“I’ve had enough,” my youngest son announced as he pushed away a half-finished taco. “I don’t feel like having any more.”
My husband, Mark, and I exchanged a familiar glance as we both eyed the not particularly appealing taco congealing on our son’s plate.
“Heads or tails?” Mark asked.
“Neither,” I told him as I deftly slid the half-chewed taco off the plate and toward my mouth. “You got his leftovers last time.” Before Mark had a chance to protest, the taco and I were one.
While that scene happened years ago, it was one that was played out on a regular basis at our dinner table. Mark and I, both Baby Boomers from large families, don’t understand the concept of not “feeling like” having any more tacos. Or not feeling like having any kind of junk food for that matter.
Growing up with seven siblings between us, we apparently were born knowing that the motto in each of our houses was Eat Now, Taste Later. It didn’t matter if you weren’t really hungry for one of the glazed doughnuts Dad brought home as a surprise after work because you just ate a bag of Doritos washed down with a can of Tab. Better eat one anyway because a box of glazed doughnuts had a shelf life of approximately 17 minutes in the house where I grew up.
With an extra child in his family, Mark’s culinary tales of woe were even more painful. He vividly remembers going out for pizza with his entire clan and forcing himself to eat one more slice even though he was in serious danger of exploding and his vision seemed to be dimming more and more with every bite.
Somehow the nauseating sensation of being completely overstuffed was better than the certain knowledge that if he didn’t eat that piece of pizza at that precise moment, one of his siblings would get it instead of him.
At very early ages we both figured out that food equals, if not exactly power or love or comfort, then at least a way to show that we were a member of the family and therefore had a definite claim to a spot at the dinner table each night.
Even now, years later and supposedly as adults, safe in the knowledge that our voracious siblings are hundreds of miles away and couldn’t possibly find our secret stash of cocoa mix with mini marshmallows, Mark and I still share a basic impulse to polish off the box of chocolate-covered Oreos before putting the rest of the groceries away, just in case one of them should show up unexpectedly. In our families, we didn’t steal change from each other’s piggy banks; we went for the candy bars hidden in the sock drawers.
Fortunately, our children didn’t seem to inherit either of their parents’ neurotic food-related behaviors. With just the two of them, there were always leftovers when they were growing up, no matter how deliciously bad the food they were eating might be. And although they’d eat takeout burgers and pizza, when they “felt” like it, neither of them were ever fans of fast food and quite often had had to have their arms twisted to go to McDonald’s with us.
They seemed determined to prove that yes, it was possible to get through life on a diet of peanut butter, bread and carrots with a few sweets tossed in to spice things up. Even more perplexing, they were quite often completely content to eat half of a bowl of cheese-flavored popcorn, announce that they’d had enough and move on to something else.
Of course, that only meant more for me but I to this day I still don’t get it. How can you possibly move on to anything else while there’s cheese-flavored popcorn in the house?
Although I tell myself that it’s obvious that their take-it-or-leave-it approach to food is much healthier than my own downright obsessiveness, I find them perplexing. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear they were adopted.
Maybe we should have had more children. I know a very nice woman with five children, and she could take those kids to eat anywhere knowing that they’d clean their plates. They obviously learned the eat-now-or-never technique that comes with the territory in a big family.
It’s far too late for us to add any more to our small brood, but when the grandkids come, I won’t be making the same mistake twice. As soon as they’re old enough to appreciate a Happy Meal, guess who’s coming to dinner.