Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Connoisseur of Cheese Puffs

We've started having to recycle cheese puffs.

(Just so you know.)

Mr F likes cheese puffs -- a very specific kind of cheese puff, to be exact.  I don't know the maker of the cheese puff or their formal name (Cheesi Puffus, I suppose it would be in Latin if Latin wasn't just a language they'd made up to claim they taught kids in old 50s movies.  Stupid Baby Boomers and their stupid fake languages they pretended to not learn) and it probably says a lot more about me than I would like to actually have said that for six years or so I have bought, every week, multiple bags of Cheesi Puffus and I have no idea what they are actually called or who makes them, but I don't need to know that and so I don't bother knowing it.  The way I see it, the less I can require my brain to do the more I can let my brain focus on the important things, which works this way:

There are all kinds of things brains are supposed to do: keep my heart beating, know the ages of my children and what time I am supposed to be at work, remember lyrics to the song "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" and work them into a conversation with one of my employees one day to see if he will catch on.

And then there are all kinds of things my brain also could do, like "remember where I parked" or "know who makes a certain brand of cheese puff," but I don't bother my brain with those things because I want my brain operating at peak capacity on those other things, which are kind of important, so I try to minimize the work I ask my brain to do by letting it off the hook on certain things, things like:  "Knowing where places I go to are."

I've lived in Madison for 17 years now, and I still don't know the street names... anywhere.  The other day, Oldest asked me where a street-- Carroll Street-- was.  I didn't know.  I had to look on a map.  Turns out that Carroll Street was one block away from where my office was located for twelve years, and that Carroll Street also had several stores on it that I would routinely go to and also that Carroll Street was a street I walked on almost weekly.  But I never bothered storing that information because why bother? The map, or Dwight The Lady GPS, will keep track of where Carroll Street is for me, so I can let my brain focus on that important stuff.

I do this with everything, if I can.  It's why I don't remember how hot the stove has to be to cook meatloaf, and it's why I try to park in the exact same place every day.  I'm not going to use my valuable brain storage space to keep track of oven temperatures or where my car is when I could be using them to try to remember what the secret of the sixth magic was in Lyndon Hardy's classic, underappreciated, fantasy novel The Secret of the Sixth Magic, which was a sequel to Master of the Five Magics, which are a set of books I read twenty years ago and from time to time decide I want to read again, but you can't get them on the Kindle and I would have to go to a bookstore to buy them, and the only bookstore around is Barnes & Noble, and I'm mad at them right now and might have to sue them because they copyright-infringed one of my books, and also I'm too tired to go buy a physical book plus I'm kind of taking a stand against people who read paper books because why?

Or, as I said to that same Charlie-Daniels-impaired employee the other day, shortly after I said "He was in a bind/he was way behind", and just after he said he preferred paper books:

"Yes, and I prefer my music to sound authentic.  That's why I listen to it on a wax cylinder amplified through a gramophone."

Another thing I don't bother storing in my mind is the exact name of the cheese puffs that Mr F likes to eat.  I know what the bag looks like, I know where they are generally located in the several grocery stores we have to go to in order to buy enough to last the week, and that's all I need to know about them.

Mr F lives on the cheese puffs.  They make up probably 98% of his diet, the other 2% being made up mostly of macaroni and cheese eaten one noodle at a time, which drives me nuts.

Mr F, see, eats with his hands.  We've tried to get him to use silverware, but most of what he eats (cheese puffs) aren't really silverware-ish foods, and the ones that would be good to eat with silverware (macaroni and cheese) he doesn't because to Mr F, silverware is something to be regarded with a deep level of suspicion.  Once, I got out a teaspoon and showed him how you could use the spoon to pick up some macaroni and cheese, and put it, using that spoon, into your mouth and eat several macaronis at the same time, plus not get cheese sauce all over your hands, shirt, face, pants, rug, Dad's tie, the iPad, etc., and Mr F ran away to his bedroom and didn't come out for 15 minutes.

So he eats macaronis one at a time, and it's truly phenomenal to watch if you don't mind your brain snapping from thinking about how little flavor or nutrition or whatever -- they're probably the same thing -- is in one macaroni, and how hard it is to eat an entire bowl by walking up to the table, picking up one macaroni, examining it to make sure it is the one you want, then putting it into your mouth and going back to your swing to eat it while you swing, and then repeating that process over and over again until the macaroni are gone.

