Mama Said: Emily Martin navigates the mealtime minefield
Emily Martin can’t remember if she’s written about children’s mealtimes before, because her brain is so addled from spending the last seven years picking food up off the floor
We’re all just the same, us and the animals. In the animal kingdom, as far as I can tell, feeding the children is the sole task for a parent, whether they’re fluffy, or scaly, or… horses. Finding food and feeding it to the children is the task numero uno.
But with humans, feeding the children is one of the two pillars of parenting. The other pillar is getting the children to go to bed.
Get them to bed, feed them, get them to bed, feed them. As sure as the sun shall rise tomorrow, you’ll be making cream cheese sandwiches and throwing the crusts in the bin, followed by lying there for hours in the dark while they fall asleep. And so it goes.
Animals have to live outside most often, so it’s a hard life for them. Harder than ours in some ways. Fur braced against a howling wind, breaking through thick ice with a big furry paw to grapple for a fish just to have some lunch. A little chick living in a nest made of sticks, up a tree, made by only its mum’s BEAK. Scenarios which humans like us would find very unacceptable.
But even under those terrible conditions, animals have it easier than us in one main way. Despite their hardships and nests, their lives are less harrowing because when an animal comes back to its freezing make-shift home of sticks with a fish, or an insect, or it drags a bloodied gazelle’s leg back to the cave, its children don’t say “Yuck” or “OhwwW… I wanted chips”. No. Animal-children hungrily gobble literally whatever it is up in one go. GULP. And then the animal parent feels a sense of achievement and satisfaction, its life’s purpose fulfilled. Pillar numero uno of parenting nicely ticked off.
I used to love going out in the evenings. My favourite thing was getting dressed up with my girlfriends, hitting the town, having some drinks then tearing up the dancefloor somewhere, all of us laughing so much that we’d have to sit down just to breathe. Having laughs with friends sure is fun, but have you tried cooking something that both your children eat?
Before I had these children I used to say, “Oh when I have kids, they’ll jolly well eat what I give them.” I even said things like “jolly well”, imagining myself in the role of a firm but fair mum from the 1940s, wearing an apron and holding a rolling pin. “They’ll jolly well eat their dinners or they’ll go to bed with hungry tummies,” I’d say.
But sadly, my fantasy old-fashioned self evaporated like milk as soon as Girl was born. She was the new sheriff in town and has eaten nothing but sweetcorn and fish fingers for most of her life, only now beginning to branch out into chicken korma with rice, tomato soup, pizza, pasta but ONLY if its totally plain.
And Boy isn’t much better. Every morning he starts the day with what he calls a “coco” which is a little sponge cake Madeleine. That request took some decoding, let me tell you. And for his hot dinners he will have what we call “soupy rice” which is tomato soup with rice in it. Sometimes he’ll have mashed potato. Sometimes inexplicably he’ll ask for eggs but then when I bring him eggs he’ll shout, “NO EGGS!”. And he likes sweetcorn, but not always. After dinner they both like to get into my bed and eat “boing boings”, which means Smarties. It’s a confusing world where a lot of food gets prepared and not much gets eaten.
So next time you see an animal outside and feel sorry for it, just remember that though its fur is wet, it’s cold or it has to sleep standing up (exclusively horses), it at least has the satisfaction of feeding its children whatever it brings them.
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