Emma is a horrible eater. I swear it’s not my fault. When she was a baby, I introduced her to all the foods that a child should eat. Fruits, vegetables, and Ho-Ho’s (okay, well maybe not the Ho-Ho’s). I think they were actually Swiss Cake Rolls, which are better anyway. Seriously though, I fed her meats, cheese, cereal, and other “normal” food. One day she just decided that it all tasted like boiled shoes. She just stopped eating.
As parents…we panicked. Of course we were certain that she would starve to death. We offered her everything. Our pediatrician told us not to worry about it, because it was just a phase and that she’d eat when she was hungry. We finally went with the old standby that parents all over the world turn to when their children won’t eat: McDonalds.
Turned out that Emma loved Chicken McNuggets. It also turned out that she decided that it was the only food she would eat, along with strawberry Nutrigrain Bars which she lovingly called “Cakes.” We tried everything to get her to eat something different. We bargained, we plead, we scolded, we threatened, I cried, she didn’t care. We were parenting failures. Every night when I picked her up from preschool and asked what she wanted for dinner she would crow “Chicken and fries!” Which was what she called a McNugget Happy Meal. I knew that we were feeding her far too much McDonald’s food when I pulled into the drive-thru and the girl said “We missed you yesterday!” over the speaker. The other indication was that there were Happy Meal toys all over the house at about an ankle-deep level. I was sure that I would be reported to the authorities or that this would appear on my permanent record. One day I asked her if she’d try a hamburger instead. She replied “No, they make me itch.”
In preschool, she was required to eat what they had for lunch and she usually refused all of it. They had great kid food like pizza, grilled cheese, and fish sticks. One night I picked her up and noted on her daily sheet that she had eaten bologna for lunch! When I asked her about it, she proudly told me that YES she had bologna for lunch. I was skeptical. I had tried to feed her bologna and it got the usual presidential veto from her. If I even went by the lunch meat aisle in the grocery store, she would shudder because it was “icky food.” So I decided that a quiz was in order.
“So Em, what color is bologna?”
“I took it off the bread.”
“But what color is it?”
“Honey if the bologna is blue, you shouldn’t eat it.”
“It was RED!”
“Bologna should be pink … like your hand.”
“Is bologna made from hands?”
“Maybe I didn’t eat any bologna today.”
And I drove her to McDonalds, because if she’d really eaten blue bologna she deserved something that she liked and if she hadn’t eaten bologna of any color I was sure she was starving.
Her fussiness about food was costing me a lot of cash. So I turned to subterfuge. I saved a Happy Meal container and the nuggets box and fry bag. I cooked nuggets from the grocery store and some shoestring fries and when I called her for dinner she took one look at it and said “Mom.” I assured her it was from McDonalds. She rolled her eyes and went back to her room.
My brother decided that he would have a boot camp at his house where he would break her of her eating habits. He called it “Three Days to Salmon” and guaranteed me that she would be a better eater by the time she came home. Emma overheard his plans and began to scream every time she saw him.
The list of foods that she would eat eventually began to include things like fish sticks, grilled cheese and pizza—but only specific kinds. If you tried to slip a different brand by her, she would nail you every time. Someone told her that salt made everything taste better so she started salting everything.
“Em! What do you want for dinner?”
“Grilled cheese with extra salt!”
As if the cheese wasn’t already loaded with sodium. I kept waiting for someone to show up at the door with an official badge who would say “You’re feeding your child salted grilled cheese. Come with me, Ma’am.” And I would be taken away in the back of a nondescript car to some sort of internment camp for mothers who don’t know how to feed their children.
This summer, Emma is staying with her father. He messaged me the other night and told me that he had big news. Emma had eaten BBQ’d ribs. That’s great, I thought, now I’m going to be cooking ribs every night. She called me later.
“Mom? Guess wha-at? DINNER.”
“Really, what about dinner?”
“I ate RIBS with SAUCE on them and home-made french fries without the skin … oh and corn, but I threw it up.”
“Emma! Well, I’m proud of you for eating the ribs and fries…but what happened with the corn?”
“It felt funny in my mouth. It just sort of popped back out”
Last night she told me that she had tried spaghetti. I was thrilled! Something normal! And then she burst my food bubble. “But it was terrible. How do you guys eat that stuff?”
I have a feeling that the girls at the McDonald’s drive thru will continue to see far too much of me. I used to try to disguise my voice and would wear sunglasses or a hat so they wouldn’t recognize me. The hell with it. I think this year we’ll just exchange Christmas gifts.