It occurred to me tonight that a meal with my family is a bit like dining with two aliens who are just encountering our civilization for the first time.
Forks are carefully examined and subsequently used as hair brushes (full-on Little Mermaid style) and/or weapons. Food is pondered just as closely before before a brief tasting, then either consumed happily or flung to the floor with dismay. After discarding the un-desirable food, the chef is frequently eyed with suspicion, which is generally only heightened when said chef brightly suggests that the carrots* are 'good for you' and should be enjoyed.
From the opposite end of the table, the smaller (bald and mostly toothless) alien is pounding his fists on a plastic tray and shrieking between bites, demanding to be spoon-fed puréed food at a rate that is plainly unreasonable on this planet.
Once the puréed food is finished, the insatiable little extra-terrestrial is appeased by either tiny pieces of soft foods and/or a heaping pile of Gerber Puffs (baby's first fully-processed, artificially flavored, no-nutritious-value, 'food' item...might as well start 'em early). These foods are collected into the tiny fists due to a fully developed 'palmer' grasp and under-developed 'pincher grip,' and smashed into the little guy's mouth with an accuracy rate of about 83%. The remaining food lands on nose, cheeks, ears, chest, elbows, belly, (astoundingly) inside diapers, under armpits or tucked safely away between chins (presumably to curb a midnight snack-craving).
Back across the table, 'more' food is demanded, often before initial portions are fully consumed. Frequently, this dinner guest requests food items from the plate of whomever is dining next to him, ignoring the fact that the same meal has been served to all.
Dipping becomes a source of utter delight and previously unfathomable flavor combinations arise: green beans are doused in mustard, cantaloupe is greeted by a mound of barbecue sauce, a heap of ketchup is assaulted by an incoming cob of corn. The dipper congratulates himself and his refined palate with a squeals of joy and occasionally, a round of applause following each bite.
As appetites finally become appeased between the two curious creatures, they react somewhat differently to indicate the end of their meal.
The tiny bald one throws a diminutive fist in the air and launches into a monologue with the enthusiasm, volume, and cadence of a fascist dictator. The opposite fist continues pounding the plastic tray, effectively smashing the remaining pieces of dinner, creating a layer of indistinguishable food items along the inner forearm, a shower of peas, carrots, tocopherols and soy lecithin (thanks Gerber!) and contributing to the general chaos of the meal.
The chaos is only compounded by the larger of the two, who generally ends meals by lifting the opposite end of his plate and allowing the remains of his meal to slide slowly into his lap. These remains are then viewed through narrowed, skeptical eyes and either eaten as an afterthought, fed to the dog, or smashed onto the top of his head.
By the end of the meal, most of us are covered in food and at least two of us are hauled upstairs for baths. I am generally left washing dishes, wiping mustard from my glasses, pulling bits of green beans from my hair and feeling utterly amused and satisfied.
Maybe someday these two little intergalactic lifeforms will learn to behave like one of our species, or at least fake it well enough to dine in public without ridicule. Until then, I will suppress my giggles as we provide the dinner, and they provide the entertainment.
*insert basically any food of high nutritious value.