Let me tell you a little bit about the worst part of my day. The part of my day that requires every drop of patience squeezed out of my over-tired, under-caffeinated brain. The part of my day that ends in tears (mine) at least once a week, and sometimes more. The part of my day that makes me dream about being a twenty two year old Idiot again (no judgment, except towards my own idiotic younger self) with infinite freedom. Let me tell you about MEAL TIMES WITH MY TODDLER. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (and Snack) are the new battle ground in the Martino Household. They are the chink in my armor that Marlowe has discovered to extend her cute little sticky pointer finger and “Boop! Beep! Beep!” right in to Mama’s proverbial Buttons. Let me preface this by reminding you that my daughter used to be Easy Eater Extraordinaire. It was so easy and enjoyable to feed her that strangers used to literally come up to us at restaurants and remark how well behaved and voracious our child was. “She never met a meal she didn’t like!” I would chuckle, super proud and smug. I could get Marlowe to eat (or try!) anything under the sun. Any meal I ate, she asked for a bite.
In the past month or so, this has all changed. Every meal time is a struggle. Every bite is a fight. She asks for something “Cheese, Mama! CHEESE MAMA,” takes a bite, and then throws the rest of it on the floor. Refusing to eat another morsel. She begs for anything and everything, only to reject it once put on her plate. She will eat an entire bucket of chicken one day, and then the next day sob hysterically when I place a plate with even a piece of chicken anywhere near her. How dare I present her with this poisonous chicken! She screams, she bangs her head on the high chair tray. She pulls her own hair. She shrieks “YUCKY!!!!” and hits me when I try to come close and rationalize with her. I will distract her with a book, get a great and well balanced bite of food in to her mouth– and then I will watch as she chews the food methodically and then projectile spits it on the floor. My child is like an “ABC” Food Sniper. She can hit the oven door with the masticated remains of my hopes and dreams. I cajole, I beg, I demand, I threaten. I try to pull the old “If you don’t eat your Dinner, you are going to sit her until you finish” gem. Her response? Smugly laying her head on her tray and whispering disdainfully, “Bye Bye.” Of course sometimes (when I least expect it), she happily chows through a meal without the slightest trace of the teenage Goblin I usually deal with and it makes me so relieved I want to set off fireworks. Normally this unusually delightful meal time behavior happens in front of Daddy…who then is convinced I’m out of my mind.
A part of me has become that Mother I always dreaded being– the one who (sweating) asks her child fearfully “Ummm, well Sweatheart, Sugar Plum, what would YOU like to eat today? Oh, Elderberry-stewed Pheasant with a side of Truffle Fries? Oh yesss, of course, coming right up my Princess.” The other part of me has become an equally ridiculous character: a person who ARGUES WITH A BABY. I mean whaaaaat. I rise above my body and look at myself getting frustrated and pissed off by a piece of chewed string cheese on the floor and I think, “What would a therapist make of this?” And then I think who the heck am I kidding– I’ve had enough therapy to break this one down myself:
Because clearly, this is the power struggle of the moment. Clearly, my baby is not a baby anymore, and she is testing the waters with her Mother. Clearly, Marlowe and I are both fighting for control, and CLEARLY she is winning. And how do I know? Because I am a grown up person crying on the phone to my husband at work that “Marlowe just won’t eat her Mac and Cheese!!!!” Get a grip, Girlfriend. I can acknowledge all these things, and yet I can’t get Zen about it. I can’t fully disengage from this back and forth. Am I too tired? Too overextended? Just not enlightened enough? All possible.
I also know I’m not alone. I had an hour long conversation with a Mom friend who has a Toddler Girl– all about how deeply we despise meal time. And it made me feel better. It made me feel a lot better, actually. I admitted to her how pathetic it felt to get frustrated with a person who has six teeth. She admitted to me that she feels Purgatory might be “feeding a group of Toddlers for all eternity.” We both couldn’t believe that somebody else was feeling the exact same way that we were. So that’s my point, I guess. I don’t have any words of wisdom or great solutions for our Toddlers being an enormous pain in the ass during four precise times during the day. I just know that I think about my friend at Dinner Time every day– while my own child is taking every piece of her meal, staring me straight in the eyes, and dropping it on to the floor– and I wonder how many deep breaths she is taking at that very moment.
I also think about how the other 22 hours of my day are spent with an insanely sweet and hilarious version of my child– one who will run over to me, wrap her arms around my neck, put her forehead against mine, and tell me cheekily: “Mama, I seeeeeee you!” And that child I’m obsessed with. She makes me laugh, and she makes me feel like I’m doing something right with my life– and most of all she makes me forget that four times a day I am usually seated across from her, white knuckling a plastic compartmentalized plate and counting silently to ten.