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Slack tide: Ballad of the Never-ending Dinner: A Cautionary Tale

Posted: March 8, 2014 - 11:01pm

When I first began publishing work people might actually read, my wife made me swear not to take a political stance of any kind. Ever. Or else she’d suspend my allowance.

Therefore, unlike promises to start using the treadmill or stop buying old concert T-shirts on eBay, this one I meant.

So whenever I’m tempted to weigh in publicly ­— as I was earlier this week after hearing a radio segment about a bill currently before the legislature allowing students to carry firearms on University of Alaska campuses — I take a breath. In that breath, I try to think of the most ideologically neutral assertion possible, something left-wingers, right-wingers, moderates, extremists, Yankees fans, Red Sox fans and my parents (who’ve grown quite contentious with age) would all agree upon.

This week’s super-non-controversial substitute opinion: children should eat their dinner. There! Go ahead and take issue with that!

And just to make absolutely sure I don’t slip in any righteous indignation, I will address this subject in rhyming heroic couplets. After all, nothing rhymes with “gun control.”


In a house like your house, on a street like your street

Little Blonde’s family sat down to eat.

Their dinner plates heaped with protein-starch-veg

And a bowl with tomatoes and a crisp iceberg wedge.

“Salt,” Daddy said. “Ketchup,” asked brother.

“Don’t talk with your mouths full,” said Little Blonde’s mother.

But Little, herself, was less than enthused.

To dine, yet again, she simply refused.

You see, every night she pulled the same schtick

Poking and prodding, not eating a lick (not even licking a lick — that’s a pretty neat trick!)

Waiting it out was her usual scheme

And then, maybe later, a little ice cream?

But tonight Mama Blonde put her big Blonde foot down.

“Little, that’s it,” she said with a frown.

“I’ve had quite enough of this no-dinner stuff.

Tonight, you are eating. Don’t like it? Well, tough.”

“We’ll see,” Little said, cutting pieces real small

To wad up in her napkin rolled into a ball.

But Little Blonde’s mom was not to be fooled.

“Better eat up, before it’s all cooled.”

“I mean it,” she added, dinner congealing

Foul and disgusting and most unappealing

As the family finished, Little was stricken.

Sickened by chicken she’d left to let thicken.

Her salad looked pallid, peas smelled of disease

Mashed potatoes now play dough, rock-hard broccolis.

And there sat her brother, to make matters worse

Happily forking down double dessert.

“Please,” the girl begged, “can I just have some cake?”

“No,” said Mom, Dad nodding, “and make no mistake.”

“On this point, young lady, there’ll be no debate:

You won’t leave the table ‘til you finish that plate.”

With brother excused — “That was delicious!”

Mom and Dad started to tackle the dishes.

Leaving Little to sit and despondently stare

At her uneaten dinner, alone in her chair.

But those Blonde girls are stubborn, and Little pushed back.

Figuring sooner or later her mother would crack. (But mom didn’t crack; she dug in, in fact.)

Little ate not a morsel, Mom budged not at all.

Dad tried to make peace, he was sent down the hall.

“This is between my daughter and me.”

“Get out of here, daddy, please let us be.”

An hour more passed, then two, then three.

No break from the table, not even to pee.

(Thinking this standoff might postpone for bed?

Sadly, it doesn’t. Here’s what happens instead.)

“Getting late,” mom said. “Will you please eat at last?”

Arms crossed, head shaking, Little stood fast.

“Okay, but you’ll sit here, no matter how late.

You won’t leave the table ‘til you finish that plate.”

Then Mom went upstairs, flipping on one small light

Under which girl and meal spent a very looooonnnnngggggg night.

Next day when she woke, had it all been a dream?

Coffee… PJs… plain old weekend morning, it seemed.

But while the rest all ate waffles, there, sure as heck was

Little Blonde’s dinner, now served for breakfast.

“How ‘bout now,” Mama Blonde asked. “Ready to eat?”

Young Little Blonde squirmed in her seat.

Still, she held strong and stuck to her guns

Despite the temptation of fresh cinnamon buns.*

“Nothing,” said mom, “‘til your dinner’s all ate.

You won’t leave the table ‘Til you finish that plate.”

And on it went day by day, and the next, and the next and the next and the next

Lasting much, much, much longer than one would expect.

And though, for some reason, Little never got thinner

She took not so much as one bite of that dinner.

Weeks became months became years then decades

Little Blonde stayed and the food still remained.

Her brother grew up, her parents grew old

They retired down south, and their house had been sold.

“Well,” rasped now-Grammy Blonde, “how about now?”

“Nope,” Little said. “I won’t stomach this chow.”

“Then have it your way, if that is your fate.

You won’t leave the table ‘til you finish your plate.”

So the standoff continued on into posterity

Just some food, a girl and her temerity.

They became an exhibit in a future museum

Where parents took fussy non-eaters to see ‘em.

To warn of what happens and who is the winner

Of generational conflict re: consumption of dinner.

Of course this was not what Little intended.

Now regretting her position so staunchly defended.

Why hadn’t she downed just a few measly bites?

And with that Little was back on the very first night.

“Okay, you win,” she said and mom laughed.

“Then I’ll make you a deal,” said Mama Blonde. “Just eat half.”

* Okay, okay so I did mention “guns” — but then I rhymed it with “cinnamon buns.” Now a bill allowing cinnamon buns on university campuses… not only could I support a bill like that, it’d definitely make me consider going back to school.

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