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It’s that time of year again: the start of another academic year. Everyone who has ever been a child or raised a child in the Western Hemisphere will recognize that this is the time of new beginnings. Small children start school, bigger children chafe in new uniforms, and many teenagers leave home for the first time against a backdrop of reddening trees and the freshening winds of autumn. 

For me it is also the time to pick up the exacting routines of housekeeping after the laxness of summer. Everyone has to get up, eat and shower and be out of the house on time.  Everyone has to return home safely at the end of the day and be fed again, listened to, commiserated with, supported and soothed and finally nagged back in to their beds.  The fridge must be kept supplied with food, everyone must have shoes and the lights on the bikes must be working. 

This routine, though somewhat monotonous, is necessary. Without it we rapidly sag downwards into the chaos that awaits beneath: skipped meals, forgotten medication, chronic sleep shortages and abandoned homework assignments. I will know my children are truly adult and independent of me when they finally recognise the importance of getting enough sleep and eating regularly.

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What do you say when your teenager admits that they aren’t eating those packed lunches that you lovingly prepare for them every night? Acting on a hunch, I asked my son the other day if he actually ate what I gave him, and he candidly admitted that for the last six months he’d been throwing it in the bin. It wasn’t this that worried me – I’m not that proud of my cheese sandwiches – but that he was doing it because it would “make him fat”. Turns out, he eats nothing between breakfast and dinner.

What would you do? I was tempted to call him a bloody idiot – he’s spent those six months complaining about how tall and strong his friends were becoming, leaving him behind. But I didn’t because… well, because he’s spent those six months complaining about how tall and strong his friends were becoming, leaving him behind. It’s tough for the boys who are late developers, even if some of their attempts to solve their problem seem laughable.

I don’t want to overreact to this. On the one hand, I have been thinking for a while that he was scarily thin – which is why I’d carried on making his lunches in the first place, feeling uneasy about whether or not he was getting the right nutrition. On the other hand, I know that teenagers try lots of things out, and they don’t always stick with them for very long. In fact making a fuss might be counter-productive, because the chances are he’s eating more than he actually thinks he is anyway. He does still eat breakfast, and he eats everything I put on his plate for dinner, so it’s not exactly an emergency.

What I did in practice was make it clear that I thought skipping lunch was a pretty rubbish idea – and point out in a matter of fact way that to grow taller and smarter his body was going to need good nutrition. And I’ll just have to make sure in future that there’s a bit more on his plate at dinner, and plenty of appealing snacks in the fridge. I’m trusting to good old teenage appetite to do the rest of the work for me! In the meantime will I worry about it? Well of course I will – that’s what mothers do.

Can you solve these problems just by cooking and shopping smarter? How I wish there was someone to talk these problems over with!

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