What’s for Dinner?

I came across a parenting article recently and even though my kids are older, with diapers and daily tantrums over “tie” vs “velcro” shoes a thing of the past, I was curious, so I took the time to check it out.  Actually, I found this particular piece of child-rearing commentary on the same mom advice blog that I’ve brought up before, the one that decries “mommy shaming” yet mom-shames religiously.

This new wave of helpful hints was about dealing with “picky eaters.” The writer’s solution? Let the kids choose. Sounds simple, right? Turns out it is simple. Basically, as the mother (or I guess, father…this article happened to be directed at moms), you fix whatever dinner you want and if the kids don’t want to eat it, fine. In fact, you start out the meal with the announcement that “eat or it not, it’s up to you.” Having no punishment for abstaining from any of the foods presented is the key here. Further, rejecting the main meal does not preclude being given dessert. Dessert is a given.

Now, this is all fine and good for kids who might eat “something.” But what about kids who won’t eat anything? My daughter is just that kind of kid. Not so much now that she’s older, but when she was little? Oh boy.  She took picky eating to a whole new level. There could have been a buffet in front of her – a veritable feast – and she would decide for whatever reason that she liked none of it and simply would not eat. No, that tastes funny. That’s brown or green or yellow. That’s slimy. It’s got onions in it. I don’t like gravy. Or my all-time favorite, a simplistic “Ewww.”

Or what about the kid who will eat dessert (since that can’t be withheld) and nothing else?  I can easily envision my kids, when they were young, having dessert every night for dinner – if it were available.  Hell, I would too if I had those rules. Come on! Who wouldn’t?

Force feeding kids by making them sit at the table until they eat something doesn’t work either. Been there, done that. On both sides of the table. I remember sitting at the table in an ever-escalating series of “battles of wills” with my mother over some vegetable or another. I recall a particularly long evening spent at the table brought about by Brussels sprouts. It wasn’t fun for me and I can’t imagine that it was a great time for my mother either. I’m sure she had better things to do than deal with my mulish dinner habits. Sorry, Mom. My kids inherited that same stubborn behavior willpower.

My son took it even further. I mean, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? The curse my mother flung at me all those years ago worked. Like gangbusters it worked. I now have kids who act just like I acted. In case I haven’t said it lately, thanks for that, Mom. When my handsome, intelligent, ever-so-charming son was about five or so, he threatened that if I insisted he “eat those stupid peas already,” he would throw them back up. And. He. Did. Ahhh…memories. Hey, he gave fair warning. He still won’t eat peas and the boy is 24 years old.

I suppose we could just live by the old adage “oh, they’ll eat when they’re hungry” as they forego their mid-day and evening meals night after night. Indeed, that’s what this suggested routine seems to be, just done in a nicer way. I imagine the success of such a campaign all depends on the temperament of the child and just how hungry they’re willing to be to prove a point.

The thing is, you can’t force kids to eat. You can’t force them to sleep. It’s the two things really, besides bathroom habits, that they ultimately do have control over. Unless you’re a monster who literally force feeds your kids as they’re tied to a chair. But if you’re a normal human being, you can lead them to the table, but you can’t make them eat.  Threaten, cajole, humor, and beg…but you can’t really MAKE them. They choose to give in, or not. Same with sleep – you can put them to bed and order them to sleep, but only they can really make that happen.

I guess I was never overly finicky about what we had for dinner…I didn’t care if my kids ate hotdogs with mac and cheese while I ate the eggplant parm that I liked. I didn’t mind if we had home-made chicken nuggets (à la Chick-Fi-La, but my own recipe, which is healthier) three times a week. That tuna casserole they both love? Sure! Why not?

It’s different now that I’ve cut out the majority of meat for myself, but hey, the kids are old enough to feed themselves now, so I don’t really care…they’re on their own. But when they were little, I decided after a while that dinner time was simply not a battle I particularly felt like fighting. Of course, this decision might’ve taken place right after the “peas fiasco of 1997,” but it’s a solid decision nonetheless.

