Everybody has something which makes them shudder. For some it’s spiders, or nails on a chalkboard, or a letter from the IRS. For me it is those words echoed nightly on every planet throughout the known universe: “Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?”
Way back, when playing cowboys and Indians was still legal and not politically incorrect, I was a child and used those very same words. I guess that’s when the shudder reflex set in, but for different reasons than today. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to eat (my hips are a testament to that), and I loved my Mom, but Mom was not a very good cook. She did a mean laundry, double softened and nicely fluffed and folded (even those pesky fitted sheets), but in our house you only used the words ‘Mom’ and ‘food’ in the same sentence as either a joke or a threat. I remember the time she thought she had poisoned us and made me drink half a bottle of Pepto-Bismol for dessert. She poured it on top of vanilla ice cream and tried to convince me it was pink peppermint syrup. Needless to say, I now have an aversion to pink food of any sort. But that was par for the course in our household.
Mom wasn’t very good with food, but she was great with organization. Our refrigerator was arranged by color code. The brown stuff on the left was meat, the green stuff on the right was cheese, and the long black things were bananas. It wasn’t until I was an adult and did my own food shopping that I realized that black bananas weren’t from Africa and yellow bananas weren‘t from China. Mom also kept cold water in an old vodka bottle in the refrigerator because it was pretty, had a good screw cap, and fit perfectly on the door. Occasionally, when we had a new visitor to our house, they would give me the strangest looks if they happened to catch me drinking water from our vodka bottle.
Mom never liked to waste food and sometimes when she had company over she would serve fancy hors d’oeuvres to go with the inevitable martinis. The next day I would have the strangest lunches. While other kids opened their Superman lunchboxes to find peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or ham and cheese, Mom would pack my Lone Ranger lunchbox with hors d’oeuvres sandwiches. To her, smoked oysters with avocado hearts, cream cheese and black caviar on white bread held together with a fancy toothpick spearing a stuffed olive was a gourmet treat. Besides, she figured it fulfilled the U.S. government’s recommended four food groups for healthy living: something green, something white, something black and something brown. (The red in the stuffed olive was just for aesthetics, or so she said.)
By the time I was 14, I had taken a job at our local Howard Johnson’s in self-defense. Besides earning spending money, I got to eat the food there. That was around the time I started to develop breasts and the inevitable cellulite. I ate so many fried clams during my interment there, that if I ever get liposuction the doctor’s gonna be sucking out tarter sauce from my thighs. (I guess that’s what makes all those little lumps.)
Fast forward to motherhood. My son, Sir Stinkyfeet, had a normal childhood, cuisine-wise. I gave him the proper foods from the proper food groups of the moment, served in an attractive and appetizing way. I was not the Asparagus Attila, or the Genghis Khan of green beans, or the cabbage
Gestapo; I served him kid-friendly healthy foods in a pleasant and palatable manner. Then I found out that I had incipient diabetes. It wasn’t severe and could be managed without medication as long as I controlled my diet. I was told to exclude most carbohydrates and include more proteins in the way of meat and fish.
It was around this time that Sir Stinkyfeet decided to become a vegetarian. His motivation was admirable; he loves animals, wants to be a veterinarian, and doesn’t want to eat his ‘friends’ and future clients. But it made mealtime at our house Mission Impossible. He allowed for the fact that I needed to eat meat, but “nothing with a face” would ever cross his lips. Which meant that I would have to prepare two separate meals. Broiling something for me was no problem, but Sir Stinkyfeet wanted gourmet vegetarian fare. This he expected from a woman with tarter sauce for thighs? Heck, I thought soy paste was what they used to stick together collages in Chinese kindergartens. I thought couscous was a furry little endangered animal from Tasmania. Obviously something had to give.
You have no idea how many foods have hidden animal byproducts in them. Things like certain food coloring, gelatin, and most prepared foods. I mean, that was practically everything we had been eating. So I asked Stinkyfeet what he’d like to eat and it basically boiled down to anything that was either salty or chocolate, as long as it didn’t have a face or a heartbeat. Great. That left pasta, rice, and beans, none of which I could eat. Mealtimes had rapidly deteriorated into a major hassle. Then came the inevitable nightly mantra:
“What’s for dinner”, he’d intone.
“A pasta dish, a rice dish or a bean dish,” I’d respond, as pleasantly as possible.
“I don’t want that again,” he’d complain, and mope around in a sullen snit. Then he’d scrounge a meal from his three favorite food groups: two Ring Dings and a cherry Coke. I’d feel guilty about not being a good mother, wonder how I’d managed to lose control over my (once) adorable, obedient, and eager-to-please little boy, and worry about his nutrition.
One night I’d had enough. I was tired of feeling rebuffed and guilty. He wants something chocolate or salty, I’ll fix his health food-vegetarian-nothing-with-a-face-wagon, I thought to myself.
When dinnertime came around and he asked the usual question, “What’s for dinner?” I was prepared with a retort that was filled with the long months of frustrations and fretting that I’d had come to endure.
“Bosco and seawater soup,” I responded brightly.
He just stared at me for a second and asked me to repeat what I’d said. And I did. Then he repeated it while I just kept smiling sweetly. Finally, he asked me if I was kidding. I told him that I wasn’t, and turned back to the stove to put the finishing touches on my delicately poached chicken breast in white wine sauce that the dog was sniffing with amorous abandon.
“But you’re my Mom,” he complained. “You’re supposed to make me dinner,” he cried.
So I patiently explained to him that every night when he asked me what was for dinner, I’d given him the choices from his self-imposed diet, and he’d reject them. He refused to go food shopping with me, so I’d run out of options. Then he broke down and asked me if I’d make him some macaroni and cheese.
“You mean from a box,” I retorted smartly. “As in prepared food?” I just wanted to make sure I’d heard him right.
“Yes, please, Mom,” he answered meekly.
“Make it yourself,” I snapped back. “I’m tired of catering to you.”
Suddenly, the adorable, obedient, eager-to-please little boy had returned. “But Moms are supposed to make dinner,” he pleaded. “Besides, you make it better than me.”
Needless to say, I acquiesced, but not before a lot of huffing and puffing. I also extracted several promises from him. While he still refuses to go food shopping with me, he does help with the list and puts away the food, and best of all, henever asks me what’s for dinner. Now he just looks at our supplies and tells me what he wants. And if he can’t find anything he likes, I graciously allow him to order an emergency pizza, as long as he does the dialing and talking. (My mouth and dialing finger are on permanent strike.) However, I can’t help but sometimes ask God why I couldn’t have just had a normal kid who smokes pot.