Or on the floor.  Many, many, of the macaroni that don't make the grade on that initial inspection end up on the floor.  Many many many.

Mr F inspects almost everything he eats, all with the same discerning eye, picking out tiny microscopic impurities that are invisible to us regular folk but which are so patently obvious to him that he will sometimes scornfully look at us, if we offer him, say, a french fry, and the look in his eye is one that says "What am I, a sucker? You call that a french fry?  REMOVE IT FROM MY PRESENCE," so it's probably a good thing he doesn't talk much because who wants an imperious 6-year-old denigrating my french fries?  Not me, that's for sure.

It's hard to tell what makes a given piece of food make the cut: sometimes a perfectly ordinary Pringle will appear to be suitable for him, only to be cast aside.  Other times, it's only part of the food -- he will eat 1/2 of a tater tot and abandon the other half, never to come back to it.  He eats pizza, but only the sausage, which he has to remove himself from the slice of pizza: if you take it off for him, he'll refuse it, but if you put the slice on his plate and let him pick the sausage off, he's okay with that.

(As an aside, I will note that when The Boy was younger and lived here, we would routinely be stuck with leftover pepperoni pizza, which barely qualifies as pizza because only 12-year-old boys like pepperoni pizza, but The Boy claimed to like it and then would eat the sausage pizza first and I'd get the raw end of that deal.  Now that Mr F likes pizza, my window of opportunity where I was the only sausage pizza lover in the house has closed and I am frequently stuck with leftover sausageless pizza, and if there is a pizza that is less deserving of that name than cheese pizza I am not sure what it is.)

(The sacrifices I make for my kids! I am truly a hero.)

Nothing gets more scrutiny, though, than the cheese puffs, which are his favorite food but only some of them are worth eating.  Mr F, when he wants cheese puffs, will alert us to this fact by either going to his iPad and pressing the button that says "cheese puffs," on the program that we have to help him learn to talk, and if you don't immediately get him some, he'll hit the button several more times.

If you really force him too, he'll tell you he wants puffs, a word that's kind of hard for him to say.  It comes out "pups," which is pretty good for him.  If you think about it, as I have -- because I have all that extra brain time, remember -- puffs is a pretty hard word to say, with a couple of different sounds in there.  You think talking is all easy and simple, but it only seems that way.  Try to imagine how you would teach someone to say puffs.

I have tried to imagine just that, and also tried to do just that -- teach Mr F how to say puffs.  Here is what I have come up with so far:

I sit him on my lap.

I make him look at me.  Sometimes that takes 2 or 3 minutes, as he doesn't like looking at people in general and possibly me in particular.

I say to him "Say puffs."

I make him look at me again, as he's generally looked away from me.
I pull him back on my lap as he's trying to get away.

I make him look at me again.

"Say puffs" I tell him.

He will then usually do something-- he will give me a kiss, or a high-five, or say "go" or make the sign language sign for "all done" or "more", trying to get me to let him alone by doing one of the things we usually ask him to do.

I make him look at me again.

"Say puffs" I tell him.

That isn't the best possible method, I'm sure, but it's the best I've come up with.  Sometimes I will say it slowly: p-u-fffff-sssss, and sometimes I'll put my mouth up against his cheek so he can feel the air puffing out.  I've tried saying it with my mouth open so he can see how the tongue and lips move around, and we've made some headway because now and then he will say:


which is a huge breakthrough and we cheer for him. 

Mr F loves his pups but not all of them, not equally.  When you pour him a bowl of pups, he will look them over with the eye of a connoisseur and pick through them, picking out the pups that he likes the best.  We all have our theories about what makes one pup better than another pup: Sweetie figures the ones that have more cheese dust on them are what he's looking for, whereas I figure he's just doing it to get to me because I cannot for the life of me figure out the difference between the pups.

One morning, I watched him.  He had a whole big bowl of pups and sat at the table, looking them over, leaning in close, scrutinizing them, flipping around among them, and finally picked one out and popped it into his mouth.  It was, so far as I can tell, identical to all the other nonselected pups in the bowl.