I also knew my kids were stubborn assholes strong-willed individuals who would go without food long enough that eventually social services would be called. So, dinner often had a kid-friendly menu in our house. Why deliberately put food on the table that you know someone won’t eat while hoping for the best? I didn’t really see this as catering to them – and still don’t – I view it as a way of enjoying the time we had together at the table. Instead of arguing or long, sullen silences, we had rousing talks about everything under the sun, jokes, and laughter, and joy. And everyone ate. I still make their favorites when we’re all together for a visit. But then, food has always been a big deal in our house, a way of bringing the family together. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not fought over.

I figured – and rightly so – that they would branch out from hot dogs, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and French fries prior to getting to college. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. With the exception of very specific things like peas (go figure), mushrooms, onions, and sushi (can’t blame them there), they eat quite a variety of foodstuffs these days. Truth be told, they’re a lot more adventurous in trying new foods than me, I must say.

I suppose the idea presented in the article would work for some families…I mean hey, it worked for the writer, right? But if it were MY house? I would have had two children with amazingly high blood sugar from all the dessert they were stuffing themselves with and tons of uneaten leftovers cluttering up the fridge.

Hello Karma – Nice to Meet You

The other day my dog, Rufus, took a little spill off the bottom step that goes out my back door. It was such a short distance that I knew right away he was okay. Still, bless his heart, I think he was upset that I didn’t help him up quicker (not from lack of effort on my part, trust me).  Seriously, he fell all of a little bit and even then, he landed on a bag of soft potting soil, you know, the good kind that is mostly air and fluff anyway. I’ll admit, a quickly stifled giggle did escape when I saw him lying there on my gardening supplies gazing up at me with his big, brown eyes. Despite knowing there was just no way he could be hurt, and further knowing that had he wanted to, he could have simply gotten up on his own, I nonetheless dropped my end of the leash that was hooked to his harness and rushed over to placate his pride.

Despite my loving assistance, I guess he was offended by how long it still took me to get there, because he gave me a stricken look me as if to say, “Are you seriously moving that slow? Oh, the betrayal.” I picked him up, brushed him off, snuggled with him, and then he was off doing whatever it is he wanted to do in the yard as if nothing happened. I even gave him an unexpected snack when we went back into the house. No harm, no foul.

Or so I thought.

On Monday, I fell face-first from the TOP step of a 4-step staircase right onto a concrete patio. No rhyme. No reason. No one pushed me. I didn’t trip. My feet just didn’t work. Go figure. I didn’t land on my face, thank the gods that be, but I definitely messed up my hands, wrists, and knees. So yeah. Hello there, karma. Nice to meet you. My bad for not taking Rufus’ misstep a bit more seriously.

I thought the fall was the worst part, but there’s been a ripple effect of delayed pain that’s been even worse. The day after the fall my back decided to get into the game too. Maybe I twisted it funny. Although really, whoever thought it was funny should have their head examined.

To top it all off, guess who was walking around the yard without a care in the world while I was trying (and failing) to get back up on my feet. You guessed it…Rufus. There I am, flailing around on the ground, unable to get up, and after a while, starting to give serious thought to, “Gee, maybe I should just stay outside for today,” and there’s Rufus idly traipsing around, sniffing the grass, and looking for squirrels, leash dragging behind. Not one ounce of concern for his ailing mom, no sir. I’m not going to say I deserved his cold shoulder, but damn, that was a reality check. Thankfully I still had Petra, who stayed glued by my side worried about me and whining. Guess who got a snack that day when we finally made it back in the house!?

There’s always a silver lining, regardless of how bad a situation is. The blessing in all of this was ultimately my laziness. Yes, you read that right. Laziness. You see, all of this happened on Monday. Well, on Sunday, I never finished the laundry, so I was out of shorts. Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me. It was just one of those weekends. So, anyway, even though it was certainly hot enough outside to warrant shorts, I was in fact wearing pants. It was a good thing too or my knees, which took the brunt of the fall, would be scraped to hell in addition to being just swollen. Fun science fact: concrete is hard. Who knew? Another fun fact: old concrete is jagged and crumbly. Even worse.

