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Small Talk: Feeding my insecurities

Enjoy one from the archives

I was so enamored of my two offspring when they were babies, I thought long and hard about having a third. My husband thought for about 30 seconds and said, “Two is good,” but it took me quite a bit longer to put my motherly instincts aside.

It took, in fact, until about noon yesterday. For the past two weeks, I had that third child when family friends left their eldest son with us as they returned to New Zealand for a visit. It didn’t take long before I realized how wise my husband had been, lo, those many years ago.

Our guest was an absolutely terrific kid, but his mother had spoiled him dreadfully. She cooks a proper meal for him — every single night.

Oh sure. It sounds simple, but have you tried it lately? Well, you probably have, but sadly, I had not. If I wanted to vindicate myself, I would bore you now with a litany of my children’s fussy eating habits, but you shall be spared. Suffice it to say, they drove me whimpering from the kitchen a long time ago.

During the past 15 years, I gave up trying to make the rice finish cooking the same time as the chicken, or having the noodles finish in unison with the sauce. Let’s just say I am fond of my microwave.

But now, suddenly, in my home was an additional, reasonably large and still growing 14-year-old boy, and he was hungry. He expected and deserved a decent meal with more than two food groups.

It is a very good thing that he was hungry. The first night, my rice was overdone, my pork roast was barley done and before it was all said and done, I had set off the smoke alarm. Bless his heart, he still ate.

Each day I racked my brain to come up with a proper meal. I could have fed him our usual fare of burritos, scrambled eggs and chili dogs, but my pride was on the line. I wandered supermarket aisles seeking inspiration and queried subtly about what favorites his mother made.

This was a mistake. He began to describe a host of delicacies, all made from scratch. There was chicken in puff pastry, tangy stir-fry, cheese soufflé and other horrors. I stopped asking.

Still, he was bound to report to his mother that I could burn water and that mealtime consisted of me throwing the food on the table and letting everyone fight it out. I wasn’t ready for that level of exposure or humiliation.

To my own enormous astonishment, each day got a little easier. My children actually ate some of these normal meals. We had meatloaf. We had fried onions. We had mashed potatoes. I served salad, and we even had biscuits. I began to see myself walking in the shoes of June Cleaver, although they still pinched my toes.

As he packed to head home, I promised him all the Coke and gummy bears he could handle if he would just omit tales of my culinary vices. While we agreed he should never, ever lie to his parents, he promised he would be as vague as possible, unless they noticed he had lost some weight.

The good news is my children actually ate something green off real plates tonight. The bad news — it was Jell-O. And we had a lot left over. I kind of miss that third child.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who is kitchen-challenged. Contact her at [email protected].

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