I’m having visions of Felicity Huffman (a.k.a. Lynette Scavo) circa season 1 of Desperate Housewives. Her expression following an assault of pureed food courtesy of the youngest addition to her brood. That moment is my life, every, single, day. Why do all young children seemingly have an inherent abhorrence to food (with the exception of course being junk)?
My parents remind me that between ages 1-4, I survived on peanut butter and jam sandwiches, bolstered occasionally by mashed banana and yoghurt. So what is this? Payback? With a damp spot on my pyjama bottoms a visible reminder of the stewed apple and yoghurt concoction I had unceremoniously dumped on my leg just minutes earlier, I find myself needing to exhale the pent-up tension I cleverly concealed behind unconditional love for my daughter. It is because I love her more than anything on this earth that I persist so doggedly in my pursuit of filling her with nutritious homemade goodness.
The statement: “She’ll eat if she’s hungry” is repeated to me frequently by wise members of the older generation. Every time I hear it, I want to scream. Guess what, she is hungry but she’ll be damned if she’ll eat anything I’m offering unless I strap her into her booster and patiently encourage her to open up. And once I think I have a method cracked to solve my mealtime melodramas, it becomes ineffective. From roaring like a dine-soar, to lining up her Peppa Pig characters along the table and offering them each a mouthful of whatever I’m serving up that day; I’ve tried every trick in the book.
And as much as my dutiful husband attempts to take the stress away come the weekend, our toddler’s consistent reluctance and anti-eating strategies do not waver in the face of a newcomer. If anything, she plays us off against the other. Entrapping my husband with her ever so seductive withholding dance as he waves a plastic spoon in front of her, the minute I step in she suddenly becomes perfectly cooperative. Leading her father to eye me suspiciously, as if to say: “You’re totally making it all up.”
Is this what unconditional love is? Being pushed to your ultimate limits just to see how far they can push you before you’ll push them away? Even as I cried over the sink this evening thinking about the upturned stewed apple on my living room carpet, I realised that nothing my daughter could do could ever make me turn away from her. As much as anger and frustration well up in me during those moments, I keep schtum, take deep breaths and keep going. Because soon it will all be over and instead of raised voices and angry faces, I want my daughter to know that no matter how far she pushes me, I’m staying put. With a smile on my face.