Here is where it gets weird.  I know you thought all the stuff so far was weird, but that was not.  That was normal.  "Single-serving macaroni noodles and copyright infringement" is normal in our house.

Where it gets weird is that Mr F is so picky about his pups that in each given bag of them, there are about 10 or so that pass muster.  It's like he's panning for gold.  And so he will get a bowl of pups and pick out the one he likes and then will come over and demand more, and you have to get a second bowl of pups and he'll pick out the ones he likes from those and then want a third bowl.

And we will. not. give. up.

You can't tell him "No, you already have three bowls of puffs, go eat those they're all the same for Pete's sake" because he will stand there and look at you, his big eyes peeking out from under his helmet, and then he will tug on your arm.

"More" he will say, in his quiet slightly hoarse voice.  And he'll do the sign language for that.

So I try: "No.  You have puffs.  Eat those.  Four bowls is enough."

He'll go and hit the button again, and a computerized voice will say, from the kitchen:

Puffs.  Puffs. Puffs.

And he'll tug on your arm again.

And if you still don't give in, he'll say:


That's when you know you've pushed him as far as you can: You made him say a word, and our rule is: When Mr F talks, he gets what he wants.

That's the power, I suppose, of not ever talking, hardly: he uses words so rarely that on those occasions when he actually decides to say something, he gets it.

"Go" he'll tell us sometimes when we want him to come do something and he doesn't want to.  So we go.

"More" he'll say to me when he wants me to swing him around in his blanket a 10th time and I'm already sweating and dizzy, but I swing him more.

"Go," he'll say, handing Sweetie the car keys because he wants to take a ride, and we all hop in the car and take him for a ride.

When you want a kid to use words, you can't ignore him when he uses words.

So we set a rule:  Say puffs and you get more.

And he started saying it, over and over: Pups.  More.  Pups.  More.

So he started getting more and more pups and we had bowls of them laying around and were going through 10 bags a week, or more.  It is ridiculous.  Sweetie goes to the grocery store and half the cart, if not more, is pups.  She buys them out, every week.  We go to other stores to get them, making special trips, because Mr F wants pups and we want him to talk and so when he says more pups because the ones in the five bowls on the table are not the right ones, we want to have more pups available.

But I am not made of money and pups are not inexpensive, and so this week we decided we would be sneaky about it.  When Mr F is not looking, we take the unused bowls of pups and put them back in the bag, recycling the pups that are still edible and not stale, so that when he gets a new bowl of pups it's actually the old bowl.

It's hard to tell if it's working, in one sense.  It's hard to tell if it's working in that I can't figure out if Mr F is actually eating the recycled pups or if he is looking at them and seeing that none of them are suitable and so he's rejecting them faster and we're simply cycling through them more and more frequently.  Whatever it is that disqualifies a pup, it seems that putting them through the cycle again doesn't requalify them, sometimes.  This morning, for example, I used the pups that Mr F had rejected last night, and while it usually takes him 10-20 minutes to get through three bowls and reject them all, this morning he went through the four bowls in a matter of moments before giving up and moving on to something else to eat, so I think that we are probably not in the end going to save money on pups because I think there really is something about the ones Mr F is picking out and those really are different, and so when we recycle them we're simply giving him the ones that don't measure up, for whatever reason, and we still end up going on to the "new" pups.  So it doesn't seem like our cost-saving measure is working.

But in another sense, it's working great: Mr F talks to me.  It's just about pups, but he talks to me. If I had to spend every last cent I ever earned on cheese puffs to get him to hold a conversation with me, it'd be totally worth it.


PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

Maybe instead of silverware you should try to get him to use chopsticks on the macaroni and cheese.

One of my sisters has always been real picky about chicken, though not quite THAT picky. But when she eats a chicken breast if there's even the tiniest bit that's not absolutely white, she won't eat that part of it, which I always find ridiculous. But then I get the scraps, so it works out well for me.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I think all youngsters learn early that cheese tastes really good on stuff.

Andrew Leon said...

That sort of reminds me of taking the dog out to go to the bathroom and watching her search around for a spot to pee. And I just can't figure out how one spot can be better than another spot.

My brother used to eat Cream-of-Wheat with his fingers. At least there is a macaroni in mac'n'cheese.

I want to know more about this copyright infringement thing.