May 15, 2017
There was no thinking involved. It had to be done. It was so simple in execution that it seemed like that was indeed the most appropriate response to the contextual triggers of that moment. It wasn’t like I was sitting there looking at those round crackers hatching my devilish plans.
Everyday, for the last couple weeks or longer, dinner has been like pulling teeth…except the latter is much easier. At least you can get drugs to alleviate the anxiety, stress, and well…possible anger. Feeding one’s kids offers no such intervention.
TJ is now 3-years-old while Teju will soon be 14-months.
Now, he is a really great kid and eats pretty much everything. Lately however, his sweet tooth has gotten the better of him and he lives under the intoxication of muffins and ice-cream, real, or imaginary. If nothing else, he asks for honey or maple syrup. When all of these is turned down, there is a tantrum awaiting the next turn. Unpredictable, however. Sometimes, he shows the maturity of someone much older and accepts that he can’t eat muffins before lunch or dinner. Other times, well…let’s not even go there yet. Okay, let’s.
Things fly. Everywhere. Forks, spoons, placemats, plates, salt-pepper shakers, pot holders, basically anything within reach on the table is fair game. I just sit and watch him. I don’t yell. I don’t scold. I literally just sit there and watch. Sad. I blame myself. I don’t manage my own emotions very well so how can I expect a 3-year-old to know any different. Still, when I absolutely can’t take it, I do scold him.
That’s one thing. The other thing has to do with him just not wanting to eat any of the dinner I make. It’s not like he is full off pre-dinner snacks or unwell. He just doesn’t want to eat.
Two things that have been the biggest triggers of stress for me with the kids, particularly TJ since he was a baby, were (a) naps, and (b) food. I have seen the worst of me (as have visitors) emerge whenever Baby J would refuse to nap which would end with me storming into my room after putting him in his crib, closing his door, and letting him cry it out. So frustrating was this experience that I even asked my Pakistani eyebrow threading lady once about how she handled her kids’ naps when they were younger. She matter-of-factly replied, “हम तो साथ ही सोते थे” (we all slept – napped – together) implying that getting the kids to nap was never a big deal. That was not an option for me.
Food has been another really frustrating experience. Back when TJ was a baby (Baby J), after trying all kinds of creative ways to get him to eat, two strategies won, (a) giving him different objects to distract attention from being fed, (b) letting him watch short music videos short music videos, again, as a form of distraction. I even brought up my frustrations over Baby J not eating with his pediatrician, who in his usual calm demeanor said that kids will never starve themselves and that they would always make up for food one way or the other and it doesn’t all have to be on one day. Doesn’t really help when the kid is throwing food all over the floor or spitting it on me or himself but it did give me a few opportunities to just take a deep breath and feel alright about him not eating. He would make it up somehow, I reasoned.
At 3-years-old, lunches go better because he is allowed to watch videos of his favorite shows. He does forget to eat while watching and has to be constantly reminded to put some food in his mouth but by and large, lunch is his best meal so I can’t complain about that. Dinners, on the other hand, are worse. Every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY. No matter what I make. It could be Rice and Daal, Risotto with Chicken and Mushroom, Grilled Chicken, or Salmon, Pad Thai, or Japanese Curry Rice…it really doesn’t matter. Unless, of course, it is hotdogs…then he just gobbles it down…but often am I going to have him eat hot dogs!!! Those are a rare treat like on Daddy’s birthday or Father’s Day since hotdogs are Aaron’s all time favorite meal.
Then, we have to get creative and use the right incentives or threats. Usually, when it is Indian curries with rice, Papads work as incentives. He really likes them and we are able to bribe him spoonfuls by spoonfuls in exchange for a piece of a papad.
Today, that incentive failed. He stopped eating and refused to be tempted by the Papads too even though I had literally just microwaved a couple small ones for him. Meanwhile, Teju decided that she had, had enough with her food just as things were beginning to get difficult with TJ. She started throwing her green beans on the floor and spitting her fish (Lemon Cod) as well as rice and daal after she had chewed on it convincing me that she had swallowed it too…no amount of distraction (random objects I let her play with while feeding her just like I did with her brother) worked.
I am just so exhausted with the daily negotiations over food…why!!! why….!!! why can’t they just eat?? I was sitting there listening to Aaron negotiate with TJ yet again and the constant back and forth. I guess I should be happy that at 3, my son is already a seasoned negotiator but somehow that wasn’t what I was thinking then.
Having finished my own food and having gotten really annoyed at Teju constantly dropping her food to the floor or spitting it out, I picked up our plates (hers and mine), stood up, grabbed all of the papads that were in front of me and crushed them into a million pieces using both hands…just went for it. Crush..crackle…crunch…and they were unretrievable.
I went straight to the trash can and dumped the plate of papads in there. TJ started bawling and huge tears of unhappiness streamed down his little eyes. He hovered around me and stood by the trash can almost expecting the Papads to magically regain shape. I did not give in.
Eventually, I asked him if he would go back to finishing his dinner. He said yes. Aaron made him a new Papad and we had some quiet as they chatted happily over food as if nothing else had transpired just minutes before. He ate some of his dinner and one piece of a papad and was done.
Meanwhile, I was still stewing in my anger, exhaustion, and frustration.
I understand there is this logic about letting kids respect their appetite and let them learn from their own body’s cues. Failing to do so apparently leads to other complexities like obesity because you never learned to listen to that cue. As a result of having read this a while back, I do often let him get away with not eating much and when he announces he is done, I do a quick mental survey of all that he has eaten that day and either make him eat a few bites more or let him off. It is when he barely touches his food that I get really annoyed.
I try to cook as many times as I can but even on my most exhausted days, we still eat reasonably healthy (except for Pizza). One thing I have refused to do right from when TJ was a baby eating solids was give in to the demands of changing taste buds and whip up foods to satisfy the demands of a child. I make one or two things for the entire family and everyone eats that. More and more now, my rule for TJ is, if you want to eat, eat; if not, you can go to bed hungry. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened yet. He did once eat almost nothing at dinner time but still slept through the night and kept his usual hours…which is my bigger concern when the kids don’t eat.
The underlying reasoning for why I get so high strung and angry even when they don’t eat is because I fear they are going to wake up really early and hungry. This early wakefulness does NOT work for me. I need them in their bed at least until 6:30 a.m..c’mon is that too much to ask!?
Anyways, the trying times continue where neither of the kids eat enough. Enough, by my standards. Now I am not my aunts and grandmothers who would force feed a kid until they threw up, sometimes almost literally; and thankfully, I am not in a culture where a fat child is a healthy child representing her or his parents’ status, wealth, or success. Both my kids are average – they take their father’s side on this and I couldn’t be happier. They are both lean and as far as their growth goes, their pediatrician has already predicted the kids’ adult height and weight based on their current percentiles and the numbers are just fine by me. So there…that’s what I should be telling myself.
It is so darn hard to do that, though. I slave over a dish and present it nicely before the kids only to have it spit out immediately or flung around or chewed some and then spit out. I haven’t started taking it personally yet because the kids are too young to be vicious about it. More importantly, thanks to his dad teaching him and Aaron himself expressing this out loud most of the time, I do get the occasional, “Thank you for making dinner, Mommy” or even the (once), “This is nice food, Mommy” (which of course, he still never ate much of) I guess, these will just have to be enough for now.