Is the Pope Catholic? Do bears....? Will I inevitably end up writing about my son and food?
I think we know the answers to all of the above.
Last week, as I collected LittleBear from school, I was summoned to one side by his class teacher. Apparently he's struggling with certain lunches. Like I didn't know that already. On this occasion, he ended up gagging on his lunch and spitting it out. It was chicken in barbecue sauce, so I don't really blame him. The problem appears to be that the lunch supervisor insists that he eats everything, or at least some of everything, and if there's one thing that bitter experience has taught me it's that attempting to force LittleBear to eat anything is futile, counter-productive and liable to end in tears. For everyone involved.
I explained* to the class teacher that there are certain things that he doesn't like, particularly those things that involve sauces, and that I really don't mind if he doesn't eat them, as long as he is able to have whatever carbohydrate and vegetable is available without someone helpfully pouring the sauce all over that too. I'm sure the school is doing its best to do the right thing in attempting to get all the children to eat something at lunchtime, but there has to come a point where forcing a child to eat is the wrong path. Gagging on their food is probably that point. I don't want my boy to end up in the position I was in at primary school - the only child left in the school hall, with a plate in front of me and a teacher beside me as we had a show-down for the entirety of the lunch-break over a brussels sprout. I won. I didn't eat the brussels sprout. But nor did I get play time that day. This is not the future I dream of for my child.
I could, as various people have suggested, move LittleBear over to packed lunches. Except that would involve me having to make packed lunches, and I need more to do like I need a hole in the head. It would also involve LittleBear missing some of his favourite meals, which he is adamant would be unacceptable. The school has a three-week menu, and one can opt to have packed lunches every day, or perhaps every Tuesday, or every Tuesday-and-Thursday, or some other repeating pattern. What one can't do is have packed lunch on Tuesday one week, Wednesday the next week and Monday the third week. Which is what we'd have to do to try to avoid LittleBear's most-hated meals. So, again, packed lunches are not the answer.
Last year, in his first year at school, there didn't seem to be much of a problem. He ate the things he liked, and didn't eat the things he didn't like, and nobody made a fuss. He was encouraged to try new things, but not forced. I don't know whether there's been a change in policy, or whether it's simply a different expectation for the older children than for the tiddlers that start at age 4.
Fortunately, LittleBear's lovely class teacher has asked that I bring her a marked-up copy of the menu, indicating which are the things that LittleBear really, really struggles with, and she will "have a word" with the lunch supervisor so that he isn't forced into eating them. I don't know if this is a feasible proposition or not, because I find it hard to imagine the lunch supervisor being interested in having bespoke instructions for one child amongst the rabble she has to oversee. I also find it hard to believe that all the other children dutifully eat everything they're given without cavilling. Surely it's not just my little boy? Surely the lunch supervisor doesn't insist they all eat everything? Surely the others don't simply bow to the imprecations to eat everything? Surely it's not practical to make my LittleBear a special case? Surely he's not that different? Is he? Is he?
* Yes, I did feel as though I were the worst kind of helicopter parent protecting my special snowflake from facing things he doesn't like. And then I remembered how many years we've been living with this anti-sauce position, and how many ways round it we've tried, and I just felt weary with it all, and no longer embarrassed.