I look at the mess and think, A pile of slop. But he’s eating it. He actually seems to like it.
I became a father at the age of 40. My son, Nolan, is approaching his second birthday. Despite my age and two years’ experience, right now I’m miserably failing at feeding him lunch, and he’s fixated on the TV. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich and soup I should have made him has been replaced by a mess consisting of last night’s bean dip, chips, chopped meatballs, and half a graham cracker. Bright yellow cheese, brown beans, white sour cream, dark meat, blue chips, and a golden cracker.
I am contemplating my failure. “It looks like Barney the Dinosaur threw up on your tray, son.” I know children were designed to break every rearing plan a parent has, but this is ridiculous. This is an epic parenting failure.
I told myself I wouldn’t have my children watching TV so much, I think to myself. Another vow broken. And this mess… Kerrie will not be pleased if she sees him eating this. I hope he finishes before she wakes up. A door creaks and the dogs yap a little. Aw, crap. I better start planning my excuses.
“I can explain this,” I tell my wife before she even utters a word. She’s watching Nolan shove the slop into his mouth with both hands while he stares at SpongeBob and Patrick. He’s barely noticed his mother has woken from her nap. She turns to look at me.
“You see, at 11:30 he started pointing at the cake that your mother gave us on Christmas. So I gave him a few little bits of it. But he kept wanting more, and I figured that it wasn’t best to give him nothing but cake if he wanted a snack. So I thought I’d give him a graham cracker to tide him over until lunch, and I put him on your chair and pulled him up to the table. When I turned around I saw he ate the graham cracker, so I gave him a few more, but then I saw he had actually been throwing them to the dogs.” I point at the dogs to implicate them as well. I will not be held liable for this on my own. “He was throwing things, so to distract him I turned on SpongeBob. But then there were crumbs all over the table, so I put him in his high chair with the tray. But he threw more graham crackers and kept pointing back at the cake.”
A smile creaks across Kerrie’s face. Is that a smile? No… I think it’s schadenfreude. Just keep talking, Matt.
“But I couldn’t keep giving him cake because that’s not good for him, and it was still almost an hour until lunch, so I thought I’d heat up a meatball for him. But I put it in the microwave too long and it was too hot, so I mashed up the hot one with two cold ones and gave that to him, but he started throwing that to the dogs, too.” I point at the dogs again. This is just as much their fault as it is mine. “So before he threw everything on the floor I ran back to the fridge and pulled out the bean dip from last night and put it on his tray with some chips, but I put on too many chips so I needed more bean dip, and then I needed more chips, and then more bean dip, and soon I had too much. And I figured the meatballs shouldn’t go to waste, so I mashed it all up in there.”
In desperation I pick a chip off of Nolan’s tray, scoop up some of the slop, and eat it with a smile. “Mmmm… it’s actually pretty good.” Kerrie’s face turns sour as she contemplates how much of the dirt and spittle on her son’s hands are now being consumed by her husband. In all this ruckus I forgot to wash his hands.
“There’s beans, and cheese… and, uh, sour cream… and meatballs. Yeah, the chips aren’t too good, but there’s lots of dairy and protein and calcium and iron. It’s good for him!” I scoop up some more and throw it in my mouth. There’s certainly enough for both the boy and his father. “And he’s eating it! It’s yummy, isn’t it, Nolan?” Nolan doesn’t care, he’s watching SpongeBob. “And look, he’s been sitting here quiet for the last hour, too!”
Kerrie looks at her son and sees he’s happy eating a nutritious, albeit unconventional, lunch. She leaves the room, and when it’s all clear I turn to my little boy.
“Whew, that was a close one, son,” I tell Nolan. I keep talking to him, even though he’s not paying attention.
“So much for lunch. I wonder if my mom had these days. All of this detailed planning about what I’m going to do to raise you, and you still do what you want. Like the TV. Your mom and I said no TV because it’s how we were raised. But we didn’t have a dozen channels of educational TV. We just had five channels, and crap was on all of it. So is TV bad, or is it good now? Or is it watching too much TV that’s bad, and not reading enough books? And are these iPads and iPhones bad, just because we didn’t have them when we were growing up? Your grandmother used to tell me about how bad summers were before air conditioning, and how terrified they were of polio. So maybe not everything that’s new is bad? Gosh, I don’t know what to do anymore. I couldn’t even fix lunch right.”
Finally, Nolan turns to look at me, smiles widely, and continues to quietly shove the slop with both hands into his mouth before returning his gaze to the screen on the wall. I see the smile, look at the slop, and realize something.
“Yeah, maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s not about my plans. Maybe it’s just about you being healthy and happy.”
Written by Matt Haarington, MPH
SJS Staff Writer
Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment