My son is inconsolable, his jaw clenched, fists tight like little doughballs. We’re late leaving for nursery and he’s extremely upset, the kind of upset which, usually, I’d remedy by simply giving him whatever he wanted so we can be on our way. Unfortunately, as happens more frequently these days, the thing he wants does not exist.
‘Tomaaaaaato yoghurt,’ he screams, for the 10th time, ‘I want some tomaaaaato yoghurt.’ I tell him he can’t have tomato yoghurt, and for the following reasons. F irst, to the best of my knowledge, tomato yoghurt is not something that exists and is certainly not something to which he has become sufficiently acquainted that its denial should be provoking such a reaction. Furthermore, if tomato yoghurt did exist, I’d be willing to bet folding money that it would not find itself within the 1% of foodstuffs he actually likes, since he has never really enjoyed tomato in the first place. And finally, he’s already had a very sizeable breakfast of foods that a) he likes and b) have previously been recorded in the history of human civilisation.
‘Tomaaaaaato yoghurt,’ he screams, for the 10th time, ‘I want some tomaaaaato yoghurt’
As usual, my words have no effect and he remains, both literally and figuratively, unmoved. He stands there welded to the spot, crying tears of rage, as if I, his doting father, am refusing him water or insulin.
To some extent, this is better than those times I had to stop him from consuming actual, existing things around the house (toilet water and the soil from our plant pots). But in other ways, it’s worse. When he asks for something he’s not allowed to have, I know how to talk him down. But when he asks for entirely impossible things, it’s hard to know what to do. It was the same with his week-long obsession with ‘aeroplane bagels’, a foodstuff we think he may have experienced in a dream and which bears so little resemblance to standard, shop-bought bagels, that he felt forced to scream screamed in our faces any time they were offered in consolation.
As always, I have to remind myself that he’s three, and therefore doesn’t know that there’s no such thing as tomato yoghurt, or aeroplane bagels, or milk burgers, or paint pies, but I can’t help being appalled by the strength of his futile conviction. It’s stressful and confusing to see him reduced to furious sobs at the thought ofby illogical, horrible food combinations, like a tired, confused Heston Blumenthal scrolling dejectedly through his drafts folder.
At nursery, he runs into the arms of his carers with delight, as if finally freed from his growling dictator of a father. On the way home, I Google tomato yoghurt and find one Japanese stockist who bill it, somewhat winningly, as ‘the tomato yoghurt that makes tomato haters faint in agony’. I manage to resist the urge to buy it just to know what is in my son’s head or, if I’m honest, so we can feed it to him and have him admit his folly. Instead, I show it to my wife who says, ‘Huh, that’s funny, I was just telling him the other day that tomatoes were a fruit.’
‘How wonderful,’ I say, clenching my own jaw this time. ‘You’re doing breakfast next time.’
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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