Friday, March 07, 2008


My parents were weird about food, possibly because they never got enough of it as kids. My mother (and the rest of her relations) believed as a matter of faith that any child who failed to finish a meal was doomed to die of starvation. My father as ardently believed that a child should eat a well-balanced meal containing the proper nutrients. As it happened, he had a book by an expert which contained the details of a proper diet. At the top of the list was milk.

Drinking a quart of milk a day, as advised by the book, was a non-starter in my household, because my mother kept kosher. Also, I didn't like milk and still don't. So dad concentrated all his milk drinking energies on the breakfast table, where I was enjoined to down 8 oz of the nasty white stuff.

I should mention here that I was the kind of child who, as an infant, held my breath until I passed out. In short, very fond of my own way. And as much as I didn't like milk, I so much more didn't like it in the morning when I was nervous and anxious about going to school and facing the rigors of the first grade.

So, having imbibed the stuff, I rode to school in the family car with the milk lurching around in my stomach and threatening to come out every time we hit a pothole. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't.

Other foods triggered different battles: I remember sitting at the table staring at my dinner until bedtime on more than one occasion. There were lots of things I didn't like--anything with mayonnaise in it, anything with fat in it, anything floating in soup--the list is endless. Fortunately, I outgrew this and can eat anything, and do.

By the time my brother was a toddler, my father was out of the picture, so the scenario was different. He was a spindly little guy, not thin, but not fat either. Mother would heap his plate with about 2,200 calories and then worry if he didn't finish every bite. If he left any food on his plate, she took him to the drive-in and bought him chocolate shakes and French fries. This continued until he was 5'8" and weighed 220. Then he had to lose the weight.

He told me that his feet hurt all the time when he was fat; he thought it was normal and was surprised that when he lost weight his feet stopped hurting.

The result for me was that I refused to cram anything down my children's throats. I trained myself not to notice whether they had finished their meals or not. I am proud to say that they actually lived to grow up and did not starve to death.

Now a new generation has picked up the gauntlet. My daughter negotiates with her 6-year-old about every bite of food, making mealtime discussions rather monotonous. The kid, who is smarter than I ever was, considers her nagging as so much white noise and ignores her, thus sparing his sanity. But he still has to finish three bites before he can have dessert.

1 comment:

dick stanley said...

We do that too. No eat, no desert. And eat means main course, vegetables and garden salad. I feel guilty sometimes. I remember my sister and I being forced to sit at table with our unfrozen mixed vegetables until dad left the room. Then we secreted the stuff in an empty drawer in the china cabinet. Only we forgot to come back and throw it away and we got caught. I still hate mixed vegetables.