I was having a pleasant Sunday breakfast recently with my daughter and new son-in-law at a local restaurant. We had just returned from the buffet table with our plates full of all the pretty colors of breakfast choices. What a delightful morning, I thought, to enjoy an outing with fresh brewed coffee and good food.
Then she became stricken. The air stood still at our booth as her face froze. Her brow was set, nose wrinkled upward and lip curled as she clutched her chest. Her eyeballs were enlarged. I kept on eating.
My son-in-law paled and became instantly concerned as if there were a choking emergency. I could tell that he was new at this. After 23 years of doing hard time with a finicky eater, I knew that this was no emergency. It was just another routine meal when she thought that she had been served arsenic.
I actually think that she was born that way. Thought I never reported it to the LaLeche League at the time, I am probably the only mother of a newborn in captivity whose breast milk was the wrong flavor.
Since she couldn’t articulate the word “no,” for about two years, she had to resort to other food-refusal techniques. She developed teeth as early as possible. They were shaped like a saber-toothed tiger. Luckily, I managed to escape serious injury as I weaned her.
Then she hated her first solid foods. From cupboard to refrigerator, I would carry her around for a complete tour of the kitchen. I sang cheerful melodies about crackers and played airplane-hanger with applesauce. Her little dimpled arm turned into a fly swatter.
“Shall we have this?” I offered cooked carrots.
“Shall we have that?” I went for the peanut butter.
“Or, how about cheese?”
At nine months, I felt that she was ready for her own apartment. But I was brave and kept her around for another 18 years.
At restaurants, she would charm the waitress with normal behavior and big blue eyes. At four years old she would point to the most expensive thing on the menu. Then when her plate came, she would stare at it in horror. I remember whispering threats through clenched teeth across the table that I was going to “SHOVE those green beans down your throat if you don’t pick up that fork NOW!”
Then there was the cereal stage. She thought that the seven food groups meant seven kinds of cereal. And whatever flavor of expensive boxed air with cartoons on the cover currently in the house was exactly the kind that she didn’t want. That same arsenic-stricken look would overcome her as the groceries came in the house.
“Mom,” she was weak with impatience. “I don’t like that kind.” But you ate snap, crackle and pop last week, I reminded her. No, she had a sudden distaste for snap, crackle and pop this week.
Then she would stare blankly into a bulging refrigerator that could hardly be closed because there was so much food. If I rattled off several menus that I planned to cook that week, she became hostile.
She seemed to thrive and grow, however, with a cereal bowl attached to her lower lip. She hardly noticed Thanksgiving dinner on the dining room table while she filled her cereal bowl.
The tough-loving parents, of course, always have the firm answer for the finicky eater. The proud advice begins with “Why, in MY house…” then continues to an air-tight discipline about how their children must eat whatever is put before them. To my older one, this approach worked. I would broadly announce that such-and-such was “on the menu for supper, the next meal is breakfast.” He chose to eat rather than starve until the next day.
She preferred starving. By the time she was in high school, I had given up on including her on the grocery list. She subsisted on hair-care products alone.
By the end of our Sunday morning breakfast, I was helpless with laughter. The waitress finally asked me what was so funny.
“I don’t have to take her home!”