At 17 months old, my daughter Harper decided that the only food she would eat was graham crackers. They are good—I like mine with a little extra honey smeared on top. Obviously, I’m not the most nutritionally-aware mother, but I know that fruits, vegetables, and protein are all better for a growing toddler than honey and bleached white flour.
I got Harper strapped into her highchair. I was going to have to start using the shoulder straps soon. I’m not sure where she gets her gymnastics ability from—certainly not me or her father, who once gave himself a concussion by sneezing under a coffee table. I presented Harper with some banana, string cheese, and shredded chicken. Maybe my mistake was not arranging them in a cute smiley face or the shape of a puppy. Harper doesn’t have a Pinterest, so I assumed she wouldn’t know what she was missing.
“No,” she said, shaking her blonde curls as she pointed one preciously tiny finger at the top cabinet where I kept her favorite treat. I call the grahams “cookies” in the hopes she won’t learn the sugary truth until high school.
“After you have lunch.” See, I sounded like a good, health-conscious mommy. I waved a disk of banana under her nose.
“No.” Rinse and repeat.
After another couple rounds, I ate the banana myself to show her what she was missing, unstrapped her, and fed the chicken to the dog who never needs airplane noises to appreciate food. Surely Harper will just be extra ready for dinner. It’ll also be Matt’s turn to feed her.
Of course, Matt had to work late, so dinner was on me. I hoisted my princess into her throne. I put some sausage bites, apple chunks, and Cheerios (plain, not honey-nut) on her favorite Hello Kitty plate. I placed it in front of her with a big smile and jazz hands. Ta-da!
“No,” she whined, shaking her mousy, dishwater tangles as she pointed one chubby claw at the top cabinet where I kept those damn grahams.
“Eat your dinner first.”
This time she just started crying, perhaps because her blood sugar was roaming around the basement. Baby logic dictates that in case of hunger, refuse to eat. Solving the problem is not the point—the point is making your parent cry with you.
Half an hour later, Harper still hadn’t eaten a bite. I’d demonstrated the eating process so many times that I wouldn’t need to cook for myself. Once, Harper had picked up an apple chunk. I smiled and yum-yummed like a demented bobblehead. And cracked a tooth when she feed it to the dog.
Harper continued her hunger strike through the next morning. And afternoon. And evening. And the day after that. Harper got hungrier and crankier and whinier. I offered nearly everything else in our pantry and fridge to her. Not even her orange and banana smoothie tempted my little Genghis Khan. Matt tried feeding her once…and then ran to the store for Oxiclean. The pumpkin yogurt actually came out. Thank you, Billy Mays.
She wouldn’t even say no anymore—just pointed at the cabinet and made this uh-uh sound that reminded me of Grandpa’s runty piglet—the one the sow rolled over on and squished. I put in ear plugs, so I wouldn’t get ideas.
I caught Matt, the rat fink, reading a book in the driveway after he’d said he was working too late for dinner. When I my iron will started to rust, I duct-taped the cabinet shut. If I ever let him out of the doghouse, Matt could do without his Triskets until the siege lifted. By the end of breakfast on the 4th day, I vowed never to eat another Cheerio, and the dog was looking chubby.
For my own lunch, I ordered a sandwich from Jimmy Johns. Sure, I was perfectly capable of making a turkey sandwich myself, but if I went in the kitchen, Harper would follow me, then she’d see the cabinet, and then–nope. The kitchen floor was lava.
The sandwich came, and the dog was too full of chicken nuggets to be bothered to bark at Carlos, the delivery guy. (I may have been ordering Jimmy Johns for a couple of days.) I set my chocolate chip cookie aside for later; I’d need it for strength when Harper’s snack time came around. I guzzled my soda because I needed strength now.
That sounded close, really close—like not-in-the-kitchen close. Harper was at the ottoman, one hand pointing at her mouth and the other at my sandwich.
She ended up eating half my sandwich—bread, turkey, provolone, and mayo. There was also mayo smeared on one of the dog’s ears when Harper’d stopped mid-sandwich for a puppy hug. Watching the dog try to lick her own ear was the highlight of my week.
Having only eaten half my lunch, I was still hungry. And a promise is a promise. If she ate lunch, she could have a graham. I peeled the duct tape off the cabinet and grimaced. I really should’ve looked harder for the surface-safe painter’s tape. One graham for me and one for my baby girl. I held the “cookie” down to her.