“You will eat it…. right now!”
My mother’s face was side by side with the bean I had singled out.
I had to eat it.
It was not the easiest food item to engage in a stare-down. With a black eyed pea there would have been something to focus on. This bean was nothing but a green, unresponsive blob.
“No one is leaving this table until you eat that bean and if you don’t hurry up you’ll eat all of them,” my mother said, in case I had not heard her the fourth time she made this threat.
“Jesus, Charles!” This was my older sister. A reprobate with tobacco in his teeth and huge truck tires clearly compensating for SOMETHING was about to pick her up for a date. “Stop being a baby! Just eat it already!”
They were all nuts. Like that one stinking lima bean would fill a single distended belly among the millions of hungry African kids my mother had invoked again and again. It wasn’t like the stupid bean had any healthy qualities left. She had bathed the thing in butter and pig’s fat all afternoon. Maybe it was a few steps away from fast food, but, at best, it was a bastard child of the vegetable family now.
Still, Mom had made it clear. Not a single napkin would leave a single lap until I ate one of the forty beans she had slopped on my plate. She was prepared for all five of us to sit there all evening long.
My dad sighed as he tipped his beer bottle upside down over his lips, hoping for a drop gravity might have somehow missed. He was stuck, too.
“One damn bean,” Dad mumbled as he slammed the empty bottle on the table. It wasn’t clear if he was directing anger at his wife, or son, or both.
Even as a kid I knew my behavior was beyond ridiculous. My friends dared me to eat disgusting things all the time and I did. So why dig my heels in about a stupid lima bean? And why was my mother channeling Charles Manson about the whole thing?
Of course, now I understand my mother’s lunatic behavior. We have standoffs over uneaten food all the time. Except now I’m the parent, paying for it, preparing it, and watching so much of it, and my effort, and my money, end up in the garbage can.
It doesn’t make sense.
I recently watched my pickiest child slurp down road kill in the school cafeteria. It was one of those days where the parent comes to eat with their kid. I begged off the food I was offered. As a student my son could not do the same, but it never occurred to me that he would take the first bite. This was the same adventurous eater who would not tackle his pasta the night before because I had used a different noodle.
Now, as we sat face to face, an oil spill of grease shimmied on the top of his tray, making it hard to see what lurked in the dark liquid beneath. It was a morass of mystery. A dark swamp of bits and pieces of meat I don’t want to comprehend, probably raccoon.
When he picked up his fork I assumed it was an impromptu science experiment to see if the steel would hold up to the chemicals on his plate. I was wrong. He kept telling me about some math test while he scooped up a big bite whatever it was and shoveled it into his mouth.
That little no-rigatoni-eating, stubborn, son of a gun was eating a school lunch!
There wasn’t even time to say anything before he doubled down. That’s right, he started eating his veggies. Was that? It was. He was eating lima beans.
“You will eat it…. right now!”