In Sickness and in Health.
A quick trip to the doctor’s office on Saturday morning diagnosed strep throat with an underlying viral infection, which solved the mystery; I knew about this virus, it had been galloping through her friends. The doctor confirmed what I had already heard from the other mothers; keep her quiet and make her eat and drink.
The keeping her quiet was easy about a third of the time, when she was exhausted. Otherwise, I constantly had to clarify that “Rest on the couch” did not mean “Practice your back walk-over on the couch”. But resting was as nothing next to eating and drinking. She wasn’t hungry and she did not want to eat or drink.
She didn’t want to eat or drink on Friday.
She didn’t want to eat or drink on Saturday.
She didn’t want to eat or drink on Sunday.
Both the doctor and the other mothers who had gone through this had been clear; the child will have no appetite, but if they don’t eat or drink, they will stay sick for a very long time and might even develop complications, especially if they aren’t drinking enough. It doesn’t matter what they ingest, but they must ingest. She doesn’t have the kind of build which laughs off hunger strikes; she was getting thinner every day. The tablespoon of garbanzo beans and quarter-cup of water she called dinner wasn’t cutting it. The nearly hundred-degree heat outside wasn’t exciting her appetite any, either.
Sunday afternoon, I took her to the grocery store with me. Sagging against me, she declared that everything smelled weird. Throwing quality-parenting to the wind, I pointed out every food which is usually either a “No” or a “Maybe, if you do your vocabulary pages…”. I offered her cinnamon rolls; I offered her popsicles; I offered her gum-drops, but I was politely declined.
I looked at her, her thin little face and her shadowy eyes, her bony fingers hiking up her now-loose shorts and all I could think was “How can I cram the densest calories per-square-inch into this little person?”. I worked backwards from what every diet book ever told me not to eat and I had a flash. Cheese! “How would you…” I said in my best Aren’t we a lucky girl? Voice, “…like to go to the gourmet cheese store?”
She shrugged and said, “Okay.”
This isn’t as NPR-ish and culturally elite as a might appear. Readers, here was my logic. Fatty, soft, mild European cheeses, eaten correctly, can cause a person to outgrow a pair of jeans in a single meal. I’d buy her bottled water in a pretty European container and when she finished the contents, I could refill it with Eau D’Arrowhead. Maybe a shaft of sunlight would bounce off the glass tureen of olives and excite some interest in her. Or, she’d shun everything edible and I’d get a bottle of decent red wine to fortify Consort and me for the battle of getting her to eat.
The cheese-store was full of the kind of people who say to one another “Jasper, after we leave the Modern Art Museum let’s pick up some delightful raw-milk sheep’s cheese for snacking on tonight while we listen to bootleg live Maria Callas reel-to-reels” and “I’ve finally finished the third-act of my operatic adaptation of ‘Where’s Waldo’; let’s celebrate with a light Riesling and Iberian ham.”
And plopped down amongst the lovely and the literate was Daughter and me, freshly exhausted from the one-block walk from the car in the hundred-degree heat. At least she wasn’t completely out of place, being as she was now the weight all of these people long to achieve. I was merely her sweaty, suburban driver. She drooped. I dripped. When I wasn’t blotting sweat off my purse, I was extolling the virtues of every fatty food I saw. She declined them all. The walk having tired her, she moaned, “Can’t we just go home?”
“No,” I snapped, my good humor worn about by three days of her swearing that a sesame seed counted as an entrée, “We are not leaving until you pick out two cheeses that you will eat.”
Either there had been a lull in the generally artsy conversation, or my voice naturally carries above people who write blank verse in their spare time, but several people looked over to see who was the maniac with control issues over cheese. I waved and blotted at my forehead. A saleswoman asked me if I needed help.
“Yes,” I began, “I need to get some cheese.”
“What do you like?”
“Oh,” I said, distracted by the tattoo of Alice B. Toklas on the customer next to me, “it’s not for me. It’s for my kid.”
The saleswoman stared at Daughter, who didn’t appear to be the kind of fine, discerning customer who usually quizzed the staff about upon which mountaintop the milk-giving cows had grazed. She appeared instead to be the kind of customer who could be tempted by cheese with holographic properties or a built-in DVD player. Daughter wilted against the counter and looked disinterested. I tried to care for both of us.
“See,” I said, in a slightly more confidential tone, “she needs to put on a little weight. She’s not eating.”
AUGH! I had just suggested my daughter was anorexic! Strangers would judge! I sweated faster and clarified.
“I mean,” I stammered, “she’s just not hungry. She thinks she looks fine. I think she looks fine. Actually, I think she looks thin, which is why we’re here.”
“I’M VERY SICK,” Daughter announced in another one of those conversational lulls. The few people who hadn’t inched away from us when I was insisting she pick cheese now got closer to other, presumably less-lethal, people. The saleswoman and I stared at one another. I whispered, “It’s just a bug...”
She said, quickly, “Sure, sure", while covertly placing a tarp over the cheeses closest to us.
I continued, “...but if she doesn’t eat, there could be complications and I...“
“Of course, of course,” she said, straightening up a pyramid of Welsh cheddars and moving them away from us.
“Well, you know, nothing’s fattier than good cheese!” I finished brightly, adding a high-pitched yip of a laugh which had been meant to indicated a certain casual good-humor but instead made me sound as if I had been given a drive-by mammogram. The saleswoman, suddenly very eager to move us on to some other store, hastily made suggestions, gave me samples. I chose the ones which had the least flavor with which Daughter could take offense.
Daughter, in the meanwhile, had recovered from the heat and was quietly agitating to be allowed to do jumping-jacks next to the ricotta. I whispered to her that she could do calisthenics at home, after she had some food. She frowned and whispered back that she wasn’t hungry. I suddenly got very tired in a way that had nothing to do with a virus. I grabbed something from the cabinet next to me and handed it to the saleswoman.
“And add this bottle of red to my tab.”
Daughter recovered, without ever eating the cheese. The cheese did, however, go beautifully with the wine.