To My Boys (who will not let me feed them)

To My Boys (who will not let me feed them),

I’ve always loved food. Buying it. Cooking it. Eating it. Recreating holiday discoveries. Reading recipe books from cover to cover, turning down pages to mark potential new creations to whip up for family and friends.

Cooking calms me. I look forward to it. It helps me unwind and fulfils a need to create. A need to nurture, to nourish, to show love. I thrive on feeding other people. And I’ve always been pretty good at it, a gift I gratefully received from your Nanny who still feeds a crowd with deceptive ease.

I remember my childhood home filling daily with glorious smells from our poky wee kitchen. Sunday roasts with all the trimmings, lasagne, cannelloni, chicken pie, apple crumble, chocolate cake, flapjack, corned beef cobbler, whole roast trout, cherry cake, melting moments, gypsy creams, leek and potato soup. Give me an oven warmed kitchen, the windows frosted with steam, the sink full of pots and the radio murmuring away in the background and I am a child again, hovering over the cooling rack, the roasting tray or the simmering pot, waiting to sample whatever goodies my mum had cooked up.

You’re not like that. I try so hard not to take it personally when you refuse the food I’ve so lovingly prepared. I try not to let it put me off trying. I try not to let it chip away at my love of cooking. Your father and sister still gobble my grub with gusto. They hover and sniff and sample. They notice the smells as they walk through the front door and comment on them effusively. Which perhaps makes your rejection of my creations harder to bear. Because my food is good, goddamit.

It wasn’t always this hard. I nourished you both from the moment you were conceived without really trying. Before you were born, I embraced only the good stuff, chowing down on my greens (and reds and yellows and oranges), overdosing on calcium and protein, munching through bottles of pregnancy vitamins; steering clear of booze, shellfish and my beloved soft poached eggs. You left me exhausted every day. In bed by 8pm. Wiping me out as I built you up. And I loved it. Every nerve-shredding second. Channelling all my energy into giving you both the best start.

And once you were born, breast feeding was surprisingly easy. You were naturals, happily guzzling away for hours. Never refusing a feed, stopping only once you were sleepy-full and as content as ever a baby could be. And I was so proud of myself, even through the night feeds, the wind and the vomit. I watched you both grow bigger and stronger and knew it was all down to me.

And then came the solids. And something went wrong. For both of you purees were at least palatable and you tried all of them. Even broccoli. But you balked at the lumps and refused anything that might actually pop, squish or squelch in your mouth. Sweetcorn? No thanks. Tomatoes? Boak. Spaghetti? You’re having a laugh. Everything had to be as plain as possible and easily identifiable. No hiding seven different vegetables in a pasta sauce for you two. Savoury muffins disguised as sweet treats were spotted for exactly what they were. You are a pair of suspicious eaters with wills of iron. We’ve tried sticker charts, we’ve withheld puddings, we’ve ranted and raved (well, I have). All to no avail. I guess maybe you’re just not that fussed for food. Crisps, biscuits, toast, fruit – fine. But actual, proper food? A plate full of colour, texture and taste? Not so much. It does nothing for you. Leaves you cold.

A very good friend recently told me that as your parent my job is to put food that is healthy, tasty and full of love in front of you. Just that. To offer it and no more. It’s up to you what happens next. You eat it or you don’t. You love it or you don’t. And it’s no reflection on any of us either way. I’m trying to live by that now. To give you the best I can and let you come to it when you’re ready. To fill the kitchen with laughter, songs and love as I cook the food you refuse to eat. To bring lightness and joy and conversation to our dinner table so you can remember the act of sitting to eat with your family as something riotous and fun, even as you forget what you ate. I realise now that feeding others feeds my ego as much as their bellies. As I provide my family and friends with physical nourishment, they nourish me emotionally. I think perhaps this has to change. Because your rejection of my food is not a rejection of me and a clean plate is no proof of love.

All my love,