family time
 
"The Great Foodini"

"Our kids have to eat better," my wife says, and I agree without asking for details. Iím not uncaring. Iíve just never seen my kids eat, so any solid food is an improvement.

Like any clever children, they will yell and even beg for food. My two kids can whine like a runaway train with its whistle stuck wide open. Their puling and yammering sonatas are an art form as well as a public disturbance. If you donít have small children yourself, think of Yoko Ono singing at a funeral and youíll get a sense of it. Our next door neighbors would disagree, but they have three little kids. I doubt that they hear ours.

After my kids whine for a good minute, Iíll give in and make grilled cheese sandwiches. This minute is interesting in itself, and if Einstein were alive, Iíd like to see him measure it. My guess is, itís really about eight or nine seconds. Itís possible time stops altogether. Modern physics would be different today if scientists studied such things, but researchers are too busy making grilled cheese sandwiches for their own kids.

If my wife and I are eating grilled cheese sandwiches, then all bets are off and the whining starts again. Eating what weíre eating is against some rule that we now accept without question. Paradoxically, the children must eat the same food as one another. Woe be to us if we give one child something different. If one of them imagines that the other is getting a slightly different meal, my wife and I have to pay up immediately with Happy Meals.

Sometimes when my kids sit at the table with the grilled cheese sandwiches, the sandwiches disappear. My wife claims that the children eat them, but I find them later, hard as Legos, strategically placed on the stairs. One false move in the dark, and itís a trip to the Emergency Room. Iíve learned by trial and error that cheese isnít as lethal as cheese food, once hardened. I deduce that the latter was invented by a toy manufacturer.

Occasionally, Iíll find a grilled cheese sandwich with what appears to be a bite taken out of it. I suspect this "bite" is ceremonial in origin. Perhaps, such tidbits of food are heaved at the cat, who is mysteriously shy and loathes grilled cheese. The reason for this mysterious behavior is that children donít understand the concept of nourishment. To them, everything exists in time and space to be moved, sometimes leaving a wet spot.

My kids do have "favorite" foods, but, as Iíve explained to my wife, this is little more than a fetish. My oldest son, Sam, loved French fries when he was a baby. Heíd fall asleep on the changing table, his greasy little fist clutching a French fry, a blissful smile creasing his fat cheeks. Days later, in the car or at the dinner table, Sam would suddenly pull French fries out of thin air. We have no idea where he kept them, but the feat was so impressive that we called him The Great Foodini. "So," weíd say at dinner time, "whatís the Great Foodini up to?" and, quick as a flash, heíd whip out a three day old juice box with cat hair stuck to the straw. To this day, I donít know how he did it. Like idiots, my wife and I would take apart his high chair and hose it down, hoping to fool the Great Foodini. We might as well have bayed at a full moon.

I know what youíre thinking. Of course, Iíve tried something other than grilled cheese sandwiches. The simple truth is that a grilled cheese sandwich doesnít leave a trail. Other foodstuffs Ė (though Iíve never seen my children eat them) do, but have their own pitfalls. Crackers, for example, are impossible to remove completely from furniture and floor crevices. I havenít aggressively pursued cleaning the crumbs out of all the cracks in the floor, because I read that the R value of ground Cheez-Its is around 40. Itís one of the few cases where the children have actually saved us money, and the orange color blends nicely with the pine flooring.

Other favorites are canned spaghetti products. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, all swimming in a red sauce that hardens like epoxy when it dries. Iím sure NASA would be interested in this fact. Iíll bet dried Spaghettios pasted on the nose of the space shuttle would more than protect the crew from re-entry burnup.

Pizza is first blown cool ó or, more accurately, spit on ó and draped across chair backs or dipped in juice. From there, it disintegrates into its components. The pepperoni inevitably ends up on the rug or the bottom of my foot. The cheese disappears completely, becoming fat vapor that congeals in the childrensí hair. The sauce dries, gluing bits of crust onto the floor, table legs, and anything else that isnít plate.

Faced with the sheer volume of food splattered, pasted, and ground everywhere itís no wonder that Iím not surprised when my wife says that the children need to eat better. I have concluded in the last five years that any food thatís in their system arrived there by accident, much the same way a bug gets caught in the teeth of a speeding motorcyclist.

The curious matter of their size remains. No matter how much food we throw at them and miss, our children get bigger. I havenít figured this out, and my wife and I usually donít talk about it. I shudder to think at what size theyíd be if they actually ate. This, I wonder, is what might have finally happened to the dinosaurs. Maybe their offspring really ate, and they became too large for the Earth to sustain.

Inspecting the floors of the house and seeing all the crumbs, dried popsicle stains, curled up grilled cheese sandwiches, cereal fragments, and fuzzy ex-fruits, Iíve come to the conclusion that most fathers eventually arrive at. We need a dog.

Scott Warner is the father of two and a free-lance writer residing in Trenton, Maine.

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