I hate fish.
Not the live, swimming-around kind ... those I can handle. I'm talking about fish as a meal. Any kind of fish, baked, broiled, steamed, fried, sushi-fied, whatever: I hate it all with equal passion. Yuck. I'm pretty sure that if I died and went to hell, Satan would be all, "You will eat nothing but fish, hominy and black coffee for all eternity! And no dessert! Bwahahahahaaaa!"
Side note: anybody ever notice that fish-lovers who try to get fish-haters to eat fish are always like, "But this kind doesn't even taste like fish?" Here's a news flash, folks: FISH ALWAYS TASTES LIKE FISH.
So anyway, Curtis called me as I was making my way home from the gym the other day. "The boys wanted to make you a special meal," he said. And I was thinking, "Ooooh, score!" Because a.) I was ravenously hungry, and b.) I'm generally the one who makes the meals so it was nice that someone else took it over for a change.
When I opened the door, all three of my excited little boys were waiting to pounce on me. "Mommy!" they squealed. "We cooked a special lunch for you! Come and taste it! It's delicious!" They each grabbed some part of me - a hand, a thigh, the side of my T-shirt - and led me up the stairs, insisting that I keep my eyes closed so as not to spoil the surprise. But though I couldn't see, I could smell. And something was ... fishy.
With a growing sense of trepidation, I approached the table, which featured a (foil-covered) plate with silverware laid (crookedly) beside it and a neatly folded (paper towel) napkin. Two (Febreze air-freshening) candles flickered on either side. The boys could hardly contain themselves. "See, Mommy?" they beamed. "We set a pretty table, didn't we?"
"You sure did, guys," I said. "Now what's this lovely meal?"
With a flourish, Colin whipped the foil off of the plate to reveal ......
... A FISH FILLET. Among other things that I couldn't even pay attention to because, OMG, fish.
My smile went all trembly and fake. What to do? I knew I couldn't - literally would not be physically able to - choke down the fish. But the boys were so excited, and staring at me expectantly with their hopeful little faces. It would be terrible to out-and-out refuse to eat it ... right? I tried to gauge the psychological impact that would have on them: would it barely register in their long-term memories, or would Mommy's callous rejection of their hard work land them on a psychiatrist's couch (and/or the Jerry Springer show) someday?
I looked to Curtis, who knows I despise fish, for help - but he was clearly enjoying my plight, a smirk playing on his lips. This dilemma could have been stopped in its tracks with a simple, "Mommy doesn't like fish, so how about we make something else?" ... but no.*
*And P.S., Honey? I'm going to remember that. Just sayin'.
"Oh my goodness, this rice looks delicious," I gushed, turning my attention to the mound of Rice-a-Roni piled beside the offending fillet. I was hoping that by making a big deal over the rice, the boys wouldn't even notice that I wasn't eating the fish, and at some point I could discreetly slip it to the dog.
But apparently, the fish was the main attraction. The focal point. The special of the day. "Now taste the fish!" the dudes urged enthusiastically.
I had to be honest. "It's so nice of you guys to prepare me this wonderful meal, and I love it," I began gently, "but ... Mommy doesn't care for fish."
"I know," said Colin, "but you have to take a 'no thank you' taste, remember, Mommy?"
It's always nice when your well-intentioned parental teachings come back to bite you in the ass, isn't it? And here was my six-year-old, using my own rule against me. See, when my kids are being picky - which is like 99.7% of the time - I say, "You don't have to eat the whole thing ... just taste it once. If you still don't like it, you can say, 'No thank you.'" Hence the term "no thank you taste." The majority of the time, once they actually put some in their mouths, they realize they do like it after all, and hardly ever say "no thank you."
I knew that wouldn't work with the fish. But what could I do? I had to follow the rule that I so consistently lay down for my boys.
So I flaked a bit of fish onto my fork and slowly put it into my mouth. All eyes were upon me.
I chewed. My throat locked. My eyes watered. I swallowed.
"No thank you," I managed weakly, once the threat of gagging passed. And then I shoveled rice into my mouth like I hadn't had a bite in weeks.