The lesson I’ve learned here is that laziness is not always a bad thing after all. But not being able to move as fast as The Flash to grab your pet when he missteps to save his pride? That can be a serious problem.

The Man I Knew as Grandpa

I never got the chance to meet my biological grandfather, Arbrie Emil Mills. He was killed when a coal car cut off both his legs when he was working in the mines of West Virginia in 1942. It was the definition of a tragedy. My Grandma Jimmie was pregnant with my Mom at the time and it took my Grandmother many, many years to recover from her loss and move forward. Eventually, Grandma Jimmie did remarry — my mother was married herself and had a family of her own by then. My brother was 7 and I was 5 the year we met the big hulking bear of a man we knew as Grandpa Walker. Everyone called him Clark but his name was Champ. And he was as big as a mountain. He must have really loved my grandmother to plunge headfirst into the craziness that was my family. That, or he was already crazy to begin with.

I can’t say what kind of man Arbrie was since he had passed long before I ever existed, but I can say with certainty that Clark Walker seemed tailor-made for my Grandma Jimmie. My only wish is that they had found each other sooner so my grandmother wouldn’t have been alone for so long. She was a firecracker who loved to argue and thanks to her sharp mind and quick wit, she was good at it. Clark put up with all her quirks and shenanigans — in fact, he seemed to enjoy smoothing her ruffled feathers. The household walked on eggshells — make that quilt-covered eggshells — all morning until she woke up, which was usually around noon. (I tell you what though — looking back on it now as an adult with kids, my Grandma Jimmie spent the better part of her life busting her ass to put food on her family’s table, shoes on her kids’ feet, and did everything she needed to do to keep her family together in the mountains of West Virginia, so if she wanted to sleep till noon later in life, I say, more power to her.)  But, my Grandpa never questioned her need for sleep, never tried to change her routine. He just accepted it as the way things were and put up with it because he knew it made her happy. The sun rose and set around my grandmother as far as Grandpa was concerned.

Need an example? How about this…ever heard of a Jimmy truck? They don’t make them anymore, but they did back in the day. Grandpa bought one of these trucks (in cash!) just because it had my Grandma’s name emblazoned on the back. Well, slightly misspelled, but still. His heart was in it.

Perhaps the clincher that proved just how much he adored my grandmother was the fact that on top of living with her and her persnickety ways, he also lived with my great-grandmother, Grandma Mooney. I’m sure you remember her. Yup, Grandma Mooney of the Vinegar Valentines and the Spooky Charades was in the house as well and she had quite the attitude. She was also a little instigator. No, really!  Nothing pleased her more than starting something between my grandparents and then sitting back to watch the resulting chaos, coffee cup in hand and a smile on her face. In spite of all this, my grandfather took damn good care of her when she got sick later on. All because he loved my grandmother with a love that was fierce.

Grandma Jimmie and Grandpa Walker looking cool

Growing up, I thought Grandpa Walker was IT. I remember he gave me a kitten when I was little that I wasn’t supposed to have. (He gave my brother one too, but my brother was deathly allergic — which made shoving the kittens in his face really, really fun, but I digress.)  We couldn’t take them home of course…thanks Keith, for that. But we enjoyed them each summer.

While I was small, most summers found me by his side, when I wasn’t chasing lizards or looking for crawdads or swinging from grape vines. When I was still a little girl, it might’ve been the first summer I met my grandfather even — so maybe 5 — I remember trying to cut my fried eggs with a fork and knife just like my dad. My dad was amazing with a knife and fork — he could cut anything and everything slick as butter while being quiet as a mouse. It was truly impressive, and I always wanted to be like him. But, I could never come close to being as fast and neat as he was and most of the time I just ended up making a big racket. It was certainly annoying for everyone in the kitchen. So anyway, here I am cutting my fried eggs like a maniac and my father ummm…chastised me, yeah, we’ll go with that, chastised me for making so much noise. And sitting in “my spot” next to my grandfather as I was, he yanked my chair closer to him and told my dad in no uncertain terms to “leave her be and let her cut her eggs however she wants” — which was awe-inspiring really because I was little and my dad was…well DAD. You simply didn’t talk back to him.  Clearly Grandpa didn’t get THAT memo. Or if he did, he didn’t care one bit.

