Fists balled at her sides, my granddaughter stands before the kitchen table, fat tears streaming down both beet-red cheeks.
Before her sits tonight’s meal: the finest frozen pizza money can buy (for $2.50, anyway), enhanced with extra cheddar cheese on top and a puddle of ranch dressing on the side for dipping.
Cooked and everything.
Any kid’s dream supper.
“Ekeyons!” she wails.
In sympathy, or perhaps in competition, her twin joins in the chorus.
“Ekeyons!” they scream in strident stereo shrieks. “Ekeyons!”
“What the hell are ‘Ekeyons?’ ” I ask my daughter who, after a long day at work, has come over to our house to pick up the little darlings.
By this point, she’s become emotional, as well.
“They’re saying ‘icky onions,’ Dad,” she sniffs. “Apparently, they don’t like onions anymore.”
Now that I’m older and wiser, I take a moment to assess the situation before responding.
“Well, then just pick the onions off and eat the pizza!” I yell in a most reassuring and grandfatherly manner.
My suggestion spurs a whole new chorus from the twinsemble.
“We want to go home!” they scream.
And so ends another day at grandpa’s child-care center, where preschoolers participate in state-of-the-art educational programming and engage in delightful recreational opportunities while enjoying world-class cuisine.
Hundreds of meals served. Several actually eaten.
Now breakfast with the twins is a breeze: cereal, toast and a drink. Lunch also is easy: PB&J, cheese sticks, crackers, fruit and a cookie followed by an after-dinner cartoon.
But din-din, on days when the kids stay late, is always a crapshoot.
That’s because the twins, like vampires, arise après-naptime hungry and ready to feast, and have only a small window in which to feed before they go berserk.
As the hunger builds, they become uber-competitive for attention: “Zoey took my toy, grandpa.” “Abby took my doll, grandpa.” “Zoey took my chair, grandpa.” “No, Abby, it’s my turn to sit there.” “No, it’s my turn, Zoey.” “Zoey said I’m bad, grandpa.” “No, grandpa, Abby said I’m bad” ... and so on, squabbling right up until the moment supper is unveiled.
And then the screaming really begins.
For supper, I try to cook something involving one of the four main food groups – beef, chicken, fish or pork – since their vegetarian parents usually serve them some kind of hideous concoction involving quinoa, kale, chia seeds and soy-based artificial meat.
Turns out the girls actually like actual meat, the kind that comes from the butcher shop. The kind that doesn’t involve texturized soy protein, tofu or lentils. The kind that comes in burgers. Or loafs. Or chunks. Or chops. Or nuggets.
But plain, without embellishments: no sauce, no gravy, no eggs and no vegetables mixed in, short of ketchup on the side. Because combining any other ingredient into the meat course reduces their carnivoristic instincts to horror and tears.
Stews, beyond simple meat and potatoes, are icky. Gravy is gross, except on mashed potatoes. Spaghetti with meat sauce is OK, but incorporate that same sauce into lasagna and it becomes an exercise in disgust. Homemade chicken pot pie, which takes a good hour and a half to assemble and cook, has to be broken down into separate piles of chicken, potatoes, peas, carrots and crust before consumption.
Little kids just aren’t big on food combinations. Wait, strike that. It’s not that they don’t like combinations, it’s that they won’t even try them.
Except for pizza. Slop just about anything on flat bread, slather it with cheese and they’ll make an exception.
At least until now.
So the kids went over the updated veggie list with me this morning. Onions are icky. Ditto spinach, broccoli, green beans (or, for that matter, pretty much anything green) and corn. But corn on the cob is yummy. Ditto carrots, peas and squash.
Though not on pizza.
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for more than 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.