2003.12.10 The lonely only child can't cope with ketchup

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

My youngest child is soon going to become an only child. Her sister reminded her of that fact on the way home from our quick trip to New York City for Thanksgiving. Maddy, who will be 15 next Monday (see page 15), wanted to kill time humanely by playing that common car game, “I’m Going on Vacation.” David and I are not really fans of the game, but we reluctantly agreed to play.

Maddy wanted her siblings to join in, but both Rosie, 17, and Ben, 21, refused. Who can blame them? Although it’s great for sharpening memory skills, the game is inane and just drones on.

You know it, don’t you? One player starts with the first letter of the alphabet saying, “I’m going on vacation and I’m going to bring an airplane,” and the succeeding players repeat that and add a word beginning with the next letter of the alphabet. On and on through chiggers and the runs (David’s contribution for “C” and “R”), all the way to zircon.

Maddy begged, but Ben and Rosie refused to budge.

“This is what it will be like next year when Ben and I are both gone,” Rosie told her. “You have to get used to it being just you, Mom and Dad.”

Now, Rosie won’t be leaving the nest until next fall, but she’s mentally preparing Maddy for her exodus.

When Maddy asks for help with geometry or biology, Rosie reminds her that next year she won’t be available for tutoring. “You have to do it on your own,” she tells her. It’s tough love and Rosie is wise to be starting early in the separation process.

Maddy is catching on. “I’m going to need all new clothes when Rosie goes to college,” she says.

The two of them share just about their entire wardrobe so it will be split in half—unless, I suppose, Rosie chooses to go to college in California, and leaves Maddy with all the winter clothes and then comes back in late spring with all the warm weather clothes.

The two are very good friends and I wonder what life will be like with an only child. Maddy’s idiosyncrasies are buffered by Rosie’s eternal good humor. Rosie often serves as the family peace maker—with her gone, what will happen when we encounter Maddyisms that try the patience of Job? Rosie won’t be there laughing at the absurdity, making light of the situation. Here’s an example of Life with Maddy.

She and I were sharing a plate of French fries at a restaurant on this same trip home from N.Y.C. I withdrew a ketchup-coated fry as she swooped in for a naked one on the plate. Time stood still as Maddy realized ketchup from my fry swiped her sweatshirt sleeve. The bright red blotch on her new white sweatshirt was quite obvious, but I discounted the immensity of the stain—a calamity in her mind.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “It’s ketchup!”

“I understand,” I said, in a it’s-not-a-big-deal tone of voice. “It’s ketchup.”

“You don’t understand,” she repeated. “It’s me and ketchup.”

Ah, Maddy and ketchup. Ketchup is one of those disgusting foods in Maddy’s mind. Some might call her a picky eater, others might identify with her discerning palate.

Of course, this is not a matter of ingesting food; this is a matter of not allowing gross food to come close to her body, especially her eyes, nose and mouth.

This ketchup exchange gives me hope, though. She finally seems to be realizing that perhaps she goes a bit overboard with her dislikes, and at the same time, recognizes that ketchup intolerance is a quirk of hers.

It’s refreshing, really. The revulsion is still there, but there’s an awakening that it’s not so much that ketchup is an evil substance, but that she can’t tolerate ketchup.

Still, of this you can be sure: when it’s her turn to bring something with the letter, “K,” it certainly won’t be ketchup.

    – Dec. 10, 2003 
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