Some days I can feel the blog post writing itself.
The tension has been building for quite a few days now: the battle for lunch.
I’m honestly not sure how much food goes into Ethan’s mouth these days. He’s not starving. For every ten things he throws on the floor, one or two end up in his mouth.
I swear he plays with me.
I’ll give him a few apples, tentatively testing him out. Will he eat them? Will he throw them?
He pounces on the first pieces, shoving them into his mouth and chomping into them. My guard drops. All clear. I give him the bowl of apples. It’s something we’ve been doing for a while now. This is nothing new. He gets the bowl and is able to manage his own meal.
However, this past week has been different. Now he takes the bowl and holds it off to the side that is furthest from a parent, lets it dangle over space for a few seconds, and then sends it cascading down in an explosion of fruit, vegetables, or bread—depending on what we’ve given him.
As I scamper to the floor to pick it up, I’m scolding him: “We don’t throw food!”
It doesn’t matter. Whatever the next course is, he tosses that as well. One time he yanked on a suction cup of beans and ripped it free, sending the beans to the four corners of the kitchen and onto his own head.
He’ll toss his forks and spoons. He’s figured out how to smear his sipper cup on his tray in order to create a pleasing puddle of milk.
The other day I’d had enough. I waited until I knew he was hungry for lunch, and I gave him three food options. He tossed or attempted to toss all three. Instead of keeping up the battle, I pulled him out of his chair and shooed him out of the kitchen.
“All done! All done! Go play.”
This was not what he wanted. He walked up to his high chair with his hands up and wailed with big tears streaming down his flushed cheeks.
I put him back in the chair, offered him the same three options—food that I know he loves—and watched him swat it all away again.
I set him down again, and this time he roared with the same mess of tears.
It’s just a phase. I know it will switch again. But it’s hard to avoid the narrative of battling Ethan, trying to make him eat lunch.
Writers tend to look for conflict. That’s where the stories are. The intrepid protagonist battles the antagonist in order to accomplish a worthy goal or to learn something life-changing.
Feeding my child isn’t anything heroic, but it’s an important part of his day. It’s not like he should skip lunch every day or subsist on Cheerios and juice boxes—the things I suspect he’d prefer.
But I don’t want to frame my daily interactions with my son as a conflict where he’s the antagonist and I’m the protagonist. I don’t want our relationship to become adversarial, even if the majority of the “fight” is in my head.
I didn’t want things to get blown out of proportion. We sat together on the couch with a few of his favorite toys and re-centered ourselves. In reality, we’re on the same side. It’s just that Ethan is still figuring so many things out. He’s learning how to eat meals, what’s a game and what isn’t a game, and how to tell us he’s “all done” with certain foods.
He has so much to learn, and the ways I frame our interactions as “struggles” or “battles” isn’t helping me figure out my role.
I don’t think I did anything differently that day. He eventually ate something for lunch. All of the change took place in my own mind.
That, and I finally gave him a bowl of Cheerios.