My child has always had a good appetite.
As a small child, he was not a picky eater and begged for healthy fare, like celery and apples.
The only thing he ever had an issue with was he preferred my cooking, even if the ‘cooking’ was merely toasting waffles.
Somehow, I made it taste better.
He would eat anything, everything that was made.
Until one day, he didn’t.
He would turn up his nose and frown at what I had made, claiming he wasn’t hungry.
“You were hungry about an hour ago,” I tell him.
The ‘yeah, but’ usually means he was not wanting whatever it was I had made.
His idea of what constitutes a meal varies from day to day and sometimes, hour by hour.
One evening he is agreeable to spinach salads, and the next day, he turns it down. Or whatever it is I made.
“You liked it the other day.”
“I don’t want it now though,” he says.
“But Cole, I just spent an hour cooking,” I will protest.
“I am just not hungry,” he replies.
Less than thirty minutes later, he is singing a different tune.
“I am starving! What do we have to eat?”
“There’s food over there that I just made,” I tell him.
He crinkles up his nose. “Nah…don’t we have anything else?”
I tell him there is plenty in the fridge and the pantry.
“It’s just ingredients!” he declares as he surveys the shelves.
“There’s food in there,” I tell him.
“No, there’s not,” he states flatly.
There’s food – trust me.
It may be as he called it in ingredient form, but there was food.
Crackers, soup, rice, bread. Peanut butter – two kinds, mind you, chunky and smooth.
There was cheese in the fridge, fruit, and even stuff in the freezer.
Food that if one was really hungry, one would be more than happy to eat.
I run down a list of things I can make him, earning a resounding no at each one.
“I am not really that hungry,” he says after I list the last one.
He is, I know he is. He’s 13; he’s always hungry.
“You need to eat,” I tell him.
He insists he is not hungry.
We go through this almost daily.
The only thing he seems to never refuse is pizza or chicken nuggets. I tell him Wendy’s and Little Caesar’s are not food group items, no matter how much he protests.
“Then I guess I will just go hungry,” he says.
He knows this is the ultimate guilt trip to a mother, making me think my child is hungry.
I sit there and worry if he truly is hungry.
What if he is?
He has convinced me before he could not make it seven miles home without a honey bun and a Coke, or he’d succumb to low blood sugar. He was five at the time but made a strong case.
Again, I offer him things I think he will like.
Grilled cheese. How about chicken nuggets that were frozen?
He sighs and says he’s fine.
I think back to the food options I had when I was a child.
Normally I ate what Granny made or I could go hungry. That was it.
Sometimes, my uncle felt pity on me – especially if it was on nights Granny made some stinky oyster stew – and bought a kid’s meal at Dairy Queen for me, but that didn’t happen all the time.
I often had to suffer with the rest of them and eat just whatever it was that Granny made.
On some nights, it was delicious – her fried chicken was award worthy.
But some nights, like oyster stew night, choking it down was a challenge.
“Can I just eat a couple of Little Debbies?” I asked one night.
Granny glared at me as if I had just made a sacrilegious error.
She heard me loud and clear; she was giving me time to correct my error.
My uncle was quick enough to shush me at the table and tell me to just eat it quietly.
Oyster stew was just one of the gross things she would try to force us to choke down.
Some odd monstrosity of beef chunks and vegetables in a gray gravy on slices of bread was another.
“Did this come out of the cat?” I asked, examining my plate closely.
She turned five shades of red.
“No, it didn’t come outta the dang cat!” she exclaimed.
I refused to eat it.
“What else do you have?” I asked.
“You can go hungry,” she said simply.
And, she meant it.
“And Bobby, if you go to the Brazier and get her a dadgum kid’s meal with a hot fudge sundae to reward her for not eating what I made, I will stomp a mud hole in your tail. You hear me?” she said.
My uncle lowered his eyes and whispered for me to eat what she made, and he would get me an ice cream later.
“She ain’t gonna starve,” Granny declared, probably referencing my rounded physique. “She needs to learn, sometimes you get what you get. And you are happy to get it. There’s children starving in other countries – heck, in this country, that would be happy to eat what I made.”
She was right. It may not have felt like it on the nights she made collards and cornbread, but she was.
The other night, I made something for dinner and my self-declared starving child crinkled up his nose and refused it.
“What else do you have?” he asked.
I know – he thought I would cook him something special like I have always, always done.
“This is all I made,” I said. “You can have this, or there’s peanut butter and jelly.”
The shock was evident.
“But, I don’t want either of those,” he said.
“I am so sorry,” I began. “Those are your options.”
“I’m starving!” he said. “You don’t have anything else?”
I said no.
“Can I order a pizza?”
I felt like I was not only the worst mother in the world but that I was viciously mean, to boot.
But, you know what happened?
A few hours went by and he decided to heat up some leftovers.
“That was quite good, thank you,” he said.
I smiled and nodded.
Sometimes, you get what you get.
And you’re glad to get it.