Vacation a feeding frenzy for teens

January 09, 2001|By Susan Reimer

I DIDN'T GO to college so I could spend my life loading the dishwasher.

And my idea of shopping is browsing Nordstrom followed by lunch with a girlfriend, not standing in line at the grocery store, absently reading headlines on tabloid covers.

However, that's exactly how I spent my Christmas vacation. And it is because my teen-agers spend theirs eating.

There are only two of them, but they must be on the brink of a couple of "Guinness Book of World Records" growth spurts, because they were shoveling food the way locomotive firemen shovel coal.

And, of course, shoveling is not a pretty or precise exercise. So my husband, who didn't go to college so he could spend his life loading the washing machine, did about 2,100 loads of clothing stained with one of that day's microwave selections.

"I want a job that has a beginning and an end," he asserted at the beginning of his Christmas vacation. "I will do the laundry."

"Welcome to my world," I replied. "Laundry doesn't have an end."

A week later, having folded a half-dozen pairs of underwear and two T-shirts for himself - and an entire Filene's Basement for the kids - he fled back to work. But not before suggesting a strategy for surviving the avalanche of dirty clothes.

"I just started putting them in the clean pile," he said, with an air of victory about him.

How bad was it? Well, I spent my Christmas money at the grocery store, where the checkout lady said, "Didn't I see you here yesterday?"

She might have asked, "The usual?" because I kept returning to buy the same 28 items. My children only eat from the "remove cardboard cover before microwaving" and the "place rolls on ungreased cookie sheet" food groups.

By the time they were to return to school, I could fill my grocery cart without opening my eyes. I felt like I was trapped in a remake of "Groundhog Day."

My van also learned to find the drive-through ATM without my help, thanks to that being the other stop on my daily holiday loop. If the refrigerator door wasn't open, their hands were outstretched for the money they needed to go out and get something to eat with friends.

And, while I know this will open me up for criticism of my skills as a parent, my home looked like a frat house on a Sunday morning. Cups, bowls and empty snack bags everywhere. I started every day like a busboy and finally blew my stack when I found dried salsa on one of the "Encarta" computer disks.

When I suggested that eating was not one act but a series of acts beginning with the can opener and ending with the dishwasher, my children looked at me in bafflement and said: "But the dishwasher is full," and I had to agree.

Just as I did when they were babies, I tried to trick my children into a feeding schedule. But that's hard to do when the first one emerges at 11: 30 a.m. and asks, "What's for breakfast? Did anyone go for doughnuts?"

The answer was always, "No!" so the toaster oven would begin spitting out Eggo waffles like a fax machine. (Eggo waffles, my children have discovered, are the perfect utensils for carrying syrup to the mouth.)

You can imagine how much waste this continuous eating produced. Bottles, soda cans, Chef Boyardee cans, plastic containers and cardboard wrappers. Being the dutiful recycler that I am, I sorted the debris into seven cans and lined them up in front of the house like soldiers. The EPA immediately made our place a stop on its Holiday House Tour.

I have often daydreamed about what my budget will be like when this pair of consumers leaves the nest. I'll be able to pay my water bill with the change I find in the sofa. My food bill will fall below my mortgage for the first time since before we brought the little darlings home from the hospital.

But it appears I won't have to wait that long. My children have returned to school, where I hope they have their heads in the game as determinedly as they have had their heads in the refrigerator these two weeks, and pocketbook pinch has already lessened.

If I can just find sleep-away summer camps for the two of them, we might be able to save enough for college.

I understand they have meal plans at college that allow your children to eat anytime, anywhere.

And they pay people to load the dishwasher.

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