Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Slim pickins

I used to look forward to grocery shopping — a chance to spend money, check out and sample the latest food offerings, maybe even pick up a treat or two for myself. I’m pretty good at budgeting, so spending was never a problem, and as most Americans know, we are blessed with a bounty of choices at the supermarket.
The cost of food, so long affordable for many of us, has increased very rapidly recently, especially for staples — bread, eggs, milk, butter (and my kids would add ICE CREAM! PIZZA!) — so we all feel the pinch at the check-out counter.
Still, a plague of sorts has descended upon my tiny house. No matter how many and how quickly I move grocery bags into the front door, heading to the car for more, they’re just as swiftly eaten by the two not-so-little, growing buggers-in-residence.
Where else would a jar of peanut butter last nary a week? A loaf a bread a mere four days? A gallon of milk five?
It seems you can tell a great deal about the psychology of family members, not from what they consume so much as what they won’t. It’s food for thought as I peruse the grocery store aisles, picking up macaroni-and-cheese boxes (“with the ORANGE cheese, Mom!”), fruit and vegetables (“don’t forget raisins and celery, ‘cause I love ants on a log!”), lunch meat (pepperoni is a food group for my 10-year-old), cheese (“get that orange Monster cheese”) and jam (no marmalade, mint or no-sugar will be tolerated!).
So it’s a constant dice roll whether they’ll eat the organic macaroni, turkey pepperoni, all-natural jelly, corn on the cob I try to come home with. All-fruit bars are eaten reluctantly and with much griping, after mom has been chastised to “bring home ice cream this time!”
And where else do two boys consume an entire half a watermelon in two hours? Most assuredly not raised by wolves, my sister, brother and I grew up with a sense of fairness. When items came into the household, we didn’t descend upon them like locusts, we asked if we could have some; if so, it was divided up by the number of family members who were interested in eating some. If Joey didn’t want to eat his two ice cream sandwiches for 17 weeks, gosh darnit, they were STILL his to have when he got the hankering. If dad said the pineapple juice was his for the morning, it wasn’t touched by a soul other than himself. Mom’s diet butter (generously termed) was hers. Unsalted soybeans? Hers. Pasteurized processed cheese food slices? Ours for the taking (those are still sitting there, 30 years and counting).
Perhaps the gollywhomper of them all took place late this winter. I came home from work, threw some healthy snacks toward the gaping mouths of my two offspring, and set about preparing dinner. Turkey hot dogs, corn niblets and snap peas, macaroni and cheese. Garlic bread for those interested. Dad was home just after the two boys were at the table, bickering and picking, eating and griping in between gulps of Ovaltine and milk.
I left the room for some reason or another, returning to find the dinner mostly gone. The guys had devoured their fill, had seconds already, and left mom .... dirty dishes to clean up.
“Where’s my dinner?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“I thought you ate already, honey,” said dad.
Sure, in between washing and folding laundry, sweeping and mopping the floor, I’d had my repast. Where did they think I ate? Is there a parallel place of peace I have the option of eating in?
“That’s OK,” I said. “I’ll just have grilled cheese.”
That is, if anyone left me a piece or two of Provolone, a few drips of olive oil and two slices — even the end ones — of bread.

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