I’m a picky eater, even today. But at 12? Really picky. My friend Pam’s mother was a charter member of the “clean platers” club. Mrs. Citron expected me to eat all the meat loaf and mashed potatoes and limp wet dull metal green beans on my plate. I choked these down with glasses of milk despite the fact that my own family was vegetarian. Mrs. Citron’s friendly glare required it of me.
Then she brought out the dessert. Nuclear waste green pudding. I didn’t even like chocolate pudding. The texture, taste. This swirl of unnatural green in the parfait dish sat in front of me and I knew I would be required to eat it.
I weakly fought back: I was too full. This mother countered that “No one is ever too full for dessert.” I asked for more milk thinking I could drown each bite. She retorted that if I was too full for pistachio pudding, milk would make me fuller, therefore no milk for the dessert.
No escape—the family of four had already licked their spoons empty and my pudding sat uneaten, swirled to inviting perfection.
At this point, Mrs. Citron excused the family, but not me, from the table. They didn’t leave. They all sat staring at me and my uneaten pudding wondering what would happen next.
She got out of her chair, walked to my side of the table, and stood behind me. She put her hands on my shoulders and began to knead them, Delores Umbridge style.
Her declaration: “Pudding is delicious. You’re going to love it. Take a bite.”
I’ve always been a good girl. I want to do what’s expected. But my stomach was a rebel. It lurched. I took one small slippery, putrid bite and thought: I will puke the meatloaf. I choked back the gag reflex.
“Good girl,” she shoulder rubbed. “Now you’re doing it!”
Despite my poor math skills, I quickly calculated that there were likely to be 15-20 bites of pudding ahead of me. Tears flooded my eyes instantly. I was trapped and embarrassed. Everyone was watching.
I took the next bite and the next one, willing myself to not throw up, wishing my sentence would end, hating everyone at the table, and especially hating pudding makers for ruining my sleep over.
As I got near the bottom of the dish, Mrs. Citron’s incessant shoulder rubbing and constant coaxing, “There you go! One more delicious bite honey!” ramped up.
“Wasn’t that yummy? Aren’t you glad you enjoyed your dessert?”
I had no words left—just teeth coated with a green memory.
I ran to the bathroom and burst into tears. I drank water straight from the tap. I rested on the toilet seat. I wished I could magically transport myself out of this hell hole called a family home.
No amount of sugar, sugary sentiment, pretty dishes, colorful pudding, reassuring comments, or gentle shoulder massage could ever EVER coax me to love pistachio pudding. EVER! I promised myself.
I’ve made good on that promise.
Now swap multiplication for pudding.