He might be the most beautiful little man I've ever seen but he is also the meanest. He glares across the table, votive candles flickering shadows against his eyes because I like to pretend we do it decadent 'round here, anger pulsing in a growl that hurls sticks and stones, fuming actual heat at me.
"Why would you even make dis?" he spits at me. "It's disgusting. It's so gwoss!"
And I'm already tired and I've even gone so far to make the kids their own version of stir-fry - one without the mushrooms and sprouts.
We've been here before. "I'm so not interested in this right now, Liam. You eat it or you starve."
"But why would you even make disgusting stuff?"
"Because I'm a terrible person."
"Yes, you are!"
"You need to leave the table, Liam. You're being unfair."
"Well you never make stuff I wike!"
"That's fine," I say. "I'm not cooking tomorrow. You can get your own food. Right now, I need you to leave the table."
He comes around and grabs the back of my chair, shaking it like an earthquake, threatening it's antiquated legs. "Stop. You're going to break the chair."
"No, I'm not - dat's just 'cause you're so heavy!" and he stomps off.
I eat another bite of chicken and hate how much his mean little digs hurt me.
"Mommy?" Zander's pushing his food around his plate, eyeing me from the corner of his eye. "Do I have to eat this?"
"That's all you're getting."
"But I don't like it."
"Then you can be excused and enjoy a day without my cooking tomorrow."
"Mommy?" It's Noa's turn. "My tummy hurts."
"Of course it does," I say. "You can go with the boys."
Scott sits across from me, plate wiped clean, not a complaint. "They're mean."
Sadness and frustration and raw, stupid, anger flow through me. "I really mean it," I say to Scott. "I'm not cooking for them tomorrow."
And I don't. And they eat dry cereal and peanut butter sandwiches. And I couldn't care less.
Now, "I don't like it" has become a swear word in our home and it will not be tolerated. I don't care if you don't like it. Sit there politely. Eat it. Or don't. But know that you'll get nothing else. Eat it or starve!