It starts in the afternoon.
“I’m starving” says Clementine. “When’s dinner?”
“Dinner?” I reply. “It’s 4:30 in the afternoon–what are you, ninety?”
“Have an apple.”
Clementine eyes the proffered apple with a suspicion not seen since the Garden of Eden, and responds with, “No, I want something that tastes good.”
“Then you’re certainly not starving; you’re not even hungry. Go away.”
“But I am hungry; I’m starving.”
And suddenly I find myself in a dilemma: the part of me that is a mother is annoyed that Clementine is pestering me for dinner at 4:30 in the afternoon; the part of me that is a writer, however, is annoyed at her poor word choice. Couldn’t she have found a word with a little more pizzaz than starving? For a word like famished I might have gotten out of my seat; peckish would have probably sent me all the way to the kitchen. But starving? What a bore.
For a brief moment the writer and the mother tussle over who has jurisdiction, then decide to compromise on a joint lecture involving the proper use of the word starving and the proper appreciation for the food we have. Both sides agree to make it a long, tedious discussion involving the unfortunate Donner party, South American soccer teams, and eating your own shoes; there will also be brief segues into leather versus manmade materials and the inadvisability of either taking shortcuts on the advice of strange men in Salt Lake City or picking your charter pilot based on price alone. This means that by the time I am finished it actually is time to start dinner, which is good, because all of my lecturing about cannibalism seems to have had an unforeseen effect: Clementine is looking at me as if maybe the idea of eating people isn’t so bad after all–at least then I would no longer be able to give lectures on the proper use of starving–or worse yet, on my other bugaboo: there’s nothing to eat.
Of the two, I must say that the there’s nothing to eat whine is the slightly more annoying: whereas I’m starving usually just follows a bit of vaguely entertaining melodrama of the sort perfected by listless 19th century consumptive heroines, there’s nothing to eat usually follows an exhaustive, yet maddeningly fruitless search through the cupboard and fridge. (Maddening because we’re not talking about the cupboard and fridge of some crack house here, where the only things to be found are the canned candied yams left over from the Thanksgiving food box and half a pack of AAA pager batteries, but my cupboard and fridge, both of which are usually so overstocked with food that it’s sometimes hard to get the doors to close.)
I once read a story about a little girl left home alone for days who somehow survived by eating the condiments out of the fridge: heaven forbid anything similar should happen at my house; not only do I not think my picky children would survive, I have serious reservations about my husband’s ability to pull through as well–he is as guilty as all of the rest of standing in front of a bulging cupboard and chanting the there’s nothing to eat mantra. (By eat, of course, they are all referring to something that can go from cabinet to mouth in under three seconds.)
Maybe I should make it easy for them and start stocking the fridge with nothing but old shoes and Uruguayan soccer players–at least then when they say they’re starving and there’s nothing to eat they’ll be right on both counts.