His mother taught him to prepare for dinner as if it were a battleground. From the kitchen she would stir, wooden spoon gripped in hand. She spoke:
“Gosh, we sure love being healthy!”
“I can just smell the nutrition in this pan!”
She laughed as she praised leafy greens like spinach or its more hideous cousin kale. “You wouldn’t believe it, honey, but I can almost see the beta-Carotene and Vitamin C in this dish!”
He nodded, silent. He was ready for the offensive. He sat at the table, bottom planted on the plastic booster seat. At ten years old he was tall enough to do without but she insisted.
“Are you sitting nicely in your chair, my dear?”
She liked to keep him immobile. The booster seat’s belt guaranteed this.
She hummed as she scooped the kale onto the white plate. He turned his lips up ever so slightly to mimic a smile, and rubbed his hands together.
“I’m so glad you like it, honey. It’s so nice to see you growing up strong.”
The kale looked like green vomit. It smelled like garbage. It tasted worse than spoiled milk, but he knew what he had to do. He forked a chunk into his mouth and chewed. He mimed the ravenous with wide eyes and a snapping jaw.
In case he’d forgotten, she reminded him.
“Just think of the starving children in the world who would be so happy to eat this food.”
Her right eye twitched and her hands trembled in the air in front of her. “This dish takes me 45 minutes to prepare, and after a hard day’s work.”
“I’m happy to make the sacrifice for you, honey. I want to provide good food for my family.” She paused, hands trembling still, to smooth a hair from his forehead. All he felt was the warmth of labor on her palm. All he smelled was the kale lingering on her fingertips.
She claimed maternal instinct but he remained suspicious. He wondered why she served the least desirable part of the meal first, eyes gleaming, and sighed with triumph as she watched his plate empty. Why she refused to excuse him from the table, even when he said he was full.
So he ate the kale as he imagined a mouse would, tiny bit by tiny bit. And thought of pizza and fries with ketchup and chocolate ice cream, not power struggles disguised as warmed vegetables. It gave him strength to swallow the last mouthful. At last, freedom, and a favorite video game!
But here she came again, plopping another scoop of dietary goodness onto his plate. He forked more into his mouth and chewed, tiny bit by tiny bit, and pictured a giant bag of kale growing out of her head.