionally needy cat averts eye-contact in spite of his smug post-movement victory swagger, and you’ll start to get a picture of “so much more.” Maintain a soupcon of composure while a six-year-old yells at you, “don’t clean my boogie wall!”, restart a bath for two after one proudly announces “I peed!”, even though you gave her the international sign for “don’t tell,” then cook a nice healthy dinner for your trash can, and I won’t become so terribly homicidal when you deign to understand “so much more.”

I’m one week into the detox, and I don’t have a lot of extra sympathy, empathy, or filter just now. The five pounds I’ve lost appear to be where I was keeping my cheer, and I’ve been falling asleep the past few nights to the most heart-breaking of pastry dreams. In last night’s semblance of a narrative, France had just banned the chocolate croissant, concluding it’s the culprit behind the general shunning of anti-smoking legislature.

While I’m looking more forward than not to the Cabernet-marinated roast in the oven from this morning’s trip to Trader Joe’s, I can hardly bring myself to expel the effort of boiling a big pot of water for the slated brown rice spaghetti. I assume if I chuck in a bunch of sautéed vegetables and some sunflower seeds, I might get a few bites down before excusing myself to the kitchen for a decompressing round of dishes Frisbee.

Now I’m off to transfer the guinea pig out of his playpen, against which the previously mentioned cat is nonchalantly leaning, pushing one end further and further toward the other, in what I assume is an attempt to make a piggy waffle tartar, but first I’ll mention a barely relevant lesson I learned this morning. Billy the Kid, now six and with a vigilant eye on everyone’s business, told me he wants me to go back to normal eating. I asked him why, and he responded that watching me drink my shakes makes him think about what it would be like, and he doesn’t want to think about what it would be like. There you have it. Empathy might pass as an altruistic emotion, but from the mouths of babes, and as Johnson & Johnson reminds us, it’s really just a marketing tactic.

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