R, a boy of six, and C, his sister, were deep in conversation as their supper went cold on their plates.
“If I was a lion I would eat zebras,” C declared.
“Yes,” her older brother agreed. “I would eat lots of zebras every day if I was a lion.”
Of course both children say ‘zeh-bra’, not ‘zee-bra’, and Mrs S has unresolved feelings about this.
“Lion, RAAAAAWR!” growled N, the youngest, determined not to be left out of the conversation. After all, she is two years old now, and that is almost twenty-nine.
“Eat your dinner,” said Mr S, scraping his pate clean. ‘It’s made of pigs.”
“Piggy. OINK!” N informed her family sagely.
“Is this this rice I like?” C asked, poking at it.
“Have you tried it yet?” asked Mrs S.
“Yes,” said C.
“Did you like it?” asked Mrs S.
“Yes,” replied C.
“Then it’s the rice you like.”
“How much of my dinner do I have to eat to have a treat?” R asked.
“All of it,” said Mr S.
“Eat all your meat and the bushy tops of your broccoli,” Mrs S said.
“I don’t want my rice,” said C.
“Kitty Cat. Meow-Meow!” N announced.
“You need to keep eating,” said Mrs S.
“Just four bites, because I am four,” said C.
Mrs S assessed the food left on her middle child’s plate. “Four proper bites,” she qualified.
“I’m finished,” R said, setting down his fork.
“N finished too! Treat!” demanded the two-year-old.
“You have to eat your dinner first,” Mrs S said.
“If I was a tiger I would eat…” C stopped to think.
“Birdies. Tweet tweet!” N suggested.
“I’m finished,” R repeated.
“Broccoli,” Mrs S said, provoking a soul-rending sigh from her son, who picked up his fork again.
“Tigers don’t eat birdies,” said C.
“Chocolate,” N said.
“Tigers DON’T eat chocolate!” C laughed.
“Daddy! Chocolate!” N said again, directing her request to her father with great emphasis.
“Eat your dinner first,” Mr S said. Mrs S picked up N’s fork and began to feed the stir fry to the little girl.
“Mommy do airplane. Neeeyow!” N said, and Mrs S flew the aerobatic-equipped fork into the toothy hangar with impressive sound effects.
Briefly, the mouths of all three children were filled with food, meaning that whatever they were saying was too inarticulate to be recorded here. During this moment, seeing that plates were being emptied, Mr S got up to fetch a chocolate biscuit (cookie) for each child, and Mrs S tried to remember if the dishwasher was empty or full, and if full, if it was clean or dirty. She imagined she might have the energy to load it up with the dinner dishes if it was empty. If it needed unloading first, however, she was reluctant to commit. Sure, she had the energy now, but there were still three kids to get into pajamas and off to bed. And as soon as the kids were sent upstairs to change and brush their teeth, however cheerfully they went, and however eager they were to hear a bedtime story, watch a bit of TV and snuggle up with Mommy and Daddy before going off to sleep, they would bicker, slam doors, and run around as though possessed. After ten minutes, when nobody was changed or had clean teeth, they would roll around on the floor in shrieking at the injustice threatened: no books, no tv, no songs, straight to bed. If Mrs S bellows loudly enough they will suddenly grasp the gravity of the situation and be downstairs, all correct and minty, in under ninety seconds. Mrs S thought the whole drama could be avoided if, instead if sending them upstairs with calm and cheerful instructions, she just stood over them from the get go, and barked like a drill sergeant: “Upstairs NOW! Jammies! Teeth! Or there will be NO nice things at bedtime!” But hope always won out, the wild fantasy that tonight would be the night when they filed upstairs in an orderly fashion, undressed, put their clothes IN THE LAUNDRY BASKET (INCLUDING SOCKS!!!), put on their jammies, brushed their teeth, and arrived back downstairs in approximately five minutes, without stopping to jump on the bed or slam a siblings fingers in the door. And she would ask nicely.
Of course on this night that approach was once again utterly ineffective. After food was finished it was twenty minutes before the children were ready, another twenty-five before the girls were in bed, and a further twenty before the firstborn was tucked in.
Mrs S didn’t load the dishwasher. But she did drink some homemade limoncello, and tried to forget about the dirty dishes in the sink. Mr S offered her some chocolate, but Mrs S demured. She cannot mix alcohol with sweets without feeling sick to her stomach. She told Mr S she doubted tigers had this problem. He looked at her oddly. He has a tendency to tune out when the children are babbling about the theoretical diets of animals they are not. “Do tigers drink limoncello?” he asked, in a tone that implied he wasn’t really listening to himself either. Clearly he finds the theoretical diets of animals not in his care a dull topic, no matter who brings it up.
“I don’t know, but I’m told they don’t eat chocolate,” Mrs S said.
An hour later, as Mr and Mrs S watched the end of romantic comedy-drama Mrs S was ashamed to be enjoying, C came downstairs in tears, because if she was a tiger she really would still want to eat chocolate.