Parents work to feed their kids. It’s a mantra that people have repeated through the ages. “I have kids. I work this job so they can eat.” Everyone applauds. You go, grizzled parent. You go feed the world.
This statement goes beyond work and finances though. When you’re a parent, your kids sometimes expect you to physically feed them in terms of deciding, preparing, and serving. It can be maddening and, to a parent who has done everything right in the child’s formative years to make sure they are well-fed, it can be worse as they get older.
My daughter is an example of this parental paradox. Years of rushing to make sure she had good meals have brought me to a 14-year-old who only wants to eat if I have placed it on a plate and presented it like a contestant on Top Chef. Asking her to put bread in the toaster evokes the same reaction as asking her to put a baby kitten in the toaster.
The other night, we went through one of our times. I was on the receiving end of nonstop texts asking what we had to make for dinner. Although I kept telling her to look for herself, she was persistent in asking me to list available items like a human menu. I rattled off a bunch and was rebuked at each turn. She’s an expert at what she doesn’t want but can’t articulate what she does. Finally, after 450 years, she begrudgingly agreed on a salad.
Of course, I made said salad. Then, upon handing it off to her, I watched her nibble on forkfuls with a pained expression on her face. It was like watching an episode of Fear Factor. When I asked if she wanted something else instead, her eyes lit up.
Yes, please. I don’t like this salad. Are you mad at me?
No. It’s OK. What’s wrong with it?
It tastes bad.
How does it taste bad? It’s three things – lettuce mix, cheese, and dressing. What did you expect it to taste like?
Seriously? What do you think a salad tastes like?
Not like this.
I don’t get what you expected me to do to make it…
You hate me.
I don’t hate you.
Yes, you do.
So, you’ll make me something else then?
Fine. What do you want? You can help me make it.
Pause. Eye roll. Huffy sigh. Stand up.
Ugh. I’m not even hungry.
And she’s gone. She’s insane, not hungry, and gone.
If you think the use of words makes this situation annoying, then you don’t know my son. Lucas, as a non-verbal boy with autism, has shown me that not speaking isn’t synonymous with not expressing desires. If my daughter is the queen, my little round fella is the king of aggressive food requests.
You’re probably thinking he uses his communication device and, in many cases, you’d be right. I have become used to hearing the robotic woman awkwardly ask for “or’n’j juice” or “pizza!” That’s kind of cute and, even when he’s asking right after eating, it still brings a smile. I encourage him to request that way. The device is not the issue.
Bringing me by the hand for food is another option that sometimes annoys me. I have written about it before and expressed how his strong-willed need to pull me toward the kitchen can be a bit overwhelming. No matter what my hand is doing, he will rip it away, lock his fingers, and lead me to the munchies. I have dropped many a toothbrush in the sink and wandered off with a mouth full of Crest foam.
All of that can be a bit much, but it is not the most infuriating thing my son does when he wants something. Rather, it’s the timing and way that he asks me for a drink that makes Little Miss Saladface seem patient.
Lucas loves our basement. He almost always finds his way down the stairs to his personal recliner and taps away on his iPad underneath the LED lights. It’s calming for him and, honestly, makes me smile every time I see him there.
When I descend the steps to join him, it is usually after a full day of doing work upstairs. The basement is my haven too. It’s where the Xbox lives. It’s where eour good television is. It’s where my couch is. Sorry. Daddy’s exhausted. Make way.
The second I enter the basement and he sees me, that’s when it happens. A silent voice in the air screams out, “There he is! There he is!”
I am a celebrity – think Bella Thorne, Justin Bieber, The Beatles, or Doris Day depending on how old you are – and Lucas is an autograph seeker. As soon as I cross the final step, he jumps up feverishly and searches for his cup. Then, he sprints over to me, often bumping into me in the process. As he does, he thrusts his cup at me as a fan would do with a headshot and marker. His face says, “Here. Take this! Take it!” I feel like I am being served a court order.
As I hold the cup, which he usually hands me upside down so that the remaining liquid can soak me, I try to stave him off for a minute. After all, I had been looking forward to finally sitting for hours. I just need a brief moment. The last thing I want to do is immediately go back upstairs for more juice after he has literally drank three already.
Wait, buddy. Just wait.
Distracted by his iPad, my son will ignore the words I say and grab his cup back from my hand. He will then take a deep inhale on the straw, causing it to make the empty cup whistle sound, and then hand it back to me. This goes on a few times until I eventually get him a drink.
Drink? Who am I kidding? It’s juice. It’s only juice. Hand him a cup of water and he will sip it and hand it back. If you insist he drink the water, he will pull the built-in straw from the cup and hand it back as if to say, “Look. Your cup broke.”
Sometimes, the cup is already full. I never feel as much like his personal manservant as I do when that’s the case. Lucas will come to me and double-tap his lips for a drink. I pick up his cup, shake it, and realize it is full. I hand it to him and he drinks from it, all while maintaining eye contact with me. Then, with it hanging from his mouth, he will walk away. If he had words in this moment, they would be, “Thank you, servant, for checking that my chalice is full. Farewell.”
I work to feed my kids. Also simply feeding my kids is work. Whether verbal or not, they have expectations. The long-term joke is on them, though. I might be feeding them now, but we’re only a few decades away from it being their turn to feed me. They better learn how to make a good salad because I am going to be picky.
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