“Sit up straight, Flower Anne! You don’t want to grow up with bad posture!”
Mama slid my bowl of cereal in front of me. Oatmeal again. I wanted to slump even more. How could I care about posture at a time like this? I felt the knot in my tummy tightening. I just knew if I ate it, I was going to barf this time. I hate oatmeal so much! And Mama makes me eat stupid oatmeal every morning! I picked up my spoon and pushed it around in the icky, sticky bowl of gook.
“Can’t I pleeeeease have some more sugar?” I begged.
“Too much sugar will rot your teeth,” Mama answered. I made my mouth make the words along with her. I knew exactly what she would say.
“Maybe it’s oatmeal that rots my teeth,” I said.
She ignored me.
“Billy brought in oatmeal for Show and Tell. His dad used it to glue two pieces of wood together.”
Mama looked up from making my lunch. “I had a heck of a time getting one of your spoons out of the bowl once too!” she admitted with a laugh finishing up my pail and closing it up. “Come on, quit playing with your food and eat it.” She roughed up my hair on her way out of the kitchen.
I watched her turn to her right and start up the stairs. As soon as she was gone I turned around in my chair. I had an idea. I started looking for our dog, Booker. He was usually around whenever there was food but I couldn’t see him. Maybe he hated oatmeal too.
“Booker?” I whispered quietly.
I looked around and listened but there was no sign of him.
“Come on, Boy!” I whispered a little louder.
This time I was answered by Booker’s feet padding softly across the floor. It made my heart race instantly! I looked nervously up the stairs. There was no sign of Mama and Booker trotted in wagging his tail.
Booker’s really just a puppy. We got him as a stray. Someone tossed a whole bag of puppies out their car window into the creek at the edge of town. The others all died, but somehow Booker got out and Daddy found him wandering around on the side of the road and brought him home. Daddy says he’s a mutt. He’s all soft and cuddly brown with long pretty fur, and he likes to lick my face, which is kind of icky, but I know it’s because he loves me.
I looked one more time up the stairs and quickly put my bowl on the floor. Booker just looked at it and put his put his head in my lap to be petted.
“Come on, Booker,” I coaxed in a whisper. “It’s okay.” I reached down and tapped the side of the bowl nervously watching the stairs for Mama.
Booker looked at my cereal with complete disinterest. Mama must have fed him before I got up. I reached down and stirred my finger in it. Still no interest.
“It’s good!” I lied, smearing my finger all over his mouth.
He involuntarily lapped up the mess I made on his muzzle, and then he licked my finger clean. Booker wasn’t used to sugar and he decided he liked it. To me, it wasn’t enough to get the awful paste past my tongue, but to Booker it was a new treat. Yes! I was a genius!
“Good boy!” I patted his back, while his wagging tail spanked my chair.
He wasn’t quite done, and I heard Mama starting back down the steps. I waited as long as I could before I picked up the bowl and put it back in front of me, pushing around at the grey gum again the way I had been when she left.
“Out of the kitchen, Booker,” Mama barked when she came back in.
Booker stood there happily wagging his tail and licking his lips conspicuously.
“Come on,” she clapped her hands twice. “Go lie down.”
Sometimes Booker does what he’s told. He trotted obediently into the other room to where his bed was.
“I’m full now,” I said, eyeing the last of what Booker didn’t finish in my bowl and pushing it away from me.
Mama put her hands on her hips and stared at me. I kept my head down and peeked up only a little so she couldn’t see my discomfort. It wasn’t going to matter. I knew what she was going to say. I could have mouthed the words with her again.
“There’s only one more bite. Come on, finish it up.”
There was no way I was touching that last bite. It looked more like four bites to me anyway, but after Booker slobbered all over it, however many it was, it was that many too many!
“But I ate most of it,” I whimpered, trying to sound pathetic.
Mama’s hands tightened into their usual grip when I wasn’t going to get my way. I could see them squeezing her hips like it was somehow helping her stand firm in her spot. But this time they relaxed and let go. She put them on the table and leaned over in front of me to where I had to duck down even lower.
“Yes you did,” she said. “And if you ate most if it, you shouldn’t have any trouble eating all of it!” She smiled coyly and stood back up again.
I couldn’t tell Mama what I’d done. I pushed the spoon into the gooey ick, suddenly ruing my decision to talk Booker into being my accomplice. I pushed the spoon toward my face, desperately trying to think of something, but my head was frozen. I had to eat the last bite or I was going to give away what I’d done. It was no use trying. The memory of yesterday’s oatmeal pushed up from my tummy in complete rebellion.
Mama watched me struggling with a stern look on her face. Tears were starting to form over the thought of a mouthful of doggie spit, but Mama acted as if she didn’t see them. She walked around next to me and took the spoon from my hand. She picked up the bowl and scraped the rest of the oatmeal in to one giant spoonful and held it in front of my mouth.
“Come on, Flower Anne, we have to get you to school. No more playing around.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, trying not to let any tears go. Oatmeal is so wrong. It just sat there in this big ominous blob on the spoon, waiting to choke me. Any real food would have fallen off. I knew I didn’t have any choice. I couldn’t admit my lie. I took a deep breath and sucked the oatmeal into my mouth, doggie spit and all, and tried to swallow as fast as I could. It would not go down.
“There!” Mama smiled. “See? One bite. Now was that so bad?” She took the bowl and spoon to the sink to rinse them.
My cheeks puffed out as I gagged, but I held on. I was trying as hard as I could not to taste what was in my mouth. I tried again and again and managed to get part of it down. Finally, with one big shudder, I squeezed it past my tongue and it was gone. I wiped the tears away while Mama’s back was still turned and then I got up and got a glass of milk to rinse the taste away.
Mama put the bowl and spoon in the washer. She took my glass and put that in too. Then she turned and handed me my lunch pail. I reached out to take it, but she held on to the handle. I looked up to see why. The look of evil satisfaction on her face scared me.
“Maybe…” she said smugly. “Maybe next time we won’t try to feed our breakfast to the dog.”
Someday, Mama’s going to depend on me…
I hope she likes oatmeal.
© 2011 Anne Schilde