As I’ve written about before, for a part of his life my grandfather drank beer like some people drink soda, or coffee. He basically just drank the stuff all day long. It took an enormous amount (about the size of a silo) to give him a buzz, but eventually he would start feeling the effects, and when he did, he’d get on a musical bent. When this creative urge came across him, out came the banjo which he was really quite good at playing. The tunes he chose? Yeah, well, those started out pretty good too, more on the bluegrass side but that was okay, and then it would slide into gospel, getting faster and zanier the more he drank. Verses would eventually repeat themselves, words would slur or get mixed up. Sometimes it was an outright free-for-all of different songs thrown together as one. What verses he couldn’t remember, he made up on the fly.

I remember my mother made a recording of one of his more off the rails lively sessions and took it to my Aunt Bunny for her to listen to — back when cassette recordings were still the rage. I got so angry because by the end of the impromptu concert they were in tears laughing at his madcap musical antics. I snapped at them over it and ended up paying the price. And of course, looking back on it, it WAS funny…hilarious even. But this was my grandfather they were laughing at! No-one was supposed to be laughing at him!

Hey, he had my back – I had his.

my favorite picture

 

Shoo Fly

I have window air conditioners that blow…and not in a good way.  They work to keep the place tolerable, at least to a point, but the monthly cost to keep from living in a sauna is quite high. So I open my windows at every opportunity, especially on particularly windy days and evenings, like it is here now — a storm having just moved through. The problem IS, is that somewhere, somehow, there must be a hole in a screen or some tiny crevice in a frame where all manner of creepy crawlers and buzzing flyers are gaining entrance. I’ve looked at all the windows and can’t SEE any holes in the screens, but something is amiss, otherwise we wouldn’t be living in a frog’s paradise.

Oh, my cat, Shaylee…she makes short work of the larger creeping critters. Being a good hunter of the bug variety, and apparently having no shortage of an appetite for the little buggers, she has a field day, I must say.  Flies are her favorite. It’s actually quite impressive to watch her in action. Awe inspiring to see someone so dedicated to their craft, truly.

But the smaller bugs, and unfortunately the truly frightening ones — the ones that look prehistoric or as though they’ve somehow mutated due to alien interference — THOSE she has no interest in. Maybe she knows something we don’t.

More often than I care to be doing so, I find myself up on a chair, glass or tissue in hand (we catch as many of them as we can and let them go outside rather than just arbitrarily smooshing them), trying desperately to catch a fast-footed whatchamacallit without it springing into defensive mode or simply losing its grip on the wall and landing on ME.  It’s a sight to behold, I’m sure, and I have no doubt my neighbors must wonder just “what the hell is going on over there with all that noise and screaming??”

Knowing my luck, it’s these very same liberated bugs returning over and over again, ungrateful for their shot at freedom…or as I have often dreamt in nightmarish color, perhaps they are rising up, staunchly determined to stage a coup and take over the house altogether.

 

To Mom, with Love

I’ve apologized and I’ve waxed somewhat poetic and throughout it all, I’ve tried to be completely honest about my hand in the plot to drive my mother insane.

my mother’s look from 1963 on

Oh, she did get me back for some of my shenanigans, although it may have taken a few years…but her curse worked. Worked very well, indeed.

Despite our demonic childish antics — and indeed, those that have continued into our adulthood, my mother has loved us through it all, my brother and me. And you know, I don’t think it’s because she had to. I think she just liked us. Still does, apparently. I can tell. I’m just not sure why.

Motherhood is the only job where your subordinates can do everything in the world to undermine you, yet you still excel in your career…still have a passion for your work…still have pride in your venture. If that’s the case, then my mother deserves some kind of a service award. What will she get on Mother’s Day? Us. She gets us. Maybe cake. Definitely a houseful of love.