Both my kids are convinced that they are doing their mother a great favour by allowing her to stuff food down their throats. That the food is palatable, nutritious, reasonably tasty and well presented means nothing to them - their mother wants them to eat, so to eat is to do her a favour.
Breakfast is always the worst meal of the day - the kids are cranky because they have been woken up from their sleep, they can sense that their mother is tense because she has half a dozen interlinked things to do, and that is one meal which has to be consumed 'now' rather than half an hour later.
And on Wednesday morning, things reached their nadir. Both the kids we eating reasonably well till I had to get up for a moment. When I returned less than thirty seconds later, the younger one just refused to open his mouth long enough for me to push anything in.
I tried coaxing him, no effect.
Tried reasoning with him, no effect.
Tried bribing him, no effect.
Tried threatening him, no effect.
Tried forcing him, no effect.
I finally gave up, fed the older one, dressed him and sent him off to school, before taking up Operation Breakfast Part Two. It was with an eerie sense of deja vous that I went through the motions of coaxing, reasoning, bribing and treatening him.
In the past, I have, at this stage emptied the contents of the breakfast bowl into the blender, and shoved the pureed contents down my son's throat. I stopped short of doing that this time. I told him that if he refused to eat, he was going to be sent to school on an empty stomach, and that his mother would remain mad at him till he ate his next meal. He was in the middle of a tearless tantrum when the school bus arrived, and the goodbye kiss I gave him was nothing short of perfunctary.
I was racked with guilt all day - how could I possibly have sent such a tiny kid so far away without adequate fuel in his tank?
My mother told me that kids could go hungry for a day or two and that I should not worry about it - I knew she was right, but that did not make things much better for me. She had never sent her kid to school on an empty stomach, how could she possibly know the guilt a mother is capable of feeling in such a situation?
A friend told me that as mothers our responsibility is not just to make sure our kid's tummies are full, but also to help them understand the need and importance of food. Dead right - that was what I was trying to teach him, wasn't it? I could not have put it better, but the guilt did not go away.
I was dreading the reaction I would get when I picked the kids up in the evening. But it was as though nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. Both the kids were exactly as they are every other day. They proved a lot more mature than I can aspire to be at this moment.
And today? Today, the son ate his breakfast without a murmur. Could it be that he was hungry today, or was it because he realised what hunger felt like the previous day I sent him to school without food? Whatever the answer, I know exactly how I am going to deal with either kid the next time they fuss over having their meals.
Guilt, I now realise, really has no place in parenting. As long as you are doing your best, you really cannot do too much better.