In the days before children, mealtimes were a highlight of my day, combining three of my favourite things – eating, sitting down and people. These days, mealtimes feature very highly on my stress-o-meter, which is unfortunate because there are three of them compressed into a child’s very short day. I try to remind myself of the often-read advice to make mealtimes fun and enjoyable for children, telling myself that perhaps this breakfast / lunch / dinner time it will be possible. But I’m not sure when that time will ever come – certainly not while the 2 year olds are still combing each other’s hair with their forks and eating food from each other’s faces. The process of getting everyone to the table with food, a drink, the right cutlery and the right colour plates seems to be getting harder every day and I usually find myself with my head in my hands before anyone is even sitting and eating.
I’ll start with the first meal of the day as an example, and then just work on the assumption that the other two mealtimes go along the same lines:
7.30am – Attempt to distract boys with CBeebies while I work at lightning speed to anticipate as many of their demands as possible. This works for about 3 minutes, after which all boys come scampering into the kitchen with the dreaded ‘is it breakfast time, mummy?’ question asked at least 6 times by each boy.
My very clear answer (‘no’) is ignored every time as all boys start getting themselves settled down. They are in a rage – why isn’t their breakfast ready? Why isn’t there milk on their cereal? Why are the crumpets still in the toaster? Where is the juice? WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING IN THE THREE WHOLE MINUTES YOU’VE BEEN IN THE KITCHEN, MUMMY?
All boys insist on collecting their breakfast and taking it to the table themselves. NO, parents are not allowed to help with transporting the items to the table, but YES children will understandably be inconsolable if they spill or drop any item.
On arrival at the table, the following items must all be correct and in position:
- Placemats the right way up. One boy has his upside down, a second boy occasionally chooses to have his upside down. Obviously I have to know when this will be.
- Juice in the right cups. Eldest son must have a cup chosen from the MIDDLE of the stack.
- The right colour spoons and the correct number of spoons each (two each for the twins, three for the eldest. Don’t argue.)
Multiple courses should be ready at the same time. As well as a toasted item, cereal scattered with fruit MUST be ready for them the moment they are in position and ready to eat. Whichever cereal they are given, all boys will ask for a sprinkling of an additional cereal on top. ‘Get it now, mummy’ is bellowed around the table, with ‘I’m not your servant’ my usual response.
Once I sit down to eat, everything should have calmed down. We have food, we have drinks. Everything is the right colour and in the right place. But unfortunately there is hysteria the moment a parent arrives, because with a parent comes the promise of more food to try. There are two rules here – firstly, one try is not sufficient; and secondly, the cereal sample MUST be delivered in the correct way. Cries of ‘try mummy’s in my bowl’ and ‘try mummy’s in my mouth’ are echoed around the table as I frantically try to keep up with requests. Every few days we try to be strict and ignore them – we usually manage this for about 30 seconds. The noise is just too much to bear.
There are other guaranteed occurrences at the table, one of the worst being a boy getting milk or a dreaded crumb on his fingers. This is a DISASTER and must be wiped off immediately. Eldest boy, who is guaranteed to be balanced precariously on his chair, will fall off his chair at least once, or possibly twice. At some point, Twin #2 will have undone his seat straps and be standing on his chair demonstrating his balancing skills, whilst also insisting that no, he hasn’t finished and isn’t ready to get down.
Then comes the dreaded moment – breakfast is coming to an end. Twin #2 in particular never takes the end of a meal well. He asks for more cereal. I try to explain to him that 2 bowls of cereal plus a crumpet is more than enough. Would he like some banana? Of course he would, they would all like some banana in fact. Just as long as it is a big banana. NEVER attempt to fob them off with a few banana slices. I nervously give them half a piece of banana each – if it’s not quite big enough, the meltdown recovery time is at least 10 minutes. Two smaller pieces of banana will never ever do and will be flung across the table in fury.
Once they’ve resigned themselves to the size of banana they’ve been given, there will be demands for more food. ‘Berries, mummy. How about pear? I want a yoghurt.’ Twin #2 is polishing off everyone else’s leftovers and looking around the room for ideas of what else he might be able to eat.
‘How about a hot cross bun? Custard mummy, I want custard. I NEED PUDDING.’
Almost an hour after the start of breakfast, I have to drag him, inconsolable, from the table.