When I thought about parenting and how I would parent, I was very clear on one point: I would not be the type of mother who is constantly hovering over her child trying to get her to eat things. If my kid didn’t want to eat, fine, they could go hungry. I wasn’t doing that.
So of course, I now spend all my time trying to trick or force Edith into swallowing some sort of nutrition. I’ve mentioned this before, but the piece I hadn’t put together as a non-parent was that if they don’t eat, they don’t stay asleep. And while I might be indifferent to Edith’s palette, I am not at all indifferent to getting a full night’s sleep.
Edith eats like an emperor, which is to say like an asshole. She will eat if the following two conditions are met: (1) she is ravenous, and (2) she is presented with something she especially likes. If only one or the other of those things is true, she will refuse food. I don’t know if it’s possible for a 16-month-old to feel contempt, but her refusal of food is, well, contemptuous. She refuses it in one of two ways: she will either gently raise one of her hands to airily and firmly push it away from her, or she will fling it impatiently onto the floor. Whenever I put a vegetable on her tray, she immediately picks it up and hands it back to me, without even making eye contact with me. Her dismissal of any food she does not want is so conclusive and condescending that it makes me feel like an underling. When there is something she will not be eating, she is insistent about handing it to me or flinging it, because she does not even want it on her tray. It’s like she’s offended by its mere presence adjacent to her more desirable food. If she’s especially done, she will use both hands to very rapidly toss everything on her tray behind her underhand, the way a dog digs in the dirt — this move is so rapid and unexpected, I’m rarely able to interrupt it.
“Just consider it for a moment,” I will tell her, handing back, say, a chunk of sweet potato she has immediately returned. “You don’t have to eat it, just sit with it there, and see how you feel. If you would only try it, I think you would actually— well, now it’s on the ceiling. That is my fault, you clearly said you didn’t want it, and I didn’t listen.”
This all feels like a real trial for me; it’s endless and boring, and I don’t even care what she eats, really — if she would only stick to what she likes, that’d be fine, but what she can’t get enough of one day, she acts affronted by a week later, so I have to prep like six mini-dinners every night to ensure that I have something that will catch her fancy. The only time I really get upset about it, though, is when I am on my hands and knees wiping up whatever dinner she has flung onto the floor, and she flings more food down on top of my head which has happened more than once. In those moments, I begin to feel like a real doormat.
Meanwhile, all of this only applies to meals with me — when Edith’s nanny is here, Edith’s appetite is voracious and her tastes adventurous; I hear a great deal about what a terrific eater she is for her age. It’s difficult not to take this personally.