Published on October 7th, 2014 | by Richard Black0
“What is the Sound of My Four Year Old Eating Dinner?” and Other Unanswerable Questions of the Ages
What is the sound of a four year old eating dinner? This isn’t a rhetorical question by the way. I’m genuinely curious as I really have no idea. By my best guess my daughter hasn’t eaten dinner in about two years.
For all intents and purposes the question has no answer and is in the same vein as other unanswerables like “what is the sound of one hand clapping” the more pedestrian “if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?” and the lesser known but still pertinent “does blue cheese ever go bad?”. Don’t get me wrong these questions are all well and good when one is meditating to catch a fleeting glimpse of a glimpse of the underpinnings of reality. As far as producing results of a more tangible and measurable nature I’ve discovered that questions of this nature are remarkably lacking when it comes to producing a tangible outcome.
There’s a reason Buddhist monks, or monks of any persuasion, don’t have children and I’m fairly certain that feeding them has a significant part to play in the decision. Meditating on the futility of a particular endeavor is quite different from attempting to take part in the same futile endeavor. Those monks who set themselves on fire? They probably had children my daughter’s age who wouldn’t eat anything other than chicken sausage and strawberries which I hear are pretty hard to come by in Tibet and must have had, at least, some small part to play in their decision to self immolate.
Dinner with my daughter consists of a lot of pleading, screaming, pouting and just about any activity other than the consumption of food. It’s a truly magical event and one I hope everyone has the pleasure of experiencing at least once in their lives.
For the past three years my wife and I have taken the advice of the many experts who believe that parents of picky eaters should essentially plop down a plate of food in front of their kids, over and over, until they finally eat for some reason which I have yet to understand. It’s not the same plate of food by the way that shows up night after night. Apparently the theory is based on the belief that the more times broccoli, or ham or a pig knuckle is presented to the child the more likely she will be to eat said piece of broccoli, ham or pig knuckle. There is also, presumably, a lot of hopeful thinking involved as well.
Don’t get me wrong it’s great advice. I’ll bet it even works from time to time. Personally I’ve found it to be somewhat lacking as my daughter can happily subsist on two pieces of toast and a glass of milk for 24 hours.
Shortly after her birth Darcy’s palate began to shrink. I didn’t think it was possible but somehow it happened and my daughter began to satisfy all of her nutritional requirements through means I have yet to determine but most likely involves a form of photosynthesis yet to be discovered by science.
Typically I’d attribute Darcy’s limited palate to my own failings. I’m a fairly unadventurous eater and always have been. My wife, however, used to eat anything that showed up in front of her on a plate that wasn’t noticeably spoiled or making a run for the door. There isn’t a family reunion that goes by when I don’t hear about how Laura used to Hoover up pickled herring, cocktail onions, the occasional cigarette butt and other inedibles when she was six.
Fortunately for my emotional well being I’ve recently remembered that even Laura has her issues with food. Processed meats are first and foremost on the list of foodstuffs that prompt a swift and thorough gag reflex from my wife. Oysters are a close second and anything involving organs an even closer third.
Laura’s brother is even worse as far as eating habits are concerned. As a child he ate nothing, literally nothing, but plain hamburgers until he was in high school and even then he was only able to stomach cheese pizza. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a profound sense of relief once I remembered that my daughter’s gastrodisinclination (copyright forthcoming) might not be entirely due to my genetic line. It’s a small thing but it really is nice to finally attribute one of my daughter’s few shortcomings to someone other than myself.
Given our daughter’s genetic gastrodisinclination (again copyright forthcoming) Laura and I decided to make a stand. A few weeks ago, on one fateful and ill conceived evening, we decided that Darcy would eat her dinner or wake up the next morning to have the same meal for breakfast, lunch and, if need be, dinner the next evening.
In hindsight we should have had a longer timeline.
If I were a brighter man or maybe one with a little more sleep under my belt I would have recalled the a similar experience in which I took part many years ago in a galaxy far, far away also known as Indiana.
The year was 1988. I was 14 and my stepmother had cooked up some sort of vile concoction for dinner that I had finally refused to eat. If memory serves it was curry or whatever one makes a curry out of in small town Indiana during the 1980’s. I’d choked down a lot of meals that weren’t to my liking until that fateful dinner. In all fairness I grew up in a big family, my stepmother and father both worked full time jobs and money was scarce. Still I hated the vast majority of what I had to eat.
Tuna noodle shoestring salad, a combination of canned tuna, raisins, shredded carrots, shoestring potatoes and mayonnaise was a regular feature on the menu. Soggy bean burritos consisting of nothing but pinto beans, rice and avocado was another. Most dreaded of all however was “Curry Night”.
I can’t say why I took a stand at curry but I did and after refusing to eat a single bite I sat at the table for five or six hours until my father told me that it was time to go to bed. I was given the “Curry” for breakfast the next day and again at dinner the next night at which point I realized that I was in it for the long haul.
It was around the third or fourth day (I’m not sure about as things got a bit hazy) that the “curry” began to look a lot less like anything even remotely edible and more like something a Hazmat team should be called in to remove at the scene of a really nasty industrial accident. Time had not made the dish more appealing which I now understand wasn’t the purpose of the exercise. It was about will.
As the weekend came around I realized that I’d have to come up with a backup plan that didn’t involve begging for pizza crusts during lunch at school. My solution wasn’t elegant or even all that well thought out but I figured that if the situation didn’t conclude to my liking that I’d stop drinking liquid.
By my best guess around Sunday or so I’d be so dehydrated that I wouldn’t be able to get get out of bed. My father would (hopefully) be forced to call an ambulance that would ferry me off to the local hospital. I’d be hooked up to an IV to meet my nutritional needs long enough to let the “curry” decompose into something thoroughly inedible and return home, greatly weakened and begrudgingly admired for my ability to stick to my guns.
Fortunately it never came to that and “Currygate” came to a quick and innocuous end. Around midnight on day four or five, just before the weekend hit, my father pleaded for me to take “just one bite” and in my weakened and malnourished state I did.
I placed a few tines of my fork into the most foul concoction known to man, raised the utensil to my mouth while I said a quick prayer to the patron saint of gastrointestinal health and swallowed. That night I was rushed to an emergency room and spent the next three months in a rural hospital and lost a significant portion of my bowel but it was worth it, at least that’s what my father maintains.
The fact is that when I swallowed my pride and a small amount of “curry” it was a token gesture and one that allowed the two of us to salvage some modicum of pride. I’m not sure exactly how the old man handled the situation with his wife but I believe that he tossed the remains of the meal (a truly appropriate term if there ever was one) into the backyard where it fermented and provided the racoons with a nice buzz once it became slightly less toxic.
My attempt to force a lamb chop on my daughter ended in a remarkably similar fashion. Fate is something of an ironic and, I might add a bit of, a motherfucker that way.
Darcy didn’t wail and scream as much as I did so many years ago. She did refuse to eat after sitting at the table for a good three hours and again I presented the meal to to her at breakfast, lunch and dinner the next day. By my best calculation my four year old daughter went without any nourishment other than a few vanilla wafers at school for 24 hours. It’s hard not to be impressed with that sort of will. It’s also hard not to be a bit concerned with its implications.
That night, as I sat at the table with my daughter during the second round of watching her not eat a lamb chop, I became fairly certain that this is how many young women begin a lifetime of anorexia. I could even imagine the scenario as Darcy was with her therapist, an unfulfilled father of four married to a shrew of a wife, both deeply yearning for some meaning in their pathetic and caustic lives.
Darcy would describe in detail how I’d made her eat two cold lamb chops for dinner and, through no fault of his own, the shrink would be smitten by my daughter and invite her over for dinner and a threesome with his disenchanted wife in a desperate attempt to salvage the remains of his marriage.
Hopefully I was able to head things off before setting my daughter on the path to polyamory with an older man, not that there’s anything wrong with that,as long as everyone wears at least three condoms.
“Lambchopgate” ended in much the same way “Currygate” concluded twenty five years ago. After serving my daughter the same pathetic pair of lamb chops for two days in a row I broke down and pleaded with her to “please just take a bite.” I’d be lying if I didn’t feel like a dealer trying to hook my daughter on something.
“Try it you’ll really like it kid. I’ve got a real fresh piece of lamb I think you’d really like,” I could hear myself or some dealer selling heroin or crystal meth saying.
She took a meager bite, one that wouldn’t have fed an Ethiopian gnat for more than five seconds but it was enough, a token gesture and one that my father took so many years ago. Laura came home a few hours later and, after I fed her a bottle of wine, we discussed a “taste one of everything” approach to meals and one I’m sad to say applies to everyone, myself included.
I’m not all that excited about eating most of the meals I cook but the prospect of going to bed at 8:00 in the evening without dinner is really quite exciting. I could afford to lose some weight to be honest and am almost orgasmic at the thought of having ten hours of sleep. I’m even willing to forgo a few stories at bedtime and, if need be, I can always try to grab something eat in the middle of the night once Laura goes to bed and I’ve got the munchies.
A few years down the road there might be some initial awkwardness if the policy stays in place. Laura sleeps like a rock but my daughter has been known to wake up in the middle of the night and tool around the house. I could be wrong but if the “taste one of everything” rule remains in force for another ten years I expect to meet Darcy rooting around the pantry around 2:00 some morning while I’m on my way to the kitchen to whip up a fried egg sandwich.
There would be an awkward moment. Darcy’s an incredible narc and I can’t keep a secret from my wife to save my life but I imagine we’d ignore those issue for the sake of our health. I’d offer to fry up Darcy a few eggs, she’d decline for a bag of Doritos I’d hidden away somewhere behind the quinoa and we’d both scarf down our food as quietly as possible before returning to bed with full bellies.