I feel exactly like the woman in the picture above.
I’m not sure how I’ve reached this point. But, after the daily, relentless slog that is mealtimes, I’m close to giving up. Except apparently, I’m not allowed to.
“Can’t I just not feed them?” I asked Tom, my husband, the other day, as I scraped a bowl of uneaten noodles into the bin. “No. I think that’s called neglect.” He replied.
But I feel like rebelling, because everything I try isn’t working – and I’m exhausted having to make this daily effort. All I wish for is stress-free harmonious mealtimes when I can cook something other than pasta pesto, fish-fingers, pizza or sausages without my kids revolting. I’m not one of these supermums who wants to cook two evening meals – one for kids and then one for adults – I want us all to eat the same stuff to make life easy: but it’s not that easy, is it?
It’s not just that they won’t eat the food (which they might not unless it’s anything other than the magic 4 above), it’s that they have other quirks… like, sometimes Rafferty won’t eat unless he can sprinkle paprika all over his meal (each to their own), or he’ll only eat if all his food is in a tortilla wrap.
Fox meanwhile refuses – through the medium of screaming – to sit in a highchair or wear a bib. He’ll only sit on a normal chair, but at 20 months old he is too small, so he can’t see over his bowl and ends up pouring his meal all over him. Or, like the other day, Fox would ONLY sit in the chair that Rafferty was sitting in WHILE Rafferty was in it. Cue two kids in one chair, Fox gayly throwing 50% of his rice over them both while Rafferty complains he’s getting jabbed in the ribs.
Sometimes, mealtimes will go beautifully, with us sitting in harmony, munching happily while jigging shoulders to 6 Music. These moments I cherish. But often it’s when I’ve served up something like sausages and cheap frozen waffles. They love it.
If I cook anything more adventurous, mealtimes might end with half eaten food, a child in tears or me close to tears as I stare at the chaotic kitchen and realise now I have to clear it all up. The other day, I actually muttered the words, “I don’t know why I bother. Why don’t you just feed yourselves?”
Their favourite thing in the world is to eat pizza at their little table in front of the TV. But something tells me I shouldn’t do that every night: guilt sets in. It’s not that I’m worried about their health; they both snack on raw carrots, cucumber and fruit throughout the day. They’ll eat broccoli if we pretend its trees. And, Raff is happy to eat frozen peas – uncooked – until the cows come home.
It’s just that I want mealtimes to be enjoyable again. For them and me. But mostly me.
So, I persevere – cooking things like sweet potato chips, roasted vegetable lasagne, spaghetti bolognese, satay noodles.. things that I reason they’ll like. But I’m often rewarded with a look of disdain, and a ‘What’s that??‘ from Rafferty, before he asks for pasta pesto AGAIN. Fox can’t talk, so he does silent protest at best, or squeals until he is let down from the table.
Tom, who has an annoying knack for getting them to eat (I think because he doesn’t do it every day, and also he is a pretty good cook – grrr), says things like, “Rafferty will always eat if he helps you cook it.” Of course, when Tom swoops in and cooks a chickpea curry or a roast chicken, the whole family seems to enjoy it. If ONLY he did that EVERY night!
So I try it. I buy loads of fresh ingredients and make a big show of making homemade pesto with Raff, and we have a lovely time swizzing up the basil, pecorino, olive oil etc in the MagiMix. It is bright green and vibrant, and looks like its come from a deli when we put it all in a mason jar. Except when I put it on pasta that evening, he doesn’t want to eat it. “It doesn’t taste like the one we usually have,” he grimaces.
Ditto the batch of falafel we make the following week. Raff LOVES the mushing up of the falafel mix, and rolling it into balls, but once I’ve cooked them, he looks at them with disdain: “What’s that?? They don’t look like falafel!” He cries, incredulously. Cue a stand off: me insistent he try them, he resolute that he won’t, him going to bed sans food and me downing a HUGE glass of wine.
You see, I don’t want to be this mother. Who is clearing away after an evening meal, begrudgingly wondering ‘WHAT IS THE POINT?!?’ I also don’t want to give them crap to eat every evening. You see my predicament.
Sweet things of course are never any trouble. The other day we made those healthy brownies with sweet potato and cacao powder: the boys loved them. And at some mealtimes I offset their lack of appetite for the meal, by letting them overdose on yoghurt tubes so that I know they’ll be weighted-down enough for a good night’s sleep.
I remember as a child my parents would make me stay at the table after everyone was finished so I would eat my peas (yuck), but right now my kids are too young for this tactic. Or maybe I shouldn’t care so much; my mum loves to tell the story of the French holiday when I was two and I refused to eat anything but baguettes for two weeks. I turned out okay. Or there’s the fact that my brother-in-law only wanted to eat pasta, chicken, broccoli and bowls of cereal growing up… and now he’s a super-healthy 17-year-old sports ace. My boys will probably turn out okay, too.
But… I long for the days I can whizz up a nice little meal for myself. Like I used to: a Greek salad, or melted goats cheese and walnut salad, or garlic prawns and rocket, or something else light, and fresh, and healthy. Something that didn’t have to be kid-friendly, or even, weighty enough for my husband who once declared ‘salads aren’t dinner.’
I may have called this blogzine Selfish Mother but I am as yet to sod the whole household and cook a meal just for myself. What would happen if I did?
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