My husband and I used to sit down to a quiet dinner, just the two of us. We used to be able to eat the same thing every week. We used to be able to hold hands when we wanted and pack up leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
Kids changed all that.
Now we sit down to a dinner with more words than you’ll read in a George R.R. Martin novel. We have to have something different every night of the month. We use our hands to dish out food, and there are never any leftovers.
Over the years of eating dinners together, which, in spite of the mayhem six boys can rouse, we still find important, my boys have emerged with very different eating personalities.
There is The Picky Eater.
This is the kid who asks what’s for dinner, and, before you even get “chicken noodle soup” out, he’s already looking in the pot and saying, “I want something else.”
“If you can cook it,” I say. (He can’t. He’s 4.)
“But I HATE that.”
“Do you even know what it is?” I say, because I’m a cook, not a chef, kid.
I have to give him credit. He gives it a chance. In fact, he gives it three chances, in three separate helpings, all the while saying how much he wishes he could have something else for dinner.
We also have The Player.
This is the kid who will take a string of spaghetti and swing it around like a rope. He’ll set up a forest with his broccoli. He will wear his pizza like a triangle hat.
“Stop playing with your food,” I’ll say.
“I not playing,” he’ll say. “I eating. See?” He puts the broccoli in his mouth, shouting, “I eat tree! Oh no!”
Well, at least he’s eating broccoli.
And we have his twin brother, The Wanderer.
This is the kid who cannot put one bite in his mouth without moving from the table to pick up the book he wanted to show his brothers. He’ll take another bite and remember he forgot to show Mama the toy he found under the couch today. It was gone for so long. Another bite, and he’s up again, using the bathroom or putting his shoes where they go or remembering he left his Thermos in the refrigerator.
“The rule is you stay at the table and ask to be excused,” I say.
“I am staying at the table,” he’ll say.
“No. That’s not staying. See? You just got up from the table.”
“No! I staying.”
Ever argue with a 2-year-old? Not only does it not make sense, YOU WILL NOT WIN.
So we strapped him into a booster seat. The Wanderer wanders no more.
One of our boys is The Talker.
This is the kid who will take so excruciatingly long to eat his dinner he’s the last one at the table and we’ve all fallen asleep.
It’s not that he isn’t hungry, because he’ll always ask for more, even if dinner has already been cleaned up.
It’s just that he has to tell us every single second of his day, and he forgets that there is food to eat. The loud rumbling in his belly will not make him shovel that food any faster.
“You should eat,” I’ll say, after he’s told me in finite detail what went on today in his Sage class.
“But I want to tell you about my day.”
Twenty-five minutes of every person he came across at school today and what he did in math class and who he played with at recess and I’m getting a nervous tick in my leg, because dinner is almost over and he’s only taken two bites.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad he talks. It’s just…Eat.
Then there is The Inhaler.
This kid is the opposite of The Talker. He will start eating at the exact same time as everyone else but will finish when everyone else is on their second bite.
“May I have some more please?” he’ll say.
“You’re already done?” I’ll say.
“I’m really hungry,” he’ll say.
These are the only words The Inhaler will say during dinner, except for a quick one-word answer when asked what his thankful is for the day. He’s too busy shoveling to talk.
“Chew your food,” I’ll say. “Take your time.”
He’ll shoot me that you-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about look.
“My stomach hurts,” he’ll say after dinner.
“Do you think it’s because you ate too much?” I’ll say. “Too fast?”
“No. I think it’s just gas.”
I’ll wait a while before I tell him that eating too fast causes gas.
All I know is mealtime sure has gotten interesting.
And, if I’m being honest, a whole lot better.
This is an excerpt from Parenthood: Has Anyone Seen My Sanity?, the first book in the Crash Test Parents humor series. To get access to some all-new, never-before-published humor essays in two hilarious Crash Test Parents guides, visit the Crash Test Parents Reader Library page.