Jacob was the last at the table, staring at me over the lazy susan. It was because of the partially eaten turkey sandwich on his plate. He dug his thumb into the sandwich, making a perfect Wonder bread crater.
“Ok,” I said, “do what you want to it, but you have to eat it. Three more bites.”
He looked up from his plate, which was beginning to look a bit like he was experimenting with a new sculpting medium.
“I want Cheetos,” he said, pointing to the bag of puffy Cheetos I’d placed in the middle of the lazy susan as incentive. You see, the rule was ‘no sandwich, no puffy Cheetos.’ And Jake loved himself some puffy Cheetos.
I sighed. “Great, you can have some,” he smiled big, “just as soon as you finish your bites.” He looked down at the sandwich. If looks could kill, that slice of turkey had just suffered a second death.
Usually Jacob not finishing his dinner wasn’t that big of a deal. He was the finickiest little kid when it came to eating. Sometimes he’d eat you out of house and home and other times you practically had to force the issue. But forcing made him gag, so you counted your blessings if he ate one full meal in a day. We called him hummingbird.
It had been a hummingbird day. My mom gave me her Jake is going to starve himself to death look when he announced, “I’m full,” after two bites. I decided as his aunt it was time to show the kid a thing or two about eating food.
I picked up my copy of Sarah’s Key and began reading at the table. Like most hummingbirds, Jacob is more likely to eat if you don’t look at him directly.
He sighed and slumped in his red wooden high chair. “I can’t.”
I looked up from my book. “Yes you can. Three more bites and then you can have a Cheeto.”
He narrowed his big blue eyes and pursed his lips around his buck teeth, a look he had decided as a toddler was pathetic and funny enough to get him whatever he wanted. I went back to reading.
Five minutes later I heard him chewing. He’d taken a bite! I couldn’t help myself: “See Jacob, not so terrible, is it?” in my best teacher voice.
He put his hands over his eyes, hanging his head as he swallowed. “I want Cheetos.”
“I know. But two more bites, Buddy, that’s it. Just take ’em.” I wanted to hang my head too. WE’d been at this for a half hour and all we had to show for it was Stonehenge made of turkey sandwich and one measly bite.
“I don’t want to.”
I looked up from my book. “We all do things we don’t want to, Jacob. You know that?” He looked up with a wad of sandwich in his hand. Our eyes met. He narrowed his, sizing me up and then nodded as if he understood. Life was full of turkey sandwiches we don’t want to eat but had to, if we wanted the Cheeto.
“I want Cheetos, please.”
I decided a wad was as good as two bites and I was pretty sure I was going to be dealing with a nuclear meltdown or the turkey going bad if we sat with the sandwich much longer.
We counted out four Cheetos. And almost as quickly they were gone.