Don’t You Want Your Own Bowl?

I eat cereal after Silas goes to bed. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. It defines me as a person.

There’s a three hour difference in our kids’ bed times at the moment. The big guy (Silas) sacks out around 7:30 and his little brother (Arlo) is up practicing for a Korn moshpit until 10:30. He’ll take a short break to catch his breath, then clumsily waltz over to me and sink his hand into my bowl of cereal to fish out a nice soggy rice check.

“Don’t you want your own bowl?”

“No, daddy bowl!”

We try to keep our kids clean, but when they make no contribution to that effort, it’s impossible to know what’s on their hands. Flecks of brown Play Doh are simply Play Doh until the one time they aren’t and then everything changes forever and daddy stops eating and talking.

I could wash his hands before he goes splashing into my food, but that would be a tacit approval of his scavenging. Lindsay is no help, “I’m just glad he’s eating,” she says. While I share that gratitude, he looks like a raccoon sifting through the garbage, and I feel like a helpless orphan who isn’t tough enough to defend his gruel.

I sit on the sofa eating like a prison inmate, but as soon as he sees it, there’s no stopping him. I suppose I could sneak down into the basement and eat my cereal behind the boiler, but that would be lonely and pathetic.

Most parents will let their kid eat off of their plate. It’s no big deal — they grab a pea, a piece of broccoli or a bean and pop it in their mouth. Very few parents would let them plunge their hand into the soup and eat it like a thirsty cowboy at a watering hole. When it’s just pieces of food, there’s very little collateral damage, but if a 2 year-old goes wrist deep into milk, it’s inevitable that something gets left behind.

It’s never anything solid  that you could simply pick out, investigate, shrug off, and flick across the room. What’s left behind is a film that rests on top of the milk. You can only see it from certain angles, but when you do catch a shimmering glimpse, it’s clear your snack has been contaminated by the toddler-sheen. I don’t know if it’s sweat from all the moshing, or just a general greasiness, but it rests on top of milk like someone laid a wind breaker on a puddle.

But you love the kid, and cereal is expensive, so you do the best you can to eat around it.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

23 comments On Don’t You Want Your Own Bowl?

  • Reason 34523423 it's a good idea I just got my tubes blocked: I could never love a child enough to eat filmy cereal they'd put their hands in. Much cereal would be wasted in my home.

  • You've made me inexpressibly grateful for my own OCD baby and his Lady-Macbeth-like enthusiasm for handwashing.

  • Too funny! I actually burst into tears when my oldest daughter was about 9 months old because I could never get a drink or eat anything by myself. Now I wait until my kids are napping to eat my lunch just for a break.

    • Sarah! Me too! I just don't eat around them usually, because it's not worth fighting for my food. I swear my kids can have the EXACT same food on their plates, but they only want mine. :)

    • I get one solid meal a day. And that is lunch. My son is only 10 weeks old but I never can find time to eat! So during his longest nap, around 11 am, I make a huge meal. Then I scarf it down about 5 minutes before he wakes up. By the time I get him down for the night, I grab a granola bar or a banana and call it dinner.

  • My son never fails to plunge his filthy little hands into my drink to get a piece of ice when we are at a restaurant.

    I find myself hiding eating all the time now. I feel like I have an eating disorder. I just don`t want to share.

  • Dude! Gross! My boys' hands are so disgusting by bedtime. It seems like they have been shuffling through a dusty engine covered in syrup!

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