This is how getting a toddler to eat goes.
You carefully consider the meal choice. You don’t want anything too fussy. With too much chopping. You need to include lots of veg of varying colours. That’s the healthy thing to do, right? You must dig to the very depths of the freezer at turd’o’clock to ensure that the necessary items are defrosted in time. You settle on spaghetti and meatballs. Who doesn’t like that? It’s quick, it’s tasty, you can hide some nutritious type food products in the sauce. And Mummy gets to eat garlic bread.
You contend with the ‘helper’ with gritted teeth. The simple act of chopping an onion becomes full blown culinary warfare. There’s no distraction tip in the world that will shift the toddler from around your ankles so that you can approach the work top. It’s finally cooking, the meatballs are on the heat. Two toilet runs, a spilled drink, a story and two DVD changes later and they’re cemented to the bottom of the ‘non stick’ pan.
Once the ingredients have been almost literally thrown together, it’s time for the precious, life changingly important act of sitting to the table together. If you don’t do this, your kid will grow up to smoke crack. You must get this bit right. You seat the toddler, whose future hangs in the balance at this point, and return to the kitchen for the plates. A maids trolley would come in handy here, with a seat on the back for the offspring. At least then you could get the two vital components of this meal to the table at the same time. She’s not there upon return. As the once ‘blow it, it’s hot’ meal slowly cools to a ‘could have done with a quick ping’ temperature, you wrestle the child back into any one of the four possible seats. A game of musical chairs ensues. But finally, the breaking of bread can begin.
Now, I’ve shortened the following events into a concise list. For the full effect of the actual time taken to complete these tasks, read in your best ‘Dory’s Whale Voice’ impression, approximately one word every three seconds.
~ Roll up child’s sleeves, twice. Potentially clip back hair to minimise the bathing aftermath, depending on fringe length.
~ Load a fork. Unload and load the spoon. Unload and chop it smaller. Load on fork (that you’ve sent out a search party to find amongst the previously edible debris on the very recently cleaned floor) and watch with eyes wide in horror as toddler misses her mouth.
~ Endure several rounds of the ridiculous aeroplane game that you swore blind you’d never reduce yourself to. And the train game. Basically insert any mode of transportation you’d like, you’ll exhaust them all.
~ Play dinner plate switcheroo. Why just eat your meal when you can sample them all?
~ Pick out all the mushrooms to avoid the mother of all hissy fits. (Keep in mind that your dinner is rapidly becoming room temp.) Put them back. Pick out all the peppers. Then put them all back. Pick out all the *green* peppers. Pile all these slippery, half chewed, cold items on the side of your own plate.
~ View every carefully deployed tactic to avoid eating anything of sustenance. Nose picking, show and tell, the top ten run down of CBeebies theme tunes.
~ Fetch drinks, new cutlery, more pasta, a cardigan, squeeze in a toilet run.
And then, somewhere within the chaos, you realise, the meal has been eaten. The goal has been achieved. The high five playing out in your head is one of the greatest ever witnessed by yourself. Thank you Lord. The gargantuan hurdle of the day has been overcome, and until darkness falls and the monumental task of ‘Sleep, Child, Sleep‘ begins, you can breathe out.
The tidy up operation is intense. You’ll never get that tomato sauce orangey tinge off of the table cloth, however ‘wipe clean’ it claims to be. Unless you adorn the child with a shower cap, there’s no amount of sweeping back that will avoid the hair chunks. The face is flannelled, the floor is swept (is spaghetti coated in No More Nails?), the dishes washed up, along with the four cups, seven spoons and plastic sea horse that was dressed in slices of aubergine.
Parenting is very much about reflection. You balls it up, realise you have and then try to come up with ways to balls it up less the next day. What could you have done differently in this scenario? Less sauce? Cooked the meal whilst she slept instead of watching Dawson’s Creek in bed? Fixed her to the chair with cable ties? You hatch a plan to dice the vegetables smaller next time, have the full armoury of cutlery already on the table to avoid completing a half marathon while you eat. Would classical music playing softly have the desired calming effect? A new placemat? Her own pretend cooker so she can play chef while you prep? Maybe she’ll grow out if it? Bribery? Blackmail?
And then as you lie awake in bed, mentally and physically drained, and yet wired at the same time, it comes to you.
Fuck it, tomorrow we’re having fish fingers.