You can find my McDonald's story on her blog Well Fed, Flat Broke here and her DQ sweetness right down below.
While you could read this on the toilet (my preferred perch for most of my long-form internet reads), may I humbly suggest you enjoy it while shovelling something deeply unhealthy into your mouth.
“I been a good boy today,” he says to me as we link hands in the hallway outside of our apartment. “You been a good girl?” He only makes this kind of intense, unbroken eye contact when he’s campaigning for something. His eyes are big and blue and dangerously persuasive – I hope as he ages, he uses his powers for good. “We deserve something, mum.”
I’m not great with kids. I mean, we can talk, but I always feel like I am boring them and I always feel that they can feel that they are boring me. And though they don’t have as many words as we do, kids have more smarts than we give them credit for; I worry about talking down to them and end up talking to them as if they are adults, which they appreciate when they are ten but are flummoxed by when they are younger than that. Mine’s three and a half, but he’s used to me. My mothering is best when he meets me at my level. This is something I feel guilty about.
And so this kid and I sometimes don’t relate to one another. I’m trying. And he finds me trying, sometimes, and so I overcompensate with treats.
I did everything the books said and every reasonable thing the internet said in the days before and after he was born, in those hazy days when you’re supposed to be establishing that mother-child bond I was somehow singularly responsible for (or else he’d definitely do meth one day). Even so, he’d always reach for Daddy. Maybe kids can smell fear, and I didn’t do a great job of hiding mine; I eat enough garlic that when I sweat I smell like Bolognese sauce, so maybe that was it. Maybe he could sense that his father was calmer and more reasonable in the face of all this change (and in general). Maybe Spouse just seemed cooler. I don’t know, but this kid could barely lift his head and yet when I held him he would crane his whole body and stretch out of my arms toward his father.
I thought I’d get him back on back on my side when it was time to introduce solid food. One thing Spouse sucks at is cooking; he can fry a pierogi, but he’s never allowed to scramble eggs again and we disagree fundamentally as to how to properly fry a strip of bacon. But I bought his love with food and I’d buy this kid’s as well, I was sure of it. What I lack in personality I more than make up for in culinary skills, which has worked to my advantage in almost all of my relationships.
I bought the best produce, and seasoned it gently with vanilla bean, or cinnamon, or just enough garam masala to hint at a future bright with gastronomic adventure. I bought a food mill and made flawless purees of the juiciest fruit and freshest vegetables of every season. His first taste of a thing was going to be the best possible version of that thing and he was going to intuit from all of these tastes and effort my great love for him, this kid who regarded me as Riker to his father’s Picard. Maybe it was all the new chin hairs I’d sprouted since his gestation that made him regard me as some bearded second-in-command. The post-partum stage is endlessly cruel.
When he napped, I chopped and steamed and pureed and seasoned. When he woke, we’d play at eating, and I would introduce things and he would gag and I would give up, temporarily, thinking maybe he just wasn’t ready.
I added red lentils and peanut butter and thick, fatty yogurt to things and spun eggs into sweet custards and cheesy timbales so he’d get a few bites of protein, here and there. I made puddings of avocados and bananas and cocoa of a quality I wouldn’t have splurged on for me or any other adult. I made delicate, airy waffles and soaked them in pure maple syrup, thinking I could trick him into readiness with just the right taste.
He wasn’t ready. I froze little cubes of food and canned the apple and pear sauce and decided to wait a little longer.
Around 18 months, he decided all he wanted out of life was applesauce and peanut butter toast. The food cubes sat in the freezer.
We moved across town to a neighbourhood better suited to our lifestyle just after his first birthday. Despite his picky, self-rationed eating, his Dutch genes have ensured that he has always been a very big kid, and so his milestones came slower with that much more body to propel forward. When he finally walked at 17 months, he never stopped, and he went from baby to big kid, slimming and stretching, in a matter of weeks. We were so excited that we went out without the stroller and let him walk beside us and there was no going back.
Our new neighbourhood was walkable though, and as his legs grew stronger and his steps steadied, we made it further and further afield. On a weekend when his father was away fishing, the two of us made it all the way to the Dairy Queen on Main Street, and his chubby hand clutched at a chocolate-dipped like he was born with the cone in his grasp.
We assume that motherhood is meant to be a natural fit for the person it’s thrust upon, it being a biological imperative and all. The mother-child relationship is perhaps the most intimate relationship there is, and while intimacy is about the warm and the familiar, first-time motherhood is unfamiliar new territory. After something like a marathon you are just handed this person after ten months of being really unsure about this whole thing, and the nurses and your family and the government just expect you not to screw it/the person up too badly. You comment on the absurdity of your situation to strangers in cafes and the drugstore, and they look at you like you might be some kind of monster. You wonder if you are, because nothing feels the way all those other mothers with their kind eyes and their blurry hindsight said it would.
We joke about the things these kids will tell their therapists one day, except we’re not really joking.
Spouse has type 1 diabetes and is insulin dependent, and I’m a treat monster, so soon Toddler and I had made a secret little habit of ducking into Dairy Queen all by ourselves. As his language developed, Dairy Queen became essential to his vocabulary. He never let it pass his passenger-side window without comment, and soon it became a bargaining chip: “I be a good boy, we get Dairy Queen?” It’s been two years since our first cone together; he is often a very good boy.
Most days his dad picks him up from daycare as the trip there on the bus from my work is convoluted and takes forever, but if I can get out of the office a few minutes early, sometimes I get myself across town to get him. His eyes brighten when he sees me, and he hugs me tightly before slipping his little hand into mine. “We goin’ to Dairy Queen?” he says. “Then we ride the bus?” And I demure for the woman who runs the daycare – “Ha ha, of course we’re not getting ice cream before dinner!” – and then we sneak off into the DQ a block over and slide into a booth together with our cold treats and he talks to me, a little like an adult and I know he’s trying, even if I’m a bit trying. It no longer feels like we’re struggling to become acquainted. We are accomplices in a plot against his father now, if the plot is the secret enjoyment of glucose and the joyful spoiling of our dinner.
As we’re leaving, he stretches his little body toward me. I drag him up into my arms and carry him to the bus stop, his sticky face resting in the crook of my neck, and then all the way home.
Emily Wight is a working mom, author, and the blogger behind Well Fed, Flat Broke. Her cookbook, “Well fed, flat broke: Recipes for modest budgets & messy kitchens,” from Arsenal Pulp Press is available in stores (both book and grocery!) and online. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and sometimes Twitter. She is tired.