Tuesday 26 January 2010

Defiance for dessert

Early evening, though it is already dark outside. My youngest daughter, all tousled hair and jutting lower lip, sits at the dinner table scowling at me. She is only three years old but somehow manages to emanate the kind of sullen resentment you would normally expect of a teenager who isn't allowed to get their ears pierced. I sit opposite her, hand on chin, staring bleakly at her while she pushes her meal around her bowl with her fork. Everyone else has finished their dinner, and long-since left, citing extreme boredom at the ongoing battle of wills. We have been sitting here so long now that my mind has started wandering, and I occasionally lose track of why I'm still there and start to get up to go and do something else, before noticing her frowning away at me.
"Come on," I say. "Just three more mouthfuls."
"No, thank you, Daddy" she says, having learnt quite early on that if she cunningly combines outright disobedience with extreme politeness it confuses her parents.
"Three more, please..." I insist.
"No, thank you very much."
"Why not?"
"I have already eaten all the good bits. Only the stuff that tastes like yuck is left."
I look at her bowl, the contents of which are now unrecognisable due her prolonged stirring and mashing. There is no doubt she is correct: what is left really does look like 'yuck', but frankly that's her own fault and in any case is entirely beside the point - I am the Daddy, and (in the absence of her mother) the senior authority figure at the table, and thus in charge.
"It is not yuck," I say. "Mummy does not cook food that taste like yuck..."
(This is almost entirely, but not quite, true. In the spirit of full disclosure there was once a chorizo and three-bean risotto that nearly brought about the end of our marriage after I gave a full and frank account of what I considered to be it's many, many shortcomings, but the lady from Marriage Guidance said I probably shouldn't mention it to my wife again and perhaps should try and learn from the resulting experience...)
My daughter looks at me sullenly. "Well, it is yuck now..."
"It is not."
"It is."
"It is not..."
"You eat some, Daddy." She pushes the bowl at me.
"No." I push the bowl back, suppressing a shudder of revulsion. "It is your dinner. You eat it."
She put her fork down, reaching out to place it as far away from her bowl as she can. Then she glares at me.
"I do not want it" she says."I do not want it, because it tastes unpleasant."
I'm slightly taken aback by this. All children learn new words at a rate of knots, and often don't know what they mean, even if they use them in the right context. (She once told my mother that 'Nothing out of the ordinary occurred...' at her playgroup that day..) Even so, it's slightly uncanny when it happens
"Eat it!" I say, realising sadly that this has become a straightforward war of attrition, and that although I am older (and thus supposedly wield all of the power), she has the advantage of being able to fall asleep sitting on a hardwood dining chair and also has no interest in watching Hustle at some point during the evening. These are advantages that will cost me dearly if the deadlock goes into the long haul...
"Eat it!" I say again, for want of anything else to say
She points at me with a tiny, grubby finger.
"Daddy, your behaviour is shameful" she announces.
I rise immediately from the table and leave, biting on my knuckles, because if she see me laughing, it's all over. Later than night, when she is in bed I put her bowl of mashed goop to one side, fully intending to make her eat it later. Then I fall asleep in front of the television, and my wife wraps the mashed food up in newspaper to put in the green recycling bin.
On the whole I'm not chalking that one up as a victory...


Misterimpatient said...

Be very grateful she did not eat it. This is the sort of insane confrontation that creates eating disorders in kids. When they're done, they're done.

Trust me on this one.


Max Halliwell said...

I agree your behaviour is "shameful" - no doubt she's heard Mrs C saying this several times about you. I'm suprised she didn't use the unpleasant word specifically at you? Role on ttenage years you're gonna love it.