I recently realized that the main reason I don’t look forward to Jack’s weigh-ins at the doctor’s office is because I’m never confident in the outcome.
I’m never confident in the outcome because, to put it mildly, I don’t think of Jack as being a very good eater.
This is a new experience for me. Before Jack, I used to draw a blank whenever I encountered a parent of a picky eater.
“Sorry,” I’d say, jerking my thumb at Ryan, who was taking down his seventh slice of pizza or fifth piece of chicken or second bowl of pasta or twelfth ear of corn. “I got nothing.”
This is, after all, a child who has twice in his life actually out-eaten me, once when he was four years old and once when he was five.
In fact, the two most serious threats to our family’s financial solvency that I’ve modeled are Jack’s medical bills and the Woog’s stomach.
I hate preparing food. (I won’t say I hate cooking because I’ve never performed any food assemblage that rises to the level of cooking).
Every second spent in the kitchen might as well be deoxygenated: I’m sluggish, I can feel the elan ebbing from my body. I become hyper-conscious of mortality, of all of the hours and days and weeks of precious life being wasted on an essentially menial chore. Vital moments irrevocably lost.
The Woog is a great kid to take care of if this is your attitude about food prep because, while he has his preferences like everyone, the kid is basically a tiger shark. He’ll eat damn near anything.
If he does kvetch about what’s being served, when faced with the choice of eating it or going hungry, at the end of the day his face is gonna be in that bowl.
Jack isn’t like that. First of all, you don’t give the Munch an ultimatum unless you came to play.
Second, I wonder if Jack doesn’t sometimes like being hungry, since it gives him something to really, really bitch about.
Third, the Munch has us over a barrel because of his size and his heart condition. On the other hand, if Ryan ever did miss a meal in order to prove a point, I wouldn’t give it any more thought than the wind changing direction. It ain’t like skipping dinner’s gonna change this kid’s growth trajectory.
Ultimately, it’s not so much that Jack is a picky eater, exactly. It’s that he’s a pain in the ass eater.
A picky eater, as I understand it from the moms who have expressed their tales of torment to me over the years, is a kid who rejects certain textures, or smells, or colors, or food groups.
Jack rejects certain moments. To wit: He’ll eat some seasoned sliced chicken for lunch, so you think you’re home free for dinner.
At dinner, he’ll throw it on the floor without even trying it. Then he’ll look up at you impertinently and signal his “more” gesture with his hands.
Apple slices with peanut butter? Two slices, chomped down with gusto. Then slice three goes on the floor. Avocado wedges are rejected on sight, even though he took down half an avocado yesterday. He’ll eat a half a cup of spooned yogurt before karate chopping away the rest.
The dining room has regularly resembled a landfill from all of the food Jack has thrown on the floor. At first we ignored this behavior. Then his mother started putting him in 30-second “food time outs.” The kid didn’t give a shit. Gravity is way too awesome.
This is especially stressful because I finally did away with his night time bottle. I still can’t sleep because I’m on the old schedule, and now he’s not getting those extra calories. Damn kids.
Anyway, several weeks ago, I finally got sick of the food flinging. It was lunch. Jack was holding some sliced pepper over the side, watching me. Prelude to a food fling.
“Make a good choice, Munchie.” His mother started using this phrase several months ago for those moments when he was thinking about chucking his food across the room. It has, I’d estimate, roughly a 70% success rate.
This time, he stared at me, then casually flung the pepper slice on the floor.
That was enough. I leaned in, put my hand on his shoulder, and locked eyes with him. “No. You may NOT throw food on the floor.”
He was shocked. His little eyebrows raised, and his lower lip pouted practically past his chin.
Oh boy. Here it comes.
His high-pitched crying brought his mother into the dining room.
“What happened?” She was alarmed, understandably. The Munch was wailing like I’d belted him across the mouth.
I recounted what went down. She nodded, though she peered at me suspiciously. I assured her that in spite of his carrying on I did not smack him or stab him with a pin or pull out one of his fingernails. Apparently satisfied, she went back into the living room.
When he finished crying, I put another slice of pepper on his tray. He picked it up and his arm moved toward the side. He stopped and looked at me.
“Make. A. Good. Choice.”
His hand was suspended in mid-air. He was still staring at me.
“You don’t have to eat it,” I said. “If you don’t want it, put it back on your tray or give it to me.” I tapped his tray.
He looked at me for another moment and stuffed the pepper into his mouth.
“Good choice, Munchie,” I said with a smile.
Day before yesterday. At the doctor’s office, the nurse did a double-take as I wheeled Jack toward the exam room.
“He looks tall,” she said.
I shrugged. “I can’t tell. I see him everyday. Hope you’re right.”
There’s no way you’re right, I thought.
Back in the exam room, following weigh-in and measurement, I entered all of the relevant numbers into the baby app as usual. I thought of his dining room antics and how more food seemed to end up on his hands or his clothes or the dining room table or on the floor than in his belly.
There’s no way this kid is growing, I thought gloomily, swiping over to the growth chart.
Au contraire. His weight was up to the 15th percentile from the 11th.
I looked up at the Munch, who was banging away on his stroller tray with the tongue depressor his pediatrician had let him have. “Way to go, Munchie!”
His head circumference was up to the 48th percentile. I nodded expectantly.
His height was what stopped the show. Hyper-driving a trend registered at his checkup with Dr. Rychik several months ago, Jack’s height had exploded since then, from the 25th to the 68th percentile.
Six months ago, the kid’s height was in the 2nd percentile.
We celebrated on the way out of the doctor’s office with a fig bar. Fig bars are one of those slickly-marketed baby snacks that purport to be organic and healthy but are basically fruit sugar and carbs. They’re also the only food item besides salt and vinegar potato chips (long story) that the Munch has never thrown overboard.
Which is why I was surprised when I put a piece of fig bar on the Munch’s stroller tray and he grabbed it and hung it off to the side. He flashed a devilish grin at me.
“Munchie. Make a good —”
His hand swung back and he popped the fig bar in his mouth. As he chewed it, he stared at me and smiled.
“You little —” I shook my head. “Never mind. I guess you earned a little fun at the old man’s expense.”