He clasps the grenade high, for predetermined, maximum impact he has chosen his yoghurt. The upper hand, quite literally. A cut of fish finger goes in, a few taunting chews then escapes down, under his smirk. A little chuckle –
My mouth spasms but no retort, my eyes scream- STOP IT YOU LITTLE MENANCE IF YOU FUCKING DARE THROW THAT YOGURT-as six o’clock marches in and we go to WAR, among the tall turrets of murky plates, dirty tactics and ground lost beneath fallen pasta shells. Frank has fashioned a sticky, gummy moat of sauce, a defence around his high chair – outside lies carnage and destruction.
“Do not throw that yoghurt,” I say, very calmly but firmly, locked in a deadbolt stare.
We eat in the kitchen to save the carpet, me perched tentatively on Frank’s toy box, crumpled up beside the fridge. It starts so civilized, as we clink “Cheers”, Frank’s beaker against Mummy’s happy juice (wine, not gin!) Our own intimate restaurant, fragranced with delicious steam and evening rays.
But before long Frank is piling on the High Drama, the performance of his life, as if I’m poisoning him. The Teenage Toddler Tantrum. An Aries, stubborn and strong minded. The first piece is thrown, the battle lines drawn, as he searches my face for something.
“UH-OH.” Peas sail past my ears.
“He’s so good at eating, isn’t he?” I receive yet another nursery report card telling me the VERY GOOD quantities X2 of all the food he eats there. He displays a glowing grin. YOU LITTLE RASCAL. What’s wrong with Mummy’s cooking? Besides never really graduating from University days of pasta pesto and cheesy jacket potatoes?!
I ignore him because my instinct tells me that all Frank is aiming for is a reaction. Frank eats what I cook from his Grandpa, from lots of different people, so in seriousness I know it’s not my culinary skills or cuisine choice (I don’t just feed him pasta pesto and JPs). I know he can and often does feed himself, but the threat of explosions against our white rented walls is always just one “UH-OH” away.
Clifford’s fuse is shorter than mine. We never had many conversations about what kind of parents we would be (all highly theoretical anyway), but some bullshit things we did say, included “our kid is never going to have a meltdown at the supermarket” and “I won’t let my kid be glued to a screen if we go out for dinner.” HA.
“Frank, do not throw that yoghurt,” I repeat, as I move cautiously in to remove it from his grip, bomb disposal at the highest degree. He lurches away but I manage to make a successful grab for it. I’m quicker (just) but he’s still freakishly strong. He shrieks then settles. The tension is momentarily defused.
As well as being a sea of chaotic stress – tiny, overcrowded and where most of the dangerous things in a home live (why Frank loves it so much) – our kitchen is also a room teaming with life. The tiniest room with the biggest heart. It’s where we really talk, away from the TV, whilst marinating chicken and chopping tomatoes. We fight, cry, laugh, cuddle in the kitchen, where bargains are made, scores settled. For a while I was receiving Gusto boxes, determined to expand my cooking selection past the two fore mentioned “recipes”. This seems to be what couples do when they can’t go out every night.
As I’m now holding the yoghurt I spoon the rest into Frank’s mouth. He’s soundless, surveying me – your move…
A tune comes on the radio and Frank beams. He smiles with his whole face, his whole being. But it’s more than that, an aura that’s infectious. He points one finger in the sky and I agree, it’s a banger. I twist up the volume and my mouth twitches upwards too. It is impossible to stay mad at Frank (I mean, have you seen him?) Frank flings his arms up but free of food. A ceasefire. A party. Throw shapes not dinner. We’ve always loved our kitchen raves since he was tiny, jiggling close against my shoulder.
I dance around him, shoving the remaining morsels into his mouth while he’s distracted. This time they only fall out when he laughs or smiles too much. I often feed Frank whilst he’s distracted, by lids and containers and things he can put in and take back out. But these tricks are on the clock.
Frank licks his lips, his table clear. He’s full and I exhale. He points to his bears – to Funny Bear and Bunny – and I pass them over, so he can make sure each are fed and have had enough to drink. He’s so thoughtful like that.
When it’s time to get down Frank bee-lines straight for the cupboard under the sink, where all the nasty potions live, except he only fishes out the dustpan and brush. He starts to sweep up his mess, the chewed up pieces and the remains of our scuffle all go in the bin like the clean-up operation on a Monday morning after a Sunday night final. He’s as cheeky as they come but he always tidies up.