It is a beautiful summer’s evening and my daughter is stuck inside the house forcing me to make her cry by identifying food.
She prods something on her dinner plate with a fork and asks: “Dad, what’s this?”
I rest my chin on my hand and I say with mock enthusiasm, “That’s broccoli.”
“Waaaaaaaa!!” She pushes another item forward. “Dad, what’s this?”
“That’s a carrot.”
“Waaaaaaaaa!!” To underline the deepness of her sorrow, she amplifies the volume of this cry to the level of a Dyson Airblade hand dryer.
She then decides to change her avenue of attack by willing me to make her cry by recalling numbers.
“Dad, how many more mouthfuls do I have to eat?”
My son, on the other hand, is eating like a normal 11-year-old boy; slack-jawed, mouth gaping. I can see chunks of food tumbling around like trainers in a washing machine. He is speed walking towards the end of his meal so that he can ask me a question.
“What’s for pudding?” he asks. Unchewed objects abseil out of his mouth.
My daughter pulls at my sleeve. “Have I finished?” she asks.
My son looks at his distressed sister, then at me and asks: “Can I have some Coco Pops?”
My daughter pulls at my sleeve and resumes crying, “Have I finished?”
I am thinking that this is an opportune moment to cave in and dispense lollipops, but deep down, I know that they haven’t eaten enough vegetables to counterbalance the crap they will eat later, so I take one more round of crying questions. I immediately regret my decision as my wife walks in and surveys the scene. She eyeballs the daughter’s plate, she analyses the mess around my son, and finally, she analyses me.
She issues a set of directives that contradict my own; I let this pass. I have, by doing nothing other than crumbling, become the good guy. I am being promoted and demoted at the same time.
All questions are now directed past me and as such I feel it is OK to leave the table; I am wrong. My wife glares at me and I sit back down. Apparently, I have to stay to see her flexing her parental muscles. She might as well start doing lunges in front of me with the kids tied to her back.
My son throws the pudding question out again. I can see my wife mentally listing it as a low priority request and therefore I can deal with it. I take my cue, stretch my neck to look at what’s left on his plate, and say: ‘yes’. My wife looks at me disapprovingly. This was a high level request and I just messed it up.
My mistake was not remembering that we have an American-sized 6 pint milk container in the fridge. It’s too heavy for him to carry and he always puts just enough milk on his cereal to flood the kitchen. I am fearful that one day I will return from work to see milk lapping at the kitchen window, and my son bobbing past clutching a meteor-sized Coco Pop, and his sister twizzling around in the background, wedged in the middle of a huge Cheerio.
My son schleps over to the fridge. We both watch him struggle to take the milk over to his bowl. My reputation is at stake here. I am willing him to find some strength, and power through to the other side of the room where his empty bowl awaits. I can see from my wife’s expression that she is willing for a different outcome: she wants him to move his bowl over to